Guerrero: Imagine if white vigilantes and ‘illegals’ united for their common cause

During the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency, I interviewed a 78-year-old man who regularly patrolled his border-adjacent property in the rural California town of Boulevard, wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an AR-10. “It is my duty to protect my country from invaders,” Bob Maupin told me.

The retired mechanic and self-proclaimed “vigilante” mourned the loss of his wife, who died last summer. He choked on her. “She was my life,” he said. He told me that if Trump hadn’t won in 2016, he planned to take part in a riot. He wouldn’t divulge any details other than saying he’d risk it all. “I’m going to die and I don’t care how,” he said. “But I’m not going to die a drooling old man in a retirement home pushing a walker. I’m going out in a firefight.”

Stipple style portrait illustration of Jean Guerrero

opinion columnist

Jean Guerrero

Jean Guerrero is the most recent author of Hatemonger: Stephen Miller, Donald Trump and the White Nationalist Agenda.

He died (not in a firefight, but of cancer) a year before hundreds of insurgents stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021. But I remembered him that day. I remembered how, after the videographer stopped recording him, Maupin would fix my eyes as he said tonelessly, “I might have to kill you.” I couldn’t reconcile his danger with my empathy for him: a Man desperate for meaning in a conspiratorial underworld, not unlike my father, a Mexican immigrant whose story I documented.

Maupin and I had more in common than any of us had with Trump or any other tax-evading billionaire who pits people against each other: white versus black versus brown. Imagine Latina matriarchs and others Guerreras join forces with white vigilantes like Maupin in a common struggle. Such a class-based multiracial coalition would be unstoppable. And strange as it may sound, the primary goals of each group would be compatible.

A bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) to provide green cards to millions of undocumented people who have lived here for years is a critical step in creating such a coalition. But it needs the backing of the GOP, which will not happen without undoing the Trumpist fiction that portrays “amnesty” as harmful to white and native-born workers.

The opposite is true. Green cards for undocumented migrants would allow them to demand higher wages and report abuses from employers they would otherwise tolerate, fearing deportation. It would be a victory for the unions and would make it more difficult for employers to bust unions and exploit them with impunity by invoking immigration and customs officials. “The more people can stand up for themselves and make sure wages aren’t undercut, the better off everyone is,” Lofgren said.

A key complaint from alienated white factions mirrors that of undocumented workers: they feel left out of the American dream and are being left out. An empowered workforce would tear down the walls of the elite for that dream.

Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929, or House Resolution 8433, would update the existing law so that people of “good morals” who have been here for at least seven years could apply for green cards. It would protect up to 8 million people by updating the so-called “registration date,” which has changed four times since the law was introduced. The last time the date was updated was 1986 to 1971: if you entered before then you can apply for a green card. But millions have come since then. Many are “essential workers”. Many are parents of US citizens.

The bill is short and simple, creates a rolling seven-year window for green card registration, and was scheduled to pass during the lame duck session of Congress after the midterm elections. In the meantime, our leaders must pierce divide-and-conquer mythologies that date back to colonial times, when elites conspired to keep poor whites from uniting with enslaved blacks.

Green cards for undocumented Americans, as proposed in HR 8433, would boost gross domestic product by hundreds of billions of dollars and increase tens of billions in taxes these workers already pay. They would open the floodgates to suffrage, so many could join the fight for decent wages and health care, and perhaps even halt the parasitic foreign policies that have driven so many people to the Global South.

GOP politicians were once outspoken about protecting undocumented migrants; the last major legalization bill was passed under the Reagan administration. But today, most Republicans would be labeled racist rather than “pro-amnesty.”

On the right, support for immigrants has become synonymous with aloof elitism, a cavalier approach to working Americans. The narrative distorts the truth: that raising the floor for the most abused workers benefits all workers. Some employers use immigrants to undercut wages, but this is a problem of the current situation and not an argument against granting legal status. The employers’ tactic only works because so many immigrants live in fear.

There was a time when the labor movement viewed immigrants as scabs and job thieves because employers had so abusively used them. But in 2000, the AFL-CIO changed position and called for the legalization of millions of workers. The success of the Service Employees International Union’s Justice for Janitors campaign over the past decade has shown that undocumented people are eager to connect with their peers in the struggle for dignity.

The draft Register Act could unleash the full organizing potential of workers.

But a corporate class in the Democratic Party has long conspired with the GOP to avoid that outcome, pursuing “migrant worker” and other precarious labor programs rather than emancipation for those deeply rooted here.

MAGA patriots were tricked into perceiving undocumented Americans as enemies. But as Lorena Gonzalez, executive director of the California Labor Federation, told me, “A construction worker or electrician making six figures has more in common with an undocumented farmhand than with a guy trying to get to Mars.”

Politicians should be shouting this from rooftops, on talk shows, at campaign rallies and on social media.

Green cards for undocumented workers would free up all workers.

@jeanguerre Guerrero: Imagine if white vigilantes and ‘illegals’ united for their common cause

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