• Edición impresa de Noviembre 5, 2013


A global consensus is emerging on immigration policy–and the U.S. isn’t heeding it.

allover1113aImmigrants, workers, union members and community activists marched on May Day in San Jose. Marchers protested attacks on immigrants, unions and the rights of workers, and called on Congress to pass a just immigration reform.

The United States has become home to a large number of people born outside its borders—there were some 40 million as of 2010, according to various estimates. That was up from approximately 20 million in 1990.

The immigration debate in the United States usually treats the migration of people into this country as something unique. But it is not. The United Nations estimates that 232 million people worldwide live outside the countries where they were born—3.2 percent of the world’s population. In 2000 it was 175 million, and in 1990, 154 million. The number of cross-border migrants has grown by 78 million people in just over 20 years—enough to fill 20 cities the size of Los Angeles.

U.S. exceptionalism—the idea that this country is somehow unique and different—has no basis in fact when it comes to migration, which is a global phenomenon. And the big questions are why are the number of migrants increasing so rapidly and what should be done about it.

As people around the world try to come to terms with this reality it is clear that Congress and the Obama administration are at one pole of an international debate. At this pole the Tea Party and Democrats find common ground. They may disagree on legalization for the undocumented, but they agree on the other basic elements of what is called “comprehensive immigration reform.” Both support trade policies benefiting corporations, while turning a blind eye to the havoc and displacement they cause. And their shared “solution” is to channel displaced people into labor programs, while coming down hard on those who migrate outside the approved framework.

The European Union also calls for preventing the employment of undocumented people, and “a humane and effective return [deportation] policy,” in the European Council’s “Return Directive” of 2008. It does, however, emphasize the rights of migrants more than U.S. policies.

The U.S. “solution,” however, is not just a proposal debated in Congress, but a reality on the ground, implementing long-standing policies.

Last year 409,849 people were deported from the United States, bringing the total to about 2 million for the first five years of the Obama administration. According to the Department of Homeland Security, current deportations average 30,791 per month, including more than 8,500 parents of U.S. citizen children. The government spends more today on border and immigration enforcement than on all other Federal law enforcement agencies combined.

In addition, authorities annually audit the records of more than 2,000 employers, ordering them to fire hundreds of thousands of workers who lack legal immigration status. And while firings of those without papers increase, so does the number of workers brought to the United States by employers with visas that tie their ability to stay to their jobs—“guest workers.” A recent report by the Global Workers Justice Alliance, Visas Inc., says between 700,000 and 900,000 migrants are working in the United States on temporary work visas. The most notorious of these visa programs, H2A and H2B, are called “close to slavery” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Less discussed, but just as much a part of migration policy, is the impact of global economic policies in developing countries that are the source of the migration. When the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was enacted in 1993, 4.6 million Mexicans lived in the United State. By 2008, 11 percent of Mexico’s population lived here—12.7 million people.

Again, the United States is not alone. France today, with about 66 million inhabitants, has 8.3 million migrants, up from 5.9 million 20 years ago. Italy went from 1.4 to 4.5 million in the same period. In the United States, France, Italy and other developed countries, migrant workers are an essential part of the economy, laboring in the lowest-paid and least secure jobs.

Despite this growth in migration, however, there is almost no discussion in developed countries of the reasons for it, and the high cost of migration to migrants’ countries of origin. At the other end of the migrant stream, trade agreements like NAFTA and structural adjustment policies require countries like Mexico and the Philippines to cut the social budget for education, healthcare and other services in order to make debt payments, while opening their economies to foreign corporations. Those countries then become increasingly dependent on the money sent home by migrants working abroad.




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