December 2006


A NY Times article on emerging patterns of migration shows that illegal immigrants are more likely to stay, in part because of better wages to be found farther from the border in the northeast, but more importantly, because security and vigilantism makes seasonal migration expensive and more dangerous.

Returning Mexicans, researchers say, have generally been divided between “sojourners,” those with temporary or seasonal jobs in the United States who cross once or more a year, and “settlers,” those who move to the United States for an extended period but at some point choose to return home.

“The Mexican migration was always round trip,” said Jorge Durand, director of the Mexican Migration Project at the University of Guadalajara, a research program in conjunction with the Office of Population Research at Princeton. “It was a migration of workers, not immigrants.”

But several factors are causing more illegal immigrants to stay in the United States. Increasingly, immigrants are finding jobs away from the agricultural sector, meaning they have more stable employment that is not subject to seasonal ups and downs, researchers say. More immigrants have also moved to destinations beyond the border states of the Southwest, making the journey back home longer, more expensive and less convenient.

Most important, some researchers say, increased vigilance along the border has led to higher costs and risks associated with crossing back into the United States, disrupting what had been the traditional circular movement of the migrants. Border enforcement began to tighten in the mid-1980s, but has become much more vigorous since the Sept. 11 attacks.

“Having run the gantlet of enforcement resources at the border, migrants grew reluctant to repeat the experience and hunkered down to stay, causing rates of return migration to fall sharply,” said Douglas S. Massey, a sociologist who directs the Mexican Migration Project at Princeton.

Demetrios Papademetriou, president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research group in Washington, said that “the primary effect of hardening the border has been one of locking people in.”

Zêdess, a reggae artist from Burkina Faso, has launched a counterstrike against Nicolas Sarkozy, France’s interior minister, architect of its immigration policy, and would be successor to Chirac. Zêdess makes a mockery of Sarkozy’s immigration choisie–the desire to pick and choose between immigrants–comparing it to how slaves were sized up for sale. Moreover, he points out how Sarkozy’s own father was a refugee, fleeing to France in need, much as many Africans do today. If you know some basic French, it’s easy to follow, and it good fun!

Back to Allentown, PA: The Morning Call calls out Mayor Barletta, noting that Pennsylvania has nowhere near the problem with illegal immigrants as other states.

The article [in State Legislatures] contained data about the extent of immigration — both legal and illegal — throughout the nation. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, Pennsylvania was one of the states with the largest growth in legal immigrants between 2000 and 2005. The state’s immigrant population increased nearly 47 percent in that period, from 364,000 to 534,000. In a state of 12.4 million, that means there’s one legal immigrant for every 23 Pennsylvanians. When it comes to illegal immigrants, according the Department of Homeland Security, Pennsylvania doesn’t even rank in the top 10 states which account for about 8 million of the estimated 11 million illegal aliens.

Obviously, the writer does not want to say that illegal immigrants are not found in Pennsylvania. The state, however, has a much smaller percentage of illegal immigrants; short-falls in resources cannot be attributed solely to them. It’s more likely that some border states, like New Mexico and Arizona, with much smaller populations would have more legitimate gripes. Moreover, if a smaller influx of new people causes such short-falls, what is wrong with Pennsylvania’s (and even Allentown’s) public services?

“As an immigrant to the U.S., I am not surprised by the strong support for official English among Hispanics,” said Mr. Mujica, who came here from Chile in 1965. “The majority of immigrants understand that coming to a new country means learning the language of that country. While individuals are free to speak the language of their choice, they cannot expect the government to provide information in every foreign language.”

As a descendant of Spanish-speaking Americans who never immigrated to the United States, I must remind Mauro Mujica that Spanish is not a foreign language–it was the language of people made citizens of the United States by annexation in the Mexican-American War.  I guess it’s convenient for Latinos who come from outside the US to want English as the official language.

In the Guardian, there is a profile of a report by the Institute of Race Relations concerning the condition of asylum seekers in Britian.  Drive to Desperate Measures documents violence, much of it self-inflicted, that occurs in detention centers.  As Melania McFadyean notes, the rise in suicides among asylum seekers reflects their growing desperation as new legislation makes finding sanctuary in Britain more elusive.  She points out, however, that these conditions are being exacerbated by the profit motives of the private corporations that run these facilities.

Although some would consider asylum seekers a class apart from illegal immigrants–they are victims of persecution, and their plight is judged as a matter of diplomacy and politics rather than naturalization–their treatment can be similarly desperate.  It is questionable that the economic motives faced by one group have no political basis, and vice-versa.   The threat of deporation can be seen as a matter of life and death. Refugees enjoy more legitimacy that illegal immigrants, but their lives are perhaps more circumscribed as they await judgment of their fate.

When I was ten years old in 1980, Los Angeles reached an important milestone: it supplanted Chicago as America’s second city.  No longer a nation whose energy came from the East Coast, the United States counted on the influx of goods, ideas, and people from Central and South America and Asia. Los Angeles was this country’s second gateway, and it could claim to be the only city in the world with someone from every country in the world.

The LA Times has several articles that look at the reasons why people moved to Los Angeles.  The story is complex, one that focuses on demographic and migration trends of Twentieth Century America, but also on America’s ethnic make-up, both of natural citizens and immigrants.

Surprisingly, a city of Hispanic name and origin was considered a place to get away from the ethnic stew of eastern and mid-western cities:

As McWilliams writes, “[t]he first wave of migration brought wealth, enterprise, and culture to Southern California,” this second influx delivered a more Midwestern sensibility, domestic and traditional. What set it apart from other, similar movements in American history was that members of the middle-class uprooted themselves by choice, moving west to a more pleasing landscape that seemed to offer endless space and light.

Beneath this optimism, of course, there dwelt a nativist impulse; when Times city editor Charles Fletcher Lummis called Los Angeles the “new Eden of the Saxon home-seeker,” he was speaking to every so-called homegrown American frightened by the immigrants who had transformed cities such as Chicago and New York. Such a sensibility represents the underside of the Southern California mythos, and it would become part of the bedrock on which the region developed, helping fuel its essential conservatism while setting the stage for its most bitter legacies, from racial housing covenants to the John Birch Society, the Watts Riots to Rodney King.

In the early 1900s, however, Los Angeles sought to present itself as a blank slate, outside history or consequence, a three-dimensional template for a brand-new life. This was what Southern California had to offer, its attraction, its appeal to America and, indeed, the world. Come west, boosters like Lummis urged — and come these middle-class migrants did. From 1900 to 1930, the population of L.A. County grew from 170,298 to 2,208,492. The enormous village’s status as a promised land was assured.

However, by tradition and location Los Angeles would remain a magnet for Latin American migration.  By the 1920s, the Mexican Revolution would cast off enough dispossessed bourgeoisie and disappointed peasants to fortify the city’s Mexican population.  That movement continued throughout the century, turningLos Angeles into a center for Latino/Chicano struggle in the US, as Gustavo Arellano remembers:

My father arrived in a Los Angeles under siege. The Latino community, beset by decades of discrimination and harassment, was angry. Calling themselves Chicanos, Latinos demanded better schools, a fairer government and less police brutality. There were protest rallies and marches. The city leaders responded with violence — arrests and beatings. In 1970, Los Angeles Times columnist Ruben Salazar was killed by a tear-gas projectile fired by police during an East L.A. protest against the Vietnam War. Yet for all the turmoil, Papi was oblivious to this chaos. He was 19 years old and ready to work. So were millions of his countrymen who would follow him across the border in the coming weeks, years and decades, all ready to change America for good.

Pundits have predicted the Latinization of America for years, often in apocalyptic terms — witness the fulminations of radio and television talk shows. Many people can’t accept the fact that the heirs to imperial Spain, the scions of Pancho Villa, are the nation’s largest minority, and increasingly a majority in communities across los Estados Unidos.

Some call this reconquista— the idea (born from a bizarre fusion of pre-Columbian Aztec, medieval Spanish and post-revolutionary Mexican mythologies) that Mexicans are intent on reclaiming ancestral lands “stolen” by the Yankee imperialists. But this theory pays no heed to the centuries-old yells of America’s Latinos. All they’ve ever wanted is acceptance, the right to live as Americans while keeping some semblance of their ancestral culture. Latinos assimilate, but many Americans just don’t want to believe it.

More than in Miami, New York or Texas, Los Angeles is where Latinos’ struggle for acceptance finds its truest expression in the United States. Californios became foreigners in their own lands after the 1848 Mexican-American War, and a nuisance for nearly a century afterward. The hometown film industry reduced them to stock characters — the spicy señorita, the greasy bandito — and exported the images across the country. Segregation and discrimination was the rule.

Influx of immigrants, from Asia as well as from Latin America, broadened the reach of the city as its residents networked with their home countries.

Outside Hollywood, Asian Americans have long added a global dimension to Los Angeles. Since 1960, immigration has been the main impetus of Asian population growth in the United States. With almost 5 million Asian Pacific residents, California has the largest such population in the country. This includes Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean, Asian Indian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, Laotian, Cambodian, Hmong and Thai. It’s not surprising that L.A. County has the largest percentage of Asian Americans in the state — more than a million people, according to the U.S. Census, of whom 70% are immigrants. Any map of L.A. would reveal “Asian global ethno-hubs” in the central city (Koreatown, Thai Town, Chinatown, Little Tokyo) and in the San Gabriel Valley, where Little Taipei includes ethnic Chinese from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia, as well as native-born American Chinese. Farther south, Cambodians in Long Beach are organizing for a Little Cambodia not far from Little India in Artesia, or Little Saigon in Garden Grove.

What do the ethno-hubs mean for the future? How do they connect Los Angeles to the world? These nexuses of Asian residents and commercial and cultural activities have developed a complicated network of institutions, including churches and temples, language schools, banks, book and video stores, markets, factories and other businesses, linked with like institutions across the United States and Asia, as well. Much like the lotus garden that blooms in Echo Park lake, the roots of L.A.’s Asian ethno-hubs traverse the city and spiral across the Pacific to Shanghai, Seoul, Taipei, Tokyo, New Dehli, Manila and Singapore.

Pushing the apocalyptic visions of Blade Runner aside, much of the city’s growth–political, cultural and economic, not just demographic–can be attributed to migration.

The Migration Policy Institute published its top ten migration stories of 2006. Topping the list: Europe’s turn from multiculturalism in immigration policy and insisting on strict assimilation of new arrivals.

In 2006, European politicians dealt multiculturalism numerous public blows, which the media was only too happy to cover. Multiculturalism, policymakers essentially said, has failed to adequately integrate immigrants and their descendants.

Since the late 1990s, Europe’s emphasis on strict integration policy has increased: learn our language, our history, our culture, and live by our laws and values. The UK, which didn’t require a citizenship test until 2005, fully implemented the test this year, and Germany’s regional governments introduced tests on top of the 600-hour, federally mandated language courses.

The article continues with Netherlands’ stricter laws and contraversial DVD, as well as Denmark’s cartoon of Muhammed.

Multiculturalism’s abandonment may seem practical, new immigrant populations not weaving themselves into the fabric of society. But something should be kept in mind: ordinary Europeans do not make an effort to welcome new immigrants. Most North Africans and Muslims in France (many of whom are citizens by birth) are excluded from top professions, and they are pushed to the banlieus (the peripheries of cities) where they live among other immigrants, not ‘typical’ Frenchmen.

The other problem is defining what a citizen is. The Dutch DVD tells immigrants to expect public kissing and topless sunbathing. OK, tolerance should be expected. However, there is no single Dutchman: such a thing exists in the imagination, and differences require tolerance anyway.

Actually, Jack Straw’s comments, quoted in the article, surprised me:

Communities are bound together partly by informal chance relations between strangers, people being able to acknowledge each other in the street or being able to pass the time of day. That’s made more difficult if people are wearing a veil. That’s just a fact of life.

A wolf in sheep’s clothing. Out in public, identities are challenged as people with differing ideas and comportments confront one another. Acknowledging this seems to indicate acceptance of cultural differences. But the burqa as an obstacle? What is Straw looking for: beedy, deviant eyes?

I’m not against integration, but multiculturalism should, and could, be a policy that allows it to happen, creating an environment in which communities fuse together, their differences, without being destroyed, thinned out until they mix together.

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