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July 2007
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Immigration quotas discussed in this week’s The Nation

In the July 9 issue of The Nation, Mae Ngai notes that recent immigration reform policies have done nothing to address the inequitable distribution of green cards: current rules give 25,620 across the board to every country, with population and immigration trends ignored. [A New Green Card Deal, article by subscription].

One of the most striking points she makes, at least from my born-in-1978 viewpoint, is the following:

…[W]e could allocate green cards to countries based on the relative size of their population and emigration demand; their ties to American citizens and institutions; and their supply of low- and high-skilled labor that we need. In other words, if we acknowledge that immigration is driven by supply and demand and take into account the needs of the United States and other countries, we might have a system that is more realistic and fair.

…[B]efore 1965 there were no numerical restrictions on immigration from countries of the Western Hemisphere, in keeping with the tradition of Pan-Americanism. When we imposed quotas on Mexico and the rest of the Americas after 1965, we got illegal immigration. (8)

I agree with her point that the quotas are in need of review. However, on the issue of supply and demand, I don’t think that the US market’s insatiable appetite for cheap labor needs to be encouraged. NAFTA and globalization have only increased the flood of undocumented workers into the US, and the trends don’t seem to be improving. Meanwhile, families are separated, villages are dying out, and cultures are undergoing violent and rapid change–for what? To meet the “needs of the United States.”


Comment from Chris
Time: July 5, 2007, 11:56 am

American laws will always be driven by American self-interest. The best argument that can be made against current immigration policy (on a pragmatic level) is that it’s bad for America. Laws that make provision for the supply-and-demand labor flow between the U.S. and Latin America, and in so doing offer protected legal status to immigrant laborers, would be the best potential outcome.

I’m ignorant of the broader issues (NAFTA, etc). What larger-scale economic reforms do you think might help the immigration issue?

PS: I finally blogged about immigrants and taxes, so I linked your entry on the issue.

Comment from Christine
Time: July 6, 2007, 11:13 am

The problems of NAFTA seem, to me, to be the problems of labor in the US writ large. Not content to exploit American labor for their own benefit, corporations have gained under NAFTA a larger opportunity to erode worker rights and protections and fewer basic environmental controls, to name my key concerns.

The economic reforms I spend the most time dreaming about are living wage jobs and universal health care. American labor has suffered immensely due to corporate greed; real wages have declined even as profiteering has increased. The wealth that corporations generate is not going into the pockets of the workers, be they Americans, El Salvadorean, or any other nationality. Adjusted for inflation, US workers in 2004 made almost 1% less than they did in 1964 [source]; when the economy grows even as workers’ incomes shrink, we have a problem.

Where is all the excess going? Not into equitable health care, for sure. The WHO ranked the US 37th among the world’s health care systems in 2000. People in power seem to devote more energy to protecting the profit margins of the health care industry than to ensuring that individuals have an opportunity for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; it’s just another symptom of the new US, in which the rights of individuals have shifted to corporations.

The most important reform I can think of would be to work toward economic justice; it is our unjust practices that have built the foundation for illegal immigration in the first place.