Thursday, April 17, 2008

Complex Culture Revisited

I’ve just finished reading a book on immigration to the U.S., focused on undocumented immigration from Latin America to San Diego, California. It's called Shadowed Lives: Undocumented Immigrants in American Society, a case-study written by anthropologist Leo Chavez. In the epilogue the author investigates the intent of 90’s immigration reform and argues that its aim was split along production and reproduction. By denying legal and illegal immigrants social services women and children would be less likely to live and settle in the U.S., but migrant workers as well as other young single men and women would not be further deterred from finding work in the U.S.

“Proposition 187 and most of the immigration and welfare reform proposals that followed it, targeted health care, education, and other social services as the principle attractions for immigrants, both legal and undocumented. This approach to the control of immigration, however, targets women and children, or the reproduction of the immigrant family, rather than targeting the labor of the immigrant worker (both male and female). Since immigrant women and children are more likely than immigrant men to use health care, educational services, and other social services, denying immigrants these social services would, supposedly, reduce the incentives for family formation (i.e. reproduction), and thus fewer spouses and children of immigrant workers would decide to come to the United States.” “Proposition 187 did not advocate more funds for ensuring fair labor standards and practices and thus reducing the incentive for hiring immigrant, especially undocumented, labor.”

Chavez goes on to say “…the point I am trying to make is that denying immigrants social services would clearly make immigrant families’ lives more difficult. But if the families of immigrant workers decide to return to Mexico or other family members back home stay put, then we will have reduced costs associated with immigrant labor while maintaining, and even increasing, the profits of that labor.”

Such reform undoubtedly perpetuates the often unfair, unregulated treatment and wages of undocumented immigrants which benefits employers. Chavez’s point about the intention of such reform is driven home with the example that Governor Pete Wilson, “one of the most vociferous proponents of denying health care and education to undocumented immigrants, often encouraged the immigration commissioner to stop raids on California companies, arguing that sweeping up undocumented workers caused unnecessary disruptions to business.”

These reforms, whether or not intentionally, logically lead to immigrants that contribute equally (in some cases more so) than U.S. citizens to economy and culture but cannot benefit equally from the combined efforts of the society to which they contribute. Immigrants are treated as inferior citizens, sub-class. This complex, conflicted, evolved creature that is the politics of immigration in the U.S. reminds me of the passage in VAS in which a doctor contemplates euthanizing a moribund young girl with inexplicable symptoms before her father would arrive and disallow him from performing an autopsy.

1 comment:

Ian B said...

I think that we should write every immigration law off the books. Migration between countries is something that the free market is particularly adept at regulating. Citizenship should be only slightly regulated for bookkeeping reasons. Now, where I differ from others is that I think the only benefit to citizenship (regardless of immigrant status) should be the enforcement of property rights and of the other rights guarantied by the constitution. (of course I'm talking about benefits in terms of the federal govt.) I don't know where I'm going with this, but I do know that it irritates me whenever I hear some nationalistic jerk ( Lou Dobbs) talk about how immigrants are draining our resources when that's total bullshit. What we really need to do is to reevaluate our overblown perception of what the role of the federal government actually is.