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June 1995 Volume 2 Number 6
Immigration in the Americas
The North-South Center at the University of Miami held a workshop May 19-20 on International Migration and Immigration Policy in the Americas to explore the current dimensions and reactions to migration.<< back
Participants were reminded that, despite polls suggesting that the fear of mass immigration is now equal to the fear of the spread of nuclear weapons--72 percent of those polled put these threats at the top of their list-- US doors to immigrants, non immigrants, and unauthorized entrants remains open. Every day, about 2,500 legal immigrants arrive, as do 60,000 non immigrants, and about 1,000 unauthorized aliens settle here.
The year 1994 was the year that the Clinton administration took actions to deal with immigration issues, and 1995 is shaping up to be a year of Congressional action on immigration. In 1994, the Clinton administration announced reforms that deny work authorization to asylum applicants, stepped up border control efforts in Texas, Arizona, and California, and changed migration policy on Haiti and Cuba several times. In the case of Haiti, it was noted that some Haitians assert that their country is the only Caribbean nation that "must" remain democratic so that Haitian migrants have no claim to US asylum.
Immigration bills are working their ways through both houses of Congress. The bills most likely to be enacted in 1995 would deal with illegal immigration by experimenting with new systems through which newly-hired workers prove to their employers that they are authorized to work in the US. The debate over internal enforcement, it was agreed, is whether emphasis should be placed on a data base against which employers can check worker numbers, whether the emphasis should be on a secure card for all workers, or whether emphasis should be placed on stepped-up workplace enforcement.
There was extensive discussion at the conference about why the US seems poised to reduce legal and illegal immigration. Some argued that the anti-immigrant mood represents another period of nativism, defined by historian John Higham as a combination of nationalism and ethnic prejudice. But it was also noted that there are powerful forces operating at individual, family, and village levels, as well as in emigration countries and in some sectors of the US economy, that will make it very difficult to enact and enforce effective immigration controls.
One in-between outcome of an effort to reduce immigration when there are strong forces that want it to continue is to acknowledge inevitable migration, but seek to regulate it in a manner that does not lead to settlement. This is the definition of a guest worker program, and several participants thought that the US may develop different policies for different countries--virtually stopping e.g., Haitian immigration, because it is not an economic necessity, but trying to manage Mexican migration with a guest worker program.
The conference addressed both south-to-north flows of people within the Americas as well as global migration flows. It was noted that there is an alphabet soup of international organizations to deal with the one-sixth of the world's GDP that flows across borders in the form of trade, but few international organizations to deal with the two percent of the world's population that flows across borders.
There was considerable discussion of why states should give up power to one or more international organizations to deal with migration. In contrast to trade organizations, for example, there is no theory or consensus that countries should be open to immigrants, but there is a theory that countries will grow faster if they are open to trade in goods.
Second, it is widely recognized that freeing up trade creates winners and losers, so that states often willingly give up power to international organizations, and put the blame for free trade or tight money decisions on the World Bank or the WTO. Immigration also creates winners and losers, but there is less agreement that states should turn at least some migration control over to international organizations to help them to deal with domestic winners and losers in the wake of immigration reforms.
Third, it is widely recognized that trade channels tend to narrow over time as special interests attempt to erect barriers to trade, so international organizations that regulate trade matters look skeptically at the attempts of countries to interfere with the free flow of goods. Migration channels, by contrast, can widen over time as networks are set in motion, so that an international organization might be forced to play dual roles, justifying restrictions in countries that want to limit immigration, and justifying the lowering of migration barriers on behalf of countries that want to increase labor exports.
National attitudes toward migration have evolved since the mercantilist era, when especially skilled craftsmen were hoarded and emigration was discouraged. In the 19th century, emigration became a safety valve for industrializing European societies.
Many other topics were raised in the free-flowing discussion. For example, just how much of the "immigrant problem" in industrial democracies is created by these rich countries recruiting cheap labor, or sending capital abroad that disrupts traditional production relationships and thereby sets migration in motion? What does it mean to be a member of more open and diverse societies such as the US, and how easy should the US make naturalization?
The current immigrant wave raises doubts about whether the US will be able to successfully integrate the diverse newcomers arriving today. The same fears were raised at the beginning of the century, and it was argued that the key to integration is the second generation, an issue on which there are signs for optimism and pessimism.
Most authors concluded that there is a permanence in the migration they studied, whether Salvadorans in Long Island, or Colombians in Venezuela. In each case, a long period in a richer country leads to permanent settlement for a significant fraction of the immigrants.
To obtain a conference agenda and request conference papers, contact Max Castro at 305-284-8972 or email@example.com