As throughout history, the overwhelming majority of those incarcerated are workers, with “the law” coming down disproportionately on those who are Black, Latino, or Native American. Today fully one of every three young males who are Black is either in prison, on parole, or on probation. Lockdowns and solitary confinement, with their dehumanizing effects — designed to make you feel helpless and worthless — are increasingly the norm. …
It’s also necessary for class-conscious workers to recognize, explain, and raise our voices against the outrage that nowhere is the denial of the franchise to working people more far-reaching than in US prisons. Forty-eight out of the fifty states, as well as the federal government, bar prisoners sentenced on felony charges from voting while incarcerated (and many while on parole or probation). Twelve states disenfranchise certain people even after they’re no longer behind bars or on parole or probation, in several cases permanently.1
No human being is ‘illegal’In 1996 Clinton signed into law the condescendingly named Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, adopted by a Republican Congress. That law expands the powers of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS)2 to round up and deport those charged with being “illegal” immigrants without the right to judicial review or appeal. Simultaneously the White House and Congress funded the expansion of the hated la migra into the largest federal cop agency, one that has stepped up factory raids and deportations to record numbers in recent years.
Far from aiming to stem the flow of labor from the Americas and elsewhere into the United States, the rulers need immigrant workers as a superexploitable labor pool and intend for their repressive measures to heighten insecurity and fear among them. Maintaining this second-class status for immigrants is one of the ways the employers promote competition and conflict among workers in order to press down wages and conditions of the entire working class and further divide and weaken the unions and efforts to organize the unorganized.
Under the Star Chamber provisions of the 1996 Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act (once again, the name itself stands in condemnation of its ruling-class authors), the US government has stepped up its “preventive detention” of individuals on the basis of “secret evidence.” Most are immigrants from Arab or other majority Muslim countries accused of links with “terrorist organizations” — the code word the US rulers increasingly use to rationalize both assaults on democratic rights at home and military strikes abroad (actually mass murder from the air).
The Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act also greatly weakens centuries-old habeas corpus protections, making it much easier for federal judges all the way up to the Supreme Court to deny the release or refuse to commute the death sentences of prisoners presenting evidence they were erroneously incarcerated or wrongly condemned to death. Among other things, the law denies the right of death-row prisoners to submit more than one habeas corpus petition for federal court review of their cases — “one strike” and you’re out.
As a result of this legislation, together with the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, the number of immigrants held in US immigration jails any given day awaiting the outcome of threatened deportations has jumped to some 20,000 people at the opening of the new century — a 245 percent increase just since 1996.
1. This would be inexcusable even if only a handful of workers and others were denied voting rights in this way. But that’s not the case. In 2016 nearly 6 million people — some 2.5 percent of the adult US population — have temporarily or forever lost the right to cast a ballot due to a felony conviction. In Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, and Virginia, more than 7 percent of the adult population was barred from voting on this basis in 2010. Nationwide nearly 8 percent of African American men are disenfranchised, with between 20 percent and 23 percent in Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia! …
2. In March 2003, as part of a post-9/11 reorganization of federal police and spying agencies, the state functions carried out by the INS were transferred from the Department of Justice to the newly formed Department of Homeland Security and divided among three bodies: US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); US Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).