By Steven Sacco
Hammer of Justice: Radical Immigrant Equality
I don’t want to do this anymore, either. I am also tired of feeling deeply sad, quietly furious and another emotion that, for lack of a name, I’ll call Trump-dread. But the truth is the truth. I am convinced that we have a moral responsibility to expect that the coming storm will not be worse than we suppose, but, like the election that proceeded it, worse than we can suppose. That is the only responsible approach based on the information we have. That’s why we need anti-fascist strategies at the ready.
The United States has officially elected its first fascist president – and don’t let anyone tell you different. Mr. Trump, a person who deserves whatever filthy name history gives him, has made it clear that he joins Putin, Erdogan, La Pen and Orban in their league of New Fascists. I will not list here all of the ways in which the Trumpists flout the constitution and the rule of law and blast contempt for liberty and equality, under the assumption that as someone who pays attention, you are already aware of them.
I write here instead to propose an anti-fascist strategy for progressive communities in the United States. I concede there is no silver bullet – so this isn’t meant to be one – like the many anti-fascist strategies already on the table it should only complement other good work and does not require everyone’s participation to be effective. Rather the more people on board, the better.
The Immigrant-Threat Narrative
The New Fascists use as their primary weapon what has been termed the “immigrant-threat narrative.” The immigrant-threat narrative refers to the bundle of other-izing myths, hate-stoking and racialized brainwashing that we are all too familiar with. The idea that “they” are coming to take “our” jobs, destroy “our” culture, kill “our” people or “our” race; the ultra-mythologizing of foreign others. The rhetoric unambiguously designed to foster popular white supremacy and the basest paranoid nativism – and the shortest, fastest route to herd people from liberal democracy straight into autocracy.
It cannot be overstressed that the immigrant-threat narrative is not just one of a number of sinister New Fascist tactics – rather it is the central hub that holds every other spoke in their wheel of oppression. The immigrant-threat narrative is a multipurpose cudgel, used to beat every minority and subordinate group and bash the rule of law and free, open society. Fear of foreigners is not a feature of the New Fascism, it is its organizing principal.
The narrative is deployed to support the oppression of minority groups (see Trump’s anti-Mexican slurs and Muslim registry), to chip away at due process norms (By blurring the line between terrorist and immigrant, Trump fosters endorsement of torture, registries, extrajudicial killing, and government surveillance), to attack voting rights (see justifying voter ID laws with the undying myth of immigrant voter fraud), to fortify mass incarceration (see the swelling rhetoric of detention, registration and internment), to remove the blame for job loss from corporations (in Trump’s zero-sum economy, jobs are either thieved by foreign others inside the U.S. or transferred unjustly to foreign others outside the U.S.), to thwart environmental regulations (Trump uses sinophobia to deny climate change, calling it a “Chinese hoax”). Trump dehumanized Mexican people in the opening salvo of his campaign for a reason; that rhetoric has the magical capacity to normalize otherwise shocking horrors. It is how the New Fascists will make tyranny appear reasonable.
Hammer of Justice
It is not enough for the Left to challenge and attack the immigrant threat narrative. We must put it on the defensive, because it is indefensible. To do that, we must focus the work of as many communities as possible in that effort.
Right now there are many communities of progressives organizing to combat the myriad of horrifying agenda items that the New Fascists are setting up. We are many, but we are scattered – each of us focusing on a different area under attack by the New Fascist agenda – racial equality, labor, reproductive rights, poverty, voting rights, climate change, LGBTQI liberation, Muslim equality, equal pay, Native American rights, immigrants’ rights – we could make a much longer list than this. It’s good and necessary that we have different justice communities focuses on different areas of social justice – but I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that we are weaker apart than we are together. If every justice community focused its efforts on any one social justice target – their aggregate strength could hit its target hard enough to crack the status quo. I propose that it is in every justice community’s interest to put as much energy as possible into attacking the immigrant-threat narrative.
It is because the New Fascists are using the narrative as their organizing principal – that by attacking it aggressively, we damage the engine or the hub (or whatever metaphor you prefer) of their agenda; we sabotage fascism itself. To focus efforts on that point would weaken the narratives of oppression everywhere else, thereby advancing the interests of every justice community.
To attack the immigrant-threat narrative, every justice community should advance an agenda of radical immigrant equality. I’ll define radical immigrant equality here as the demand that non-citizens be afforded all the rights of citizens – the right to enter, live and work here, the total freedom from deportation and detention, and yes, the right to vote and run for public office. Full equality.
Radical immigrant equality allows us to fight false narrative with justice narrative. This is necessary because we have seen facts and science fail to combat the narratives and potent lies of the New Fascism. Reason cannot be heard over the din of the New Fascism, but the immigrant-equality narrative is radical enough that it is louder than its opposition. If the New Fascists are so frightened by rumor of open borders, then they’ll hear us when we demand the justice of open borders.
It isn’t enough to challenge, we need to bring a hammer down on the immigrant-threat narrative, and to hit it as hard as possible we need as many justice communities as possible to get behind the counter-narrative. Here are just a few thoughts on how some justice communities can advance their own community’s interests by supporting radical immigrant equality. As a unified force we are an anti-fascist hammer of justice. Together we can hammer fascism.
Radical Immigrant Equality and You
Black Lives Matter. Opposition to immigration is inherently racialized. Trump’s endorsement of hatred against Hispanics and Muslims has emboldened and mobilized all white supremacist institutions against all communities of color. Trump’s rhetoric is a deliberate effort to racialize immigrants in a way that blurs the line between citizens of color and non-citizens of color in order to associate color itself with threat and danger. Baseless claims that non-citizens are voting in large numbers is used to justify voter ID laws that have weakened democracy and strengthened white supremacy by making voting harder for communities of color. Moreover, immigrant detention’s contribution to mass incarceration is obvious.
Asserting that black immigrants are human beings and that black lives matter are mutually reinforcing positions. To assert that the lives and freedoms of black people matter as much as the lives and freedoms of white people is also to assert that the lives and freedoms of black non-citizens matter as much as the lives and freedoms of white citizens, and vice versa. By demanding voting rights for non-citizens and endorsing suffrage based on residence instead of citizenship, we frame a new argument big enough to swallow the voter-fraud conspiracy theory. Are immigrants voting? Good, they should vote, as should persons with incarceration histories. We will likewise not end mass incarceration until we end immigrant detention with it.
By lending their organizing support to and attending pro immigrant rallies and demonstrations, Black Lives Matter movement groups like the Dream Defenders, and other racial justice organizations, have the power to draw attention to the truth smoldering beneath the surface of “the immigration debate”: that immigration laws are about race, and anti-immigrant hate empowers white-supremacy, and to deny this is naïve and dangerous to all black people. Racial justice warriors can endorse open borders and help the rest of us understand that the effort to close the border is a naked campaign to make American white again. Smaller racial justice groups like the Black Institute are already taking up causes like immigrant voting rights as part of a larger fight for the humanity of black people, citizen and immigrant alike.
Wealth Inequality. The strategy of divide-and-conquer that turns working class and unemployed (work-less class?) people against one another has never been more lethal than in the hands of the New Fascists. The immigrant threat narrative has convinced millions to place the blame for their low wage jobs or lack of jobs on their fellow working and workless class neighbors (who happen to be immigrants) instead of on corporate power, where it belongs. To make someone believe that wages are too low or jobs too few because of immigrants, is to convince them that workers are to blame for the cheapness and selfishness of their employers. In this way the New Fascists have used the immigrant-threat narrative to sabotage the fights for a living wage and unionization, and portray as innocent the guilty purveyors of poverty – the unchecked concentration of corporate power and the wealth inequality it deepens.
The truth that immigrants don’t take jobs, they make jobs, like other facts, has proven frail under the weight of New Fascist fear-narratives. Radical immigrant equality is a counter-narrative that can restore the shift of the blame back onto the ultra-wealthy. It can make the argument that shutting out non-citizen neighbors from jobs does not preserve your job for you – it preserves power for the corporate employer by handing them a wedge to drive between workers. Solidarity with your immigrant worker brothers and sisters puts the pressure back on the corporation to pay fair wages and furnish our society with a sufficient number of jobs.
Unions and labor rights advocates can combat the divisive effect of the immigrant-threat narrative by advocating for equal labor rights for all workers – no matter where they were born or what language they speak; that means permission to work for all noncitizens, healthcare for all so they’re less likely to miss work, and equal access to unemployment insurance, workers compensation and family leave regardless of immigration status. And yes, it means open borders. Unions and labor rights advocates should lobby lawmakers for the same and endorse candidates who pledge to uphold the same – and work hard to convince their citizen workers that they win when non-citizens win, and lose when they lose.
Women’s Equality. The war on immigrants is part of the war on women’s bodies. There is a reason that many immigration restrictions, historically, have been justified by racist fears of the “over-productive” bodies or the loose sexuality (see the “anchor baby” rhetoric) of women of color – the immigrant-threat narrative is a cudgel that is used to hurt all less powerful groups. Immigration detention and deportation, raids and ankle monitors, function as other ways to control women’s bodies and are sources of institutional violence against mothers (witness the “family detention centers” of the southwest where women and their children are imprisoned).
To say that a woman is free to cross a border, to work where she will, or to remain where others have the right to is another way of saying “my body, my choice.” To demand immigrant equality is to demand women’s equality. How can feminism triumph until all women are treated like human beings? The executive branch will be dominated by men with histories of assaulting or endorsing assault against women (See Trump, Bannon, Sessions, Puzder). This male-supremacist government will escalate the war against millions of immigrant women by telling them where they can and can’t work and where they can and can’t live and by assaulting their bodies with arrest, detention and deportation. In many cases they will be forcibly returned to countries where they will be raped or beaten, or are raped while traversing a surreptitious path across the border – a journey that anti-immigrant laws make necessary for her survival.
Women’s rights groups like the National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List can take public positions against placing women and mothers in immigration detention by advocating the end of detention and deportation themselves. This justice community can demand regularization of the status of immigrant women and their right to access all of the services and supports that are a woman’s right – healthcare, fair pay, the vote, and freedom from violence, especially state violence.
It bears repeating that the immigrant threat narrative is a multipurpose cudgel used to bludgeon any oppressed group or progressive cause. The New Fascism has chosen to make heterosexism and transphobic hate part of its plan to make America straight again (See Mr. Pence), so expect them to use immigration restrictions in the same way they swear they’ll use them against Muslim people – as a tool to literally banish anyone it wants to dehumanize (homosexuality was, after all, grounds for exclusion from the U.S. until just 1990). Trump has used the fear of Chinese people as a way to deny climate change – expect him to deploy more of this xenophobic propaganda to thwart emission regulations just as fear of immigrant voting has been used to bludgeon voting rights protections. To damn the foreigner is to damn all justice.
Why has the immigrant-threat narrative become the organizing principal of the New Fascism? The short answer is that it is the most effective vehicle to advance white supremacy and autocracy. Fear of the foreigner justifies the police state so integral to authoritarianism by selling tyranny as the only way to protect the citizens from the scary others. Xenophobia is the predictable crutch of authoritarians.
The immigrant-threat narrative is New Fascism’s most central lie and most versatile weapon. That’s why I’m encouraging as many as possible to pick up this anti-fascist hammer. The 99 percent. Her body, her choice. Black lives matter. Si se puede. We are a hammer of justice, and the New Fascist Trumpists are a regime of nails.
 This exceptionally accurate term comes courtesy of Marisa Abrajano & Zoltan L. Hajnal’s “White Backlash: Immigration, Race, and American Politics,” Princeton University Press (2015).
 See Shannon Minter, Sodomy and Public Morality Offenses under U.S. Immigration Law: Penalizing Lesbian and Gay Identity, Cornell Int’l L. J., Vol. 26: Iss. 3, Article 11 (1993).