Saturday, February 14, 2009

Political Economy of Immigration

(Here's an excerpt from a feature article in the current issue of Dollars & Sense, which is now available online here: ) What started off as a war against terrorism has devolved into a war against immigrants. The current “enforcement-only” approach to immigration policy has created a morass of new problems, including a host of human rights and financial issues associated with the annual detention and removal of immigrants. The immigrant crackdown has given rise to an unregulated complex of jails, detention centers, and prisons that create profit from the immigrant crackdown. At the outset of a new administration and new era, the political economy of immigration is decidedly anti-immigrant. Political and economic factors have combined to create a harsh environment for undocumented immigrants, present and future. Immigration reform may not be a top priority, but the Obama administration and new Congress would do well to begin to address the challenge of reshaping the political economy of immigration. First steps could include a more careful articulation of the intersection of immigration, rule of law, and national security. Napolitano should explain that the real threat to the rule of law is not having an immigration policy that provides a legal pathway to integration for the 11 million immigrants already within the United States. What’s more, she would do well to disarticulate the links established by the Bush administration between immigrants and terrorists. At the same time, closer links must be made between immigration policy and economic policy, guarding against labor exploitation while considering domestic economic need. Instead of a policy based on a calm assessment of the costs and benefits of immigrant labor to the U.S. economy, current immigration policy has been hijacked by the politics of fear, resentment, scapegoating, and nativism. The “enforcement only” immigration policy has fostered a national immigrant prison complex that feeds on ever-increasing numbers of arrested immigrants. As County Commissioner Ernie Chapa said, “Any time the numbers are high, it’s good for the county because it brings more income.”

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