Cardinal Roger Mahony of the Los Angeles Catholic diocese is taking a leading
stand on an issue that will be pivotal in determining whether democracy
survives in the United States.
As racist legislation advances in Congress
to harshly repress “illegal aliens,” Mahony says American Catholics
should disobey provisions within the pending bill that would forbid
helping undocumented immigrants in a humanitarian manner.
As anyone who’s watched CNN’s Lou Dobbs can attest, vicious hysteria
regarding undocumented foreign workers is being generated especially by
Republicans who recognize the key role that scapegoats can play in
consolidating their own, reactionary rule.
In fact, with fascistic attitudes emanating from the White House,
progressives should appreciate that “aliens” could be the
divide-and-conquer contrivance that so dupes the masses that unequivocal
authoritarianism might actually be realized here.
We need only look at Jews in Nazi Germany, Japanese-Americans in
internment camps following Pearl Harbor, and anyone with leftist
leanings during McCarthy-era witch hunts ... to grimly understand what’s
My own ethnic heritage and political orientation are instructive:
I was the third generation of my family to be associated with the
radical Finnish-American publishing house, Tyomies (Worker), formed in
1903 to serve as an information source and organizing tool for recent
immigrants who were enduring constant Robber Baron abuses.
In 1913, during a great copper strike in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the
Tyomies printed bulletins and other material not just for Finnish
miners, but for those of other nationalities as well, all in their
The mining company felt so threatened that thugs were hired to target
the building in which Tyomies was housed. A machine gun was acquired
and placed on its roof as protection.
In ensuing decades, and especially in the Rebel Thirties, the Tyomies
championed industrial unionism, women’s rights, equality for racial
minorities, etc. Long before being finally embodied in FDR’s New Deal,
it advocated the enlightened social agenda that lifted America from the
Great Depression’s dark depths.
During McCarthyism, the Tyomies was marked by the FBI for intense
surveillance and harassment, despite the fact that all publishing fell
clearly within First Amendment parameters.
Ultimately, deportation efforts were initiated against us. Two of our
chief editors were singled out. (Try to find an old recording of Woody
Guthrie’s classic song Deportees to get a viscerally affective
sense of how this tactic applies to Mexican farm workers.)
The feisty publishing house survived, however, becoming an early and
fervent backer of the Civil Rights movement, and a defiant opponent of
the Vietnam War. By then it had a section printed in English that, for
instance, forthrightly defended the Black Panther Party.
We were bona-fide citizens, doing nothing illegal, but that didn’t
matter to J. Edgar Hoover’s secret police. FBI agents were seen picking
through garbage cans behind our offices, seeking God knows what. They
also spied on us from a tavern across the street, unaware that the
bartender was a good friend who tipped us off whenever they arrived.
I once walked into my apartment to see a startled man in a dark suit
scurry out the side door. Our phones always clicked and popped,
indicating tapping. The NSA’s warrantless snooping is hardly anything
Some contend that our leftwing political activism warranted the
treatment we received. That’s bullshit. Our only “crime” was speaking
truth to power, and the power got pissed!
Finally, as age depleted the U.S. Finnish-speaking population, Tyomies
stilled its presses, leaving behind a proud legacy of always placing
people before profits (it was, in fact, a non profit entity).
It survived relentless, anti-radical and anti-immigrant attacks for
nearly 100 years. I wouldn’t wish such repression on anyone, certainly
not on those from “south of the border” who come here to escape both
state persecution and the economic parasitism that U.S.
multinational-corporate capitalism relies on.
It goes without saying, too, that we must also unwaveringly shield
innocent American Muslims from frenzied, post 9/11 abuse.
Just as there’s really no such thing as an “illegitimate child,” no
workers, whether possessing a particular regime’s formal documentation
or not, are truly “illegal.”
Foreign workers never “take” jobs. They are given them by U.S. bosses
who greedily desire their cheap influx into America. We shouldn’t punish
some poor, apprehended individual from Guatemala, say, when it’s
American Fat Cats whose selfish asses we should be kicking!
It’s not the lack of proper papers among the brown-skinned poor that’s
the problem, but the lack of scruples among white employers who profit
by feeding on labor’s lifeblood.
Ruth Vela, of the San Diego youth group FIST (Fight Imperialism, Stand
Together) gets to the crux of the problem:
“In the end, it is the international economic policies promoted by
capitalism that inevitably lead to increased immigration, that imposes
criminal penalties on workers in order to decrease wages by taking
advantage of undocumented workers who cannot risk demanding higher wages
or protesting abusive or illegal working conditions.”
If working people of all races unite -- without obfuscating qualifiers
pertaining to documentation -- we’ll acquire the collective power to
prevent anyone’s exploitation. Including our own.
Recent, pro-immigrant marches of hundreds of thousands of participants
in Chicago and Los Angeles show how to effectively fight back.
If we fail to manifest such solidarity elsewhere, our resulting weakness
will assure everyone’s ongoing victimization, an ever-broadening gap
between rich and poor, and liberty’s ultimate evisceration.
Cardinal Mahony’s immigration stand is clearly worthy and welcome.
We should passionately support his initiative, combining it with our own
calls for unconditional amnesty, access to citizenship, the ability to
join labor unions, family reunification and due, legal process for the
Under no circumstances should we back “guest worker” scams that are
just cynically rehashed versions of the infamous, discredited Bracero
Finally, and very importantly, we must champion the right of immigrants
to voice progressive or radical political views, without fear of
Everyone’s freedom hangs in the balance.
from Superior, Wisconsin, has been writing progressive commentary for
various outlets since the Sixties. He can be reached at
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