History of Immigration Laws

posted by Adam (Southern California) on May 19th, 2006

Mae M. Ngai had a commentary article in the L.A. Times a couple of days ago about the history of immigration laws in the U.S. Essentially, they came to be because people didn’t like Catholics, Slavs, or Chinese. But wouldn’t unskilled foreign labor cause economic havoc in the U.S.? I say let the market figure that out. If Americans are more skilled, then why are we worried about competition from Nicaragua, anyway? P&C administrator Mike, in a personal conversation, pointed out that all of this talk about free trade is really only talking about part of the equation— trade of goods. What about free trade of labor? I’m for both. And anyway, illegal immigrants are an essential part of the economy already. Legalization — the free trade of labor — is about treating people with basic human dignity rather than using them for their labor while keeping them as a permanent, illegal underclass.

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4 Comments Leave a comment.

  1. On May 19, 2006 at 08:56 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    On the face of it, the European Union has a more progressive free movement of labour policy, but it really is not any better than the 14th Amendment and other relevant laws in the USA: it still controls migration from developing world into the developed world. A more radical stance can be found with groups such as No One Is Illegal and The Green Party of England and Wales.

  2. On May 19, 2006 at 12:44 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    With the rhetoric of “free trade” (also known as (neo)liberalism), we also have to be watchful. Developed countries usually call for free trade when they want access to markets or resources in other countries; but when it suits them, the protectionist barriers such as tariffs and subsidies still remain. For more examples of hypocrisy, see the Christian Aid reports on trade, in particular Taking liberties: poor people, free trade and trade justice. Immigration control is an instance of this wider phenomenon. (I am not unaware of the nuances in the discourse, for example, with the WTO, but this suffices for a blog comment.)

  3. On May 19, 2006 at 13:50 Adam (Southern California) said:

    Part of the problem is that the US government still subsidizes American farmers who grow crops that could be grown more cheaply in poorer, rural countries. This puts poor farmers in developing countries (which may lack other industries, skills, or resources) at a competitive disadvantage. If the U.S. were to get rid of farm subsidies, we could then see real competition between high-yield American agricultural techniques vs. lower-yield, small-scale farming in countries with cheaper land and labor. Able to compete on a more level global playing field, subsistence farmers in poor countries may be able to move toward producing viable exports. And the American farmers would have more incentives to innovate, developing new techniques, switching to more specialized crops, or selling off the land for non-agricultural purposes.

    Yes, it might mean a change in “a way of life” for American farmers, but that change has already happened. Americans have been moving from farms to cities over the entire history of our country, and the agriculture that remains is largely run by massive corporations, not small family plots. Part of what makes Americans special is our ability to adapt, our ability to recognize that greener pastures await us if we pull up stakes and move halfway across the continent. Farm subsidies— supported by both political parties— just stave off the inevitable. And the price for that is that farmers in poor countries get stuck at a subsistence level, unable to work their way up and out of poverty.

    I’m no free-trade absolutist— for one thing, we should ensure that employers respect the rights of their workers, and proper care of the environment often runs counter to the market— but I think that if we’re working toward a world of less poverty and more human rights, we should recognize ways in which government manipulation is making things worse as well as ways in which government action could make things better. In other words, how is the government supporting an unfair structure?

  4. On May 19, 2006 at 15:46 Dr Kaihsu Tai (Oxford, England) said:

    I have mentioned my idea of “gentle trade” in these pages before. It is not an entirely new idea, but a sound-bite way of expressing the alternative we are seeking. “Neither the state nor the market, but communities.”

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