The Immigrant Rights Welcome Wagon?

April 10, 2008

Thanks for the good news in the May/June issue (“Of Migrants and Minutemen”) about immigrant labor organizing and Latino-black community building. However, you leave the impression that anyone who believes in reducing current levels of immigration is, consciously or unconsciously, in league with white racist hate groups. Should we assume that anyone who supports current levels of immigration is, consciously or unconsciously, in league with the cheap-labor lobby? Will your next issue add a chart of transnational corporations, foundations, and arrows pointing to immigrant rights groups? As contributor Ruth Milkman noted in passing, “strange bedfellows indeed.” In actuality, business and labor versions of globalism are no stranger bedfellows than liberal and nativist versions of nationalism. Sometimes they conflict and sometimes they converge.

The issue did not address three problems in the immigrant rights welcome wagon:

1. The more immigrants come, the less the U.S. economy will pay them. In February the Public Policy Institute reported that native workers are not being displaced by the high levels of immigration into California. The bad news is in the fine print: “The actual losers in the equation are prior immigrants, whose wages are hurt by the newcomers. In 2004, immigrants who had entered California before 1990 lost between 17% and 20% of their real wages due to the entry of new foreign-born workers.”

2. Entire regions are strategizing their future in terms of increasing their migration streams into North America and Western Europe. Thanks to the allure of television and remittances, a potent example of Marx’s commodity fetishism, the number of people around the world who visualize their future in terms of migrating to capitalist hot spots is staggering. Requiting their desires in their own countries through economic development is at best a long-term solution. As a short- or medium-term solution, development rhetoric is delusional.

3. The open access demanded by the immigrant rights movement will swamp the ability of the United States to guarantee a living wage, safe jobs and streets, decent health care, and other basic rights to all its citizens. The movement’s attitude toward U.S. citizenship is similar to that of the Bush administration toward federal contracts—that it is an unlimited good to which one’s particular interest group has an unlimited right.

David Stoll
Associate Professor of Anthropology
Middlebury College, Vermont


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