Immigration is clearly emerging as one of the defining issues of the 21st century. The United Nations has estimated that nearly 200 million people live and work outside their native lands today -– a number larger than at any other time in history. Immigration per se is of course not new. Movements of peoples have always existed. What is unprecedented today, however, is the kaleidoscopic diversity of the migrant population, its magnitude, and its rapid growth. The number of migrants indeed has more than doubled since 1975 and is projected to continue to grow on a global scale.1
The effect of immigration is felt above all in rich, industrialized nations. Data indicate that 75% of all international migrants are concentrated in only 28 countries. In the United States, for example, there are an estimated 38 million foreign-born people representing 13% of the population; in Canada 6 million, or 19% of the population; in Australia 4 million or about 20% of the population, and in the European Union 41 million, or approximately 10% of the combined population of all EU member-states, even though there are significant disparities among various countries. Many nations have also switched from being lands of emigrants to becoming countries of immigrants, as in the cases of Ireland, Italy, and Greece. These migration flows coupled with steady declines in native birthrates are redrawing the population map of many countries, spurring heated debates over national identity and border security, and generating suspicion, fear, and hatred of the “other.”2
The main causes of today’s migrations are more or less the same as in the past: the economic push of poverty on the one hand, and the pull of global capital on the other. Migration reflects, as Darko Suvin puts it, “a deep wish for enhancement, and often even for a salvation, of lives.”3 Desperate and often with no other option, many immigrants are prepared to risk their lives and cross borders clandestinely in search of better economic opportunities. At least 3,500 people have died trying to penetrate Europe in the last decade and similar figures have been estimated for people trying to cross the US-Mexico border. Many of these migrants become victims of unscrupulous smugglers and traffickers who subject them to a variety of abuses, including blackmailing, violence, forced labor, and sexual exploitation.4
While most people migrate for economic motives, some are forced to leave for political, humanitarian or environmental reasons, including wars, climate change, and natural calamities. Overall, refugees total over 11 million, about 8% of all international migrants, but only a tiny minority of them end up living in industrialized countries; well over 80% seek havens in countries bordering their own, as in the most recent cases of displaced people from sub-Sahara Africa, the former Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. For all their complaints against the alleged abuses of the asylum system, industrialized nations share a very small onus of the international refugee crisis. For example, whereas Pakistan and Syria accepted more than 2 million and 1.5 million refugees respectively in 2007, the United States admitted only 281,000.5
Yet, industrialized states are largely to blame for the conditions that are causing people to flee. Entire populations in developing nations today are being displaced because their national economies are being destroyed by the neoliberal reforms and policies imposed by hegemonic countries and institutions like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Non-capitalist structures and traditional ways of living and working have crumbled under the pressures of globalization. In this new world order, uprooted and displaced people often have no choice but to migrate in search of bread and work denied to them at home. In doing so, they come to provide the cheap labor power necessary for capitalism to continue to expand and increase profits by reducing overhead.6
Today as in the past, then, the factors leading to voluntary or semi-voluntary displacement are primarily economic. However, there are a few important differences from previous mass migrations. To start with, there is a new, growing global trend of “south to south” migrants who are moving “from countries of extreme poverty to countries just slightly better off economically.” The World Bank has estimated that about 74 million people — nearly half of all international migrants -– move across developing nations; from Haiti to the Dominican Republic, for example; from Paraguay to Brazil; from Cambodia to Thailand, or from Mozambique to South Africa. These immigrants tend to be poorer, less educated, and less skilled than migrants who go to industrialized countries. As a result they earn less money and are more likely to travel illegally and be exploited. Yet, they play a crucial role in the world economy, supporting with their earnings some of the poorest people on earth.7
Another important change in global migration is what scholars have described as the “feminization of immigration.” Whereas traditionally economic migrants were predominantly men whose families might then follow, today women constitute about half of all international immigrants and they actually outnumber male migrants in developing countries.8 Perhaps more importantly, whereas before women tended to migrate as spouses and therefore principally for family reunification purposes, today they are increasingly moving independently and for economic opportunities. Thanks to increasing demands for “reproductive work” and “entertainment” -– such as cleaning, cooking, child and elderly care, or singing, dancing, and hosting –- migrant women are actually becoming the breadwinners of their households and making important socio-economic contributions to both native and receiving countries.9 These changes have both negative and positive consequences. On the one hand, migration can offer women new opportunities, greater equality and freedom, as well as relief from oppression and discrimination; but, as many human rights advocates have pointed out, the unregulated nature of their labor can also make them particularly vulnerable, exposing them to low wages, poor working conditions, and physical or sexual abuse.10 Women’s decision to migrate comes also at a huge psychological and emotional cost: they must leave their children behind in exchange for earnings that can provide them with a better life. One can only imagine the sorrow and sense of guilt that come with such a decision.
The new economics of migration are also producing an unprecedented exodus of skilled, technical, and professional workers, who are unable to find proper employment in their native countries and decide to emigrate in search of better opportunities. Industrialized countries generally support this type of migration, arguing that it represents an important source of knowledge transfer between sending and receiving countries. Others, however, see it as a “brain drain” -– a depletion of human resources for the sending countries and part of the ongoing plunder of poorer nations by richer ones.11
Much has also been said about the transnational character of today’s migrations. Many have argued that transnationalism -– a term initially coined by American intellectual Randolph Bourne and used recently by scholars to describe connections spanning home and host societies -– is an inherent aspect of immigration.12 However, as an increasing number of scholars have shown, globalization and the rise of information technology -– particularly money transfers, and phone and Internet communications -– are making it possible for immigrants “to maintain, build, and reinforce multiple linkages with their countries of origin” at a more intense and sustained level than ever before.13 As Alejandro Portes and other scholars have noted, an increasing number of persons, particularly college-educated and skilled migrants, today “live a dual life: speaking two languages, having homes in two countries, and making a living through continuous regular contact across national borders.”14 This expanding flow of people and information is propelling, in turn, an unprecedented network of encounters, cooperation, and collaboration across the world, which, as many have noted, represents the potential for organized resistance and the creation of an international working class movement.15
Policymakers and civil rights activists, as well as scholars, public intellectuals and media reporters have increasingly recognized the challenges that these new migration trends pose for the 21st century. It is not a coincidence that in recent years migration studies have become one of the most popular fields of study. Amazon.com currently lists more than 17,000 English-language book results under the search “immigration,” and more than 50,000 under “ethnic studies.” Issues of assimilation/incorporation/acculturation, transnationalism, and racialization as well as concerns about migration policies, border security, labor, and citizenship have generated, and continue to generate, heated debates in scholarly journals and public media.
In conceiving this special issue we wanted to add our voice to this ongoing discussion. But we especially felt the pressing need to reflect on immigration from a radical or progressive point of view that, in line with the mission of our journal, calls into question all forms of oppression, discrimination, and inequality, and tries to foster a multiracial and multiethnic vision based on the mutual respect of different cultures, the valorizing of human dignity, and the “universalization of basic human rights.”16
At the present time, immigrants are increasingly coming under attack. Raids and detentions are on the rise. In the United States thousands have been arrested in coordinated roundups at various plants belonging to companies known to rely largely on immigrant workers. Federal agents, for example, arrested more than 280 unauthorized workers employed at Pilgrim’s Pride, a chicken processing company, on April 16, 2008. Another 260 were arrested the following month at a meatpacking plant in Iowa and sentenced to five months in prison on charges of violating federal identity theft laws. Hundreds more are being rounded up from coast to coast for minor offenses like driving with malfunctioning headlights or fishing without a license. About 280,000 were deported in 2007 -– a 44% increase over the previous year.17
According to a report by Jorge A. Bustamante to the United Nations Human Rights Council, thousands of immigrants in the United States are being locked up for days, months or years without any regard to medical care, visitation, and legal rights while the government decides their fate. As the New York Times and the Washington Post have disclosed, between January 2004 and November 2007 at least 66 immigrants died while in detention. Boubacar Bah, an immigrant from Guinea who died in the Elizabeth Detention Center in New Jersey (one of the many immigration jails that have increasingly emerged across the nation), was detained for simply overstaying a tourist visa.18 Domenico Salerno, an Italian tourist trying to visit his American girlfriend last May, ended up spending 10 days in a county jail in Virginia because customs agents “suspected” he wanted to work in the United States. In the barracks where he was taken he found 75 other men who told him they had been waiting for a year.19 While we hear more and more of these cases we rarely learn about the psychological effects of confinement on immigrants. The poems written by Chinese at the Angel Island detention center in San Francisco between 1910 and 1940, some of which are being republished in this volume, remind us that life for these detainees can be extremely humiliating and demoralizing. As one of them wrote: “In prison we were victimized as if we were guilty/Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.”
American legislators have repeatedly attempted to pass tougher immigration laws, to limit the number of visas for foreign workers, and to curtail immigrants’ rights. On December 6, 2005 Republican Congressman James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin introduced a bill known as HR 4437, which photographer and writer David Bacon describes as “one of the most repressive immigration proposals of the last hundred years.”20 The bill was approved in the House by a margin of 239-182 but did not pass the Senate. If signed into law, it would have made being undocumented in the United States a felony, as opposed to a civil offense, and would have applied criminal sanctions of up to five years in prison to any person or organization assisting undocumented immigrants, including religious or humanitarian groups. Among other provisions, the bill proposed to erect up to 700 miles of fencing along the US-Mexico border; give state and local law officials the power to enforce federal immigration laws; bar asylum seekers and refugees convicted of a minor offense from permanent legal residence and eventual citizenship; and eliminate the diversity visa lottery program, which allows 50,000 immigrants each year from countries around the world to win permanent residence.21
More recent legislative attempts to restrict immigration include the SAVE Act (Secure America with Verification and Enforcement ) and the New Employee Verification Act that, as an editorial in the New York Times complained, “are designed to squeeze illegal immigrants out of the country by making it impossible for them to find work.”22 Introduced by Republican Heath Shuler in November 2007, the SAVE Act requires American employers to verify the work status of their workers through the use of a highly criticized governmental Internet-based program knows as Basic Pilot/E-Verify, which provides information collected from the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration.23
In the meantime, as Congress continues to debate immigration reforms, states have taken direct steps to enforce tougher laws against undocumented immigrants. In 2007, 1,562 immigration bills were introduced nationwide, and 240 were enacted in 46 states. The most controversial was Oklahoma’s Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, authored by Republican Randy Terrill, which makes it a felony to transport or shelter undocumented immigrants; denies them driver’s licenses and public benefits such as health care, rental assistance, and fuel subsidies; and requires employers with government contracts to screen new hires against a federal database to make sure they are legally eligible to work, denying them the contracts if they fail to comply. As if this was not bad enough, Representative Terrill plans to introduce a follow-up bill which would make English Oklahoma’s official language and would allow police to seize property of those who violate its terms, including landlords.24
There is also evidence of growing xenophobia, especially in the South. Roberto Lovato in a recent article for The Nation reported that “more than 144 new ‘nativist extremist’ groups and 300 anti-immigrant organizations” –- most notably Save Our State (SOS), the California Coalition for Immigrant Reform, and the Federation of American Immigration Reform –- have emerged in recent years.25 More alarmingly, Minutemen vigilantes have been formed in California and Arizona to patrol the border with Mexico, reporting and often assaulting undocumented immigrants. Drawing a few hundred volunteers, the Minutemen staged their first border “action” near Tucson in April 2005. Among their supporters was California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who publicly praised their movement, saying that they were “doing a great job.”26
Anti-immigration attacks are not limited to the United States. Violence and riots have erupted in dozens of cities across the world, as in the poor suburbs of France three years ago, or, more recently, in South Africa, where as many as 60 immigrants were lynched. In Italy, police lately conducted a series of raids against undocumented immigrants –- or extra-comunitari, extra-communitarians, as they are pejoratively called there –- in several major cities that led to the arrest of about 400 people and the immediate expulsion of more than 100 of them, provoking criticism from human rights watchdogs and the European Parliament.27 The newly re-elected right-wing Italian government headed by Silvio Berlusconi, which includes the anti-immigration Lega Lombarda (Northern League Party), has also passed a series of laws designed to crack down on illegal immigration and tighten existing immigration policies. As in the case of the proposed US Bill 4437, the new Italian measures make undocumented immigration a criminal offense punishable by jail time up to 18 months; give authorities the power to confiscate property rented to illegal immigrants; restrict the granting of asylum; and make it harder for legal immigrants to bring in family members by mandating DNA tests to ensure that only truly close family members will be admitted to the country. The new laws also allow for the expulsion of EU citizens who are convicted of criminal offenses or who don’t have sufficient earnings and decent housing -– which, as many have complained, seems to target “undesirable” immigrants from eastern European countries such as Romania and Albania.28
Italy is not alone. Governments across Europe have been hastening to devise stronger measures to restrict immigration. France, Germany, the U.K., and Denmark have all long implemented laws that tighten up borders and work permits, limit the number of admissible refugees, and punish undocumented immigrants more severely.29 On June 18, 2008, the European Union, in an attempt to provide common standards on immigration among EU member states, passed a measure called “return directive” -– renamed “the directive of shame” by civil liberties groups -– that allows undocumented immigrants to be detained for up to 18 months and banned from re-entry for five years.30 Even Ireland, so far the most tolerant of the European nations, is starting to limit immigration flows. In 2004 it eliminated a law that gave citizenship to all children born on its soil and permanent residency to their immigrant parents, even if undocumented. Now citizenship is reserved only to children of longtime legal immigrant residents.31
The paradox is that while powerful nation-states whine against the influx of immigrants and the potential loss of national identity, they rely heavily on immigrant labor to perform jobs that no-one wants to undertake –- jobs known as “the four Ds: dirty, difficult, demeaning and dangerous,” such as garbage collection, street cleaning, construction, mining, and seasonal and domestic work. In Italy, for instance, there are an estimated 1.7 million foreign domestic helpers, most of them without papers, who perform jobs Italians refuse to do despite high unemployment figures, such as caring for the elderly, cleaning homes, and baby-sitting.
Globalization and neoliberalism have in effect given rise to “segmented labor markets where a primary market which generates high-paying secure jobs coexists side by side with a secondary market that is typically generating insecure, low-paying jobs and hazardous and unpleasant working conditions.” Migrants, including a large percentage of undocumented, dominate not only the service industry workforce, but also agriculture and manufacturing. Without them, as David Bacon noted, whole industries and corporations would actually collapse. One would then logically expect nation-states to welcome and encourage labor mobility between nations to foster economic growth and profit. As Atif Kubursi provocatively asks, “If goods and capital may migrate at will, effortlessly crossing national boundaries, why are obstacles placed on the movement of people?”32
In fact, there is, at the heart of modern capitalism, a stark contradiction between the desire to promote free trade and globalization on the one hand, and the pressure to restrict migration on the other. Sovereign nation-states acquiesce to mounting requests for liberalization of money and goods, pushing developing countries to implement similar policies. Yet, driven by socio-political concerns, as well as racism and imperialism, they simultaneously “erect rigorous barriers when migrating underprivileged workers seek parity with the populations of rich countries.”33 They want to profit from immigrants’ labor but hypocritically deny them the right to a dignified life by restricting opportunities for them, refusing them civic rights, and confining them into a position of “second-rate inhabitants.”
The United Nations’ Working Group of Intergovernmental Experts on the Human Rights of Migrants, after studying the situation worldwide for two years from 1997 to 1999, concluded that immigrants face various institutional, social, and economic obstacles in the host countries which impede or retard their successful integration. As the Working Group noted, “while numerous countries have incorporated international human rights standards in their domestic legal system, they have restricted their application to citizens and nationals.” It also pointed out that most immigrants experience social exclusion as a result of systematic residential segregation, stereotyping, and racism. In all major cities immigrants are being de facto ghettoized, forced to live in the outskirts and less desirable urban areas with obvious disadvantages in accessing good schools and medical care. They suffer heavy discrimination with respect to employment and are generally expected to work at the low end of the labor market, even if they have a college education.34 Youssoupha, for example, a 28-year-old black rapper from Congo who moved to France with his parents when he was 10, earned a master’s degree from the Sorbonne, but, like many other educated blacks in Europe, found himself “working in fast-food places with people who have the equivalent of a 15-year-old’s level of education.”35 What we are witnessing, as Darko Suvin warns, is “a rebirth of apartheid-type racism” -– “a complex hierarchisation, setting the native workers first against the foreigners hailing from the European Union, and then against the legal, semi-legal, and illegal ‘extracomunitari’ – while in the background there always hovers the opposition of Whites vs. Blacks or Asians.”36
D.H. Melhem effectively describes these ethnocentric and Eurocentric attitudes -– and the disquieting effects they have on immigrants –- in her poem “say french,” included in this collection. The immigrant, as Adriano Sofri reminds us, becomes “the other,” a problem –- more or less serious depending on her/his background, culture, religion, and color, but nonetheless a potential threat to national traditions, values, and identities.37 Conservative parties in Europe and North America are conveniently exploiting this rhetoric to their political advantage, fomenting a culture of fear, and blaming immigrants for declining wages, rising crime, and cultural decadence. Their real goal, however, as Mat Callahan writes in this volume, is “to intensify social conflict and divert attention from the real sources of the problems confronting society” –- i.e. the destabilization and economic insecurity created by the implementation of neoliberal policies, particularly privatization, the erosion of the welfare state, and the free market.
To some extent, this special issue was conceived as a response to this growing immigrant-bashing and as an attempt to demystify the misconceptions, misinformation, and rhetoric that dominate the immigration debate. Our intention, as we put it in our call for papers, was to promote “progressive approaches that help redefine traditional notions of immigration and expand our understanding of immigration and identity politics within a global context.” Of course this volume does not pretend to offer a comprehensive view of radical perspectives on immigration. Even taken together, the articles, poems, and book reviews we have chosen to publish cover only a very small part of the necessary ground. Many important topics related to immigration that have produced an incredibly rich literature in the last few decades, such as gender, religion, culture, and human rights –- to mention the most important -– do not receive the attention they deserve. It is our hope however that this collection can spark debate and stimulate others to address such topics in our pages.
Its limitations notwithstanding, this special issue offers a fresh look at some of the most salient themes of the immigration debate, such as assimilation, racialization, transnationalism, and class and ethnic identities. We hope it will encourage reflection on how the Left can become more effective in forging multiethnic and multiracial alliances.
The first two articles, by Susan J. Dicker and Gerald Meyer, explore traditional theories and models of immigrant incorporation. Both show that despite claims of racial and ethnic tolerance and respect, immigrants in the United States are expected, in the words of Dicker, to “discard their culture and languages for American mainstream culture and English.” This is evident in the controversy spurred by the production of “Nuestro Himno,” a Spanish version of the American national anthem created in 2006, and Governor Schwarzenegger’s comments on the need for Latino children to cut off Spanish if they want to succeed in American society. As Dicker’s discussion suggests, the increasing presence of Spanish culture and language is seen by many as a threat to national unity and as evidence of the unwillingness of Latino immigrants to assimilate.38 Iowa was the twenty-fourth state that, echoing the paranoid and implicitly racist arguments of the growing English-only movement, recently passed a law making English its official language.39 The defense of English, however, has little to do with a real or potential threat of national language loss; rather it represents yet another way to disempower ethnic minorities, reflecting a discourse that, as Edward Said explained, “both assumes and promotes a fundamental difference between the Western ‘us’ and the Oriental ‘them.’”40
While Latino immigrants are, because of their greater numbers, the main focus of public and scholarly debates, it is important to note that other immigrant groups in the US are also undergoing attacks and discrimination. Muslims, for example, are generally seen as un-American and inassimilable. This was shown in the furor ignited by a 30-minute presentation last May on “Islam 101” by two women representatives of CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) in a Texas school. The event was scheduled in response to some racially motivated incidents, including a physical attack against a Muslim boy. Yet parents were outraged that they had not been told in advance about it so that they could have prevented their children from being exposed to “inappropriate” material. Kim Leago, whose son is in the eighth grade at the junior high, said: “I’m not a prejudiced person… but Muslims, from what I know of the faith, don’t want to be incorporated with Americans.”41
While this incident raises legitimate concerns about the appropriateness of teaching religions in schools, the parents’ disproportionate reaction clearly reveals a generalized discomfort with the idea of Muslims, whether immigrants or citizens, seeking a more active role in American public life. The Texas incident is indeed just the latest in a series of discriminatory attacks against Muslims that have intensified after 9/11. The recent founding in Brooklyn of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, the first school offering Arabic, spurred similar controversies and indignation, forcing the principal, Debbie Almontaser, a well known and respected Arab-American educator, to resign.42 Other instances include mounting opposition to requests for separate pool and gym hours to accommodate Muslim women (which were recently instituted at Harvard University) and for banks to offer financial products compliant with sharia, the Islamic law; not to mention the furor raging over presidential candidate Barack Obama’s alleged ties to Muslim religion and culture.
As in the case of the absurd paranoia about Spanish, the vilifying campaign against Muslims plays on Americans’ fear -– in this case fear of terrorism –- as a strategy to marginalize and silence those who don’t heartily embrace the values of the Anglo-Saxon dominant class. But as Gerald Meyer’s article suggests, integration can be achieved without imposing Anglo-conformity. Meyer reminds us that there are alternatives to the hegemonic Americanizing model. In the interwar period, for example, Horace Kallen, Randolph Bourne, Louis Adamic, and Leonard Covello put forward a distinctive vision of America that, in stark opposition to the then prevalent melting-pot position, not only tolerated but actually celebrated diversity as an essential aspect and strength of American culture. Meyer shows that this idea, generally described as cultural pluralism -– and beautifully depicted for us in Alicia Ostriker’s poem –- was not an end to itself but part of a wider progressive movement committed to expand democracy and economic security for all people. The political repression that followed the two World Wars, however, effectively overshadowed the cause of cultural pluralists by eliminating the framework within which they and the wider immigrant communities operated, with disastrous consequences for immigration politics.
The biggest challenge facing immigrant advocates today is the lack of a unified movement that promotes rights for ethnic minorities along with a larger political agenda for economic and social change. As Ron Hayduk and Susanna Jones argue in their essay, the Left has a unique opportunity to fill this gap and build long-lasting coalitions that unite immigrants with native workers around common class interests. The first step to accomplish this goal, they suggest, is to recognize the salience of race in the process of immigrant incorporation and class formation in America, as well as the urgency of fighting racism as a precondition for achieving radical social change. African Americans and today’s newcomers share similar experiences, including discrimination, poverty, and racial profiling. As John A Imani states in his short but stirring piece, “There ought not be any problems between blacks and recently arrived migrant workers.” Yet, race and ethnic consciousness continue to impede class consciousness. In effect, as Hayduk and Jones note, new immigrants “are transforming -– without erasing –- racial hierarchies that characterize social structures.” Economic depression and job competition contribute to further pit immigrant workers against the native born, particularly those with poor skills and education. Animosity exists not only toward immigrants in general, but also within and among different ethnic groups. What is desperately needed, as the authors suggest, is an organized effort to “reframe who are the enemies,” bring together the plights and struggles of all oppressed people, and encourage reciprocal understanding and cooperation among them.
In her essay on antihaitianismo -– a term used to describe the prejudices and racism experienced by Haitians in the Dominican Republic –- LaToya Tavernier confirms the central role of race in the shaping of ethnic identities. As her discussion reveals, the stigmatization of Haitians has served two important purposes. On one level, it has been used to justify the oppression, exploitation and marginalization of Haitian immigrants, including those born in the Dominican Republic. On another, more subtle, level, it has also been employed to subdue the black and mulatto Dominican lower classes, prevent class solidarity, and preserve the status quo. Similar to the way in which theories of racial supremacy in the United States have compelled newcomers confronting the white/black binary to distance themselves from African Americans in order to avoid “downward assimilation,” antihaitianismo pressures Dominicans to separate themselves from Haitians to avoid the stigma associated with them.
The dynamics of nation-building and identity can also help us understand why, as discussed in the article by Stefano Luconi, so many Italian immigrants in the United States, including some radicals, embraced fascism in the 1920s and 1930s. As many scholars have documented, Italian immigrant workers established strong transnational ties between their native and host countries. But as Luconi shows, transnationalism did not necessarily strengthen class consciousness. In fact, the rise of Mussolini in Italy intensified ethnic allegiance at the expenses of class solidarity.
The “fascistization” of the Little Italies, however, resulted from distinctive American conditions as much as transnational developments. For decades Italians in the US had been denigrated, stigmatized, and marginalized. Even American unions, as Robin Jacobson and Kim Geron also show in their essay, discriminated against them and other immigrants from southern and eastern Europe on the ground that they were either “primitive rebels” or unorganizable wage-cutters. This, as Luconi notes, produced sharp ethnic segmentation in the American labor movement which prevented the development of “trans-ethnic working class solidarity,” predisposing Italians to cultivate a sort of “class nationalism” which, as Mussolini gained international prestige, easily evolved into philo-fascism. Thus, in effect Luconi too confirms the central role of stigmatization and discrimination in creating identities. Comparative studies show for example that in countries like France, Belgium, and Argentina, where Italian immigrants did not suffer systematic discrimination and where there was also a more inclusive labor movement, they generally became antifascists.
Jacobson and Geron further expand on the complicated relationship among class, race, and ethnicity by discussing American unions’ attitudes toward immigration. Organized labor in the US, they note, has historically taken exclusionist and racist stances, supporting restrictive immigration policies such as the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Quota Act of 1924. By the 1980s, however, unions began to shift their stance, welcoming immigrant workers into their ranks and supporting immigrant rights. This reversal seems motivated primarily by self-interest: since immigrants represent a large and increasing part of the labor force, unions have no choice but to organize them if they want to survive. But as the authors maintain, in order to understand growing immigrant incorporation into the labor movement, we must look at “the political battle over belonging, how the unions come to define who is worthy of inclusion and defense.” Race and ethnicity have been central to this battle. Until recently, American workers were essentially “defined as white and therefore unions were geared towards supporting those interests first.” But in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement new lines of belonging began to be defined. More recently, thanks to a series of successful local immigrant organizing campaigns, unions have become more inclusive, recognizing not only that immigrants are organizable but also that they possess valuable experience from their home countries that can benefit American unions and, more generally, progressive movements.
Héctor Perla’s article on mobilization around El Salvador shows the potential impact of immigrant activism on US foreign policy. In the 1980s Salvadoran immigrants in the United States forged coalitions between progressive forces in North America and in their own country to generate public opposition to President Reagan’s military plan to crush leftist guerrilla forces in El Salvador. Despite their limited resources, Salvadorans developed several strategies that allowed them to effectively thwart Reagan’s campaign and spawn one of the largest anti-war movements in the US since the Vietnam War. As Perla documents, they were successful because they created solidarity networks with a variety of North American organizations and institutions, including the left, universities, and religious and human rights groups -– a type of grassroots organizing that may represent an effective model today to expose neoliberal economic policy and the dislocation it causes to working people.
We conclude the volume with two important commentaries by Hugh Hamilton and Mat Callahan that help to deconstruct some of the most popular myths about immigration and suggest some possible courses of action to reframe the immigration debate -– starting with vocabulary.43 We need to reject words like “illegal,” “alien,” or “extracomunitario” which have made immigrants sound like criminals, and reclaim a basic point: that immigrants are first of all human beings endowed with inalienable rights regardless of their legal status.44 As the Preamble of the Earth Charter declares, “we must recognize that in the midst of a magnificent diversity of cultures and life forms we are one human family and one Earth community with a common destiny.” This notion of people being “citizens of the world” –- or of “The Planet as Homeland” as Charlie Samuya Veric titles his review of San Juan’s recent collection of poems –- has a long tradition. As early as 400 BCE, the Stoic philosophers argued that people belong to a single moral community. Yet, despite the recent growth of the “Global Citizens Movement,” the immigration debate seems to remain entrenched in a political framework that takes for granted the institution of national citizenship and its associated rights. Citizenship has increasingly become an instrument of social stratification, exclusion, and disaffiliation -– a way for nation-states to keep immigrants from receiving civic and political rights. If the promise of a more humane, sustainable, and desirable future, as expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is to be realized, we cannot have people of any particular country divided into a free group and an unfree one. We must reclaim the old-age vision of universal citizenship.
We should also talk more and louder about the positive contributions of immigrants to the economy and society of both their native and their hosting countries. The World Bank estimated that immigrants sent home about $300 billion in remittances worldwide in 2006; this is nearly three times the world’s foreign aid budgets combined. As Jason DeParle noted, those sums are helping poor people build houses, educate children, and start small businesses.45
Or consider immigrant contributions to the state treasuries of the receiving countries. In the United States alone, they have helped generate in the last decade as much as $7 billion in social security tax revenue and another $1.5 billion in Medicare taxes. And since their status is not legally recognized they cannot reap the benefits and thus are contributing gratis to the system. We also need to recognize that immigrants bring to their adopted countries not only economic gains but also intellectual, scientific, and linguistic enhancement. Take for example the contributions of Irish to the mainstream language and the major styles of American literature and culture that are discussed by Jonathan Scott in his review of Daniel Cassidy’s How the Irish Invented Slang. And to those who consider immigrant cultures a threat to local traditions and national identities, we should remind them, as Callahan notes, that such values are undercut far more severely by “rampant consumerism” and “free market ideology.”
Much of course still needs to be said; even more remains to be done, but we hope that this collection will contribute to a re-conceptualization of immigration and the formulation of policies that promote the rights and dignity of all migrants, allocating resources and money to people rather than to detention camps, “making citizens out of denizens.”46
1. See the United Nations 2006 International Migration Report,
2. Concerns about rising xenophobia have led to the organization of events such as the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance (held in Durban, South Africa) and the 2002 conference in Budapest entitled “Understanding Xenophobia in Eastern Europe.”
3. Darko Suvin, “Immigration in Europe Today: Apartheid or Civil Cohabitation?” Critical Quarterly 50, 1-2 (Spring-Summer 2008): 208.
4. See Darko Suvin, “Displaced Persons,” New Left Review 31 (January-February 2005): 107-120, and Marc Cooper, “Death on the Border,” The Nation, October 18, 2004.
5. See UNHCR, Refugees by Number 2006, and Protecting Refugees and the Role of the UNHCR, 2007-08, both available online at www.unhcr.org; and Nick Cumming-Bruce, “World’s Refugee Count in 2007 Exceeded 11 Million, U.N. Says,” New York Times, June 18, 2008, 8.
6. See David Bacon, “The Political Economy of International Migration,” New Labor Forum 16, 3-4 (Fall 2007): 57-69.
7. Jason DeParle, “A Global Trek to Poor Nations, From Poorer Ones,” New York Times, December 27, 2007. See also Dilip Ratha and William Shaw, “South-South Migration and Remittances,” www.worldbank.org.
8. Nancy V. Yinger, “Feminization of Migration,” www.prb.org; Hania Zlotnik, “Global Dimensions of Female Migration,” Migration Policy Institute, 2003, www.migrationinformation.org/Feature/display.cfm?id=109; and Cecilia Lipssyc, “The Feminization of Migration: Dreams and Realities of Migrant Women in Four Latin American Countries,” www.diba.es/urbal12/PDFS/CeciliaLipszyc_en.pdf.
9. Jose Moya, “Domestic Service in a Global Perspective: Gender, Migration and Ethnic Niches,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 33, 4 (May 2007): 559-579.
10. UNFPA State of World Population 2006, “A Passage of Hope: Women and International Migration,” www.unfpa.org/swp/2006.
11. See for example M. Gaillard, “Brain Drain to Brain Gain,” UNESCO Sources 132 (March 2001):4-8.
12. Randolph Bourne, Trans-National America (1916) reprinted in Bourne, War and the Intellectuals: Collected Essays (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing, 1999), 107-123.
13. Nina Glick-Schiller, Linda Basch, and Cristina Szanton-Blanc, “From Immigrant to Transmigrant: Theorizing Transnational Migration,” Anthropological Quarterly 68, 1 (1995): 52. See also by the same authors Towards a Transnational Perspective on Migration: Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Nationalism Reconsidered (New York: New York Academy of Sciences, 1992); Ewa Morawska, “Immigrants, Transnationalism, and Ethnicization: A Comparison of This Great Wave and the Last,” in E Pluribus Unum? Contemporary and Historical Perspectives on Immigrant Political Incorporation, ed. Gary Gerstle and John H. Mollenkopf (New York: Russell Sage, 1999), 175–212; Roger Waldinger and David Fitzgerald, “Transnationalism in Question,” American Journal of Sociology 109, 5 (March 2004): 1177–95.
14. Alejandro Portes, Luis E. Guarnizo, and Patricia Landolt, “The Study of Transnationalism: Pitfalls and Promise of an Emergent Research Field,” Ethnic and Racial Studies 22, 2 (March 1999): 217.
15. See for example Michael Hardt and Toni Negri, Multitude (New York: Penguin Press, 2004).
16. Luigi Ferrajoli, “Dai diritti del cittadino ai diritti della persona,” in Zolo, ed., La cittadinanza (Rome: Laterza, 1994), cited in Suvin, “Immigration in Europe Today,” 221.
17. See the following articles published in the New York Times: Julia Preston, “Immigration Sweep Ends in 280 Arrests at 5 Plants,” April 17, 2008, A20; Damien Cave, “Local Officials Adopt New, Harder Tactics on Illegal Immigrants,” June 9, 2008, A1; and “In Smaller Numbers, Marchers Seek Immigrants’ Rights,” May 2, 2008, A12. See also Roberto Lovato, “Juan Crow in Georgia,” The Nation, May 26, 2008.
18. See “Immigration Policy in U.S. Is Criticized by U.N.,” March 8, 2008, A1; Nina Bernstein, “Few Details on Immigrants Who Died in US Custody,” May 5, 2008, A1; and “Immigrants Challenge Federal Detention System,” May 1, 2008, B3, all in the New York Times ; and Darryl Fears, “Illegal Immigrants Received Poor Care In Jail, Lawyers Say,” Washington Post, June 13, 2007, 4.
19. “Italian’s Detention Illustrates Dangers Foreign Visitors Face,” New York Times, May 14, 2008, A14.
20. Bacon, “The Political Economy of International Migration,” 57.
21. For a full description of the bill see “H.R. 4437: Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005,
http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:h.r.04437. For a critical analysis of who voted for the bill and why see Joel S. Fetzer, “Why Did House Members Vote for H.R. 4437?” International Migration Review 40, 3 (Fall 2006): 698-706.
22. “Immigration, Off the Books,” New York Times, April 17, 2008, A28.
23. See “H.R. 4088 The SAVE (Secure America with Verification and Enforcement) Act of 2007,” www.numbersusa.com/PDFs/SAVEActSBS.pdf.
24. See Emily Bazar, “Strict Immigration Law Rattles Okla. Businesses Cave,” USA Today, January 9, 2008. See also “Local Officials Adopt New, Harder Tactics on Illegal Immigrants,” and Anthony Faiola, “States’ Immigrant Policies Diverge,” Washington Post, October 15, 2007, 1.
25. Lovato, “Juan Crow in Georgia.” Cited also in the essay by Hayduk and Jones in this volume.
26. See Jesse Díaz and Javier Rodríguez, “Undocumented in America,” New Left Review 47 (September/October 2007): 97-98; and John Broader, “Immigration, From a Simmer to a Scream,” New York Times, Week in Review, May 21, 2006.
27. Elisabeth Rosenthal, “Italy Arrests Hundreds of Immigrants,” New York Times, May 16, 2008, A6.
28. See “Rome v Roma,” The Economist, May 22, 2008; and Elisabetta Povoledo, “Berlusconi Unveils Anti-Crime Measures for Italy,” International Herald Tribune, May 21, 2008.
29. See Peter Stalker, “Migration Trends and Migration Policy in Europe,” International Migration 40, 5 (2002): 151-176.
30. Caroline Brothers, “European Union Passes measure Allowing Migrants to Be Detained 18 Months,” New York Times, June 19, 2008, A6.
31. Jason DeParle, “Born Irish, but with Illegal Parents,” New York Times, February 25, 2008.
32. Atif Kubursi, “The Economic of Migration and Remittances Under Globalization,” 2, 11. www.un.org.
34. Heikki S. Mattila, “Protection of Migrants’ Human Rights: Principles and Practices,” International Migration 38, 6 (February 2000), 60.
35. Michael Kimmelman, “For Blacks in France, Obama’s Rise Is Reason to Rejoice, and to Hope,” New York Times, June 17, 2008, E1, 5.
36. Suvin, “Immigration in Europe Today,” 212.
37. Cf. Adriano Sofri, “Il vento xenofobo e le colpe della sinistra,” La Repubblica, May 20, 2008, 1 and 53.
38. See for example Samuel Huntington, Who Are We? The Challenges to America’s National Identity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004).
39. For a thorough discussion of the English-only movement see Andrew Hartman, “Language as Oppression: The English Only Movement in the United States,” Socialism and Democracy 17, 1 (2003).
40. Fazal Rizvi and Bob Lingard, “Edward Said and the cultural politics of education,” Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education 27, 3 (2006): 293-308. Cited in Sue Dicker’s article.
41. See “TX: Muslim Speakers Outrage Parents,” http://islamonline. com/news/ newsfull.php?newid= 127443; and Rhiannon Meyers, “Principal loses job in ‘Islam 101’ furor,” Daily News, June 6, 2008.
42. See Andrea Elliott, “Her Dream, Branded as a Threat: How a Chorus of Critics Cost a Muslim Educator Her School,” New York Times, April 28, 2008, A1.
43. An excellent book in this regard is The Politics of Immigration, ed. Jane Guskin and David L. Wilson (New York: Monthly Review Press, 2007).
44. Susanne Jonas, “Reflections on the Great Immigration Battle of 2006 and the Future of the Americas,” Social Justice 33, 1 (2006): 18.
45. Jason DeParle, “World Banker and His Cash Return Home,” New York Times, March 17, 2008, and “In a World on the Move, a Tiny Land Strains to Cope,” June 24, 2007.
46. Suvin, “Immigration in Europe Today,” 218.