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Crisis Contrived
April 25, 2012 8:24 AM   Subscribe

Most of what we think about Mexican immigration is wrong. If Congress had done nothing to secure the border over the last two decades — if it had just left the border alone — there might be as many as 2 million fewer Mexicans living in the United States today, Massey believes....

“Not only was the militarization of the border not a success,” Massey argues, “it backfired in the sense that it transformed what had been a circular migration of male workers to three states [California, Texas, and Illinois] into a much larger, settled population of families living in 50 states.”

posted by caddis (76 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you think of it in terms of there being more brown people to feed to the American Prison Machine, then everything actually went exactly according to plan.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:28 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


And as if the likely repeal of health care reform and affirmative action weren't enough, SB1070 is in front of the Supreme Court, and it's possible that it will be upheld.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:33 AM on April 25, 2012


Someone should post this on the Fox Nation website.
posted by zzazazz at 8:39 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, the premise here is still that we want to minimize the number of Mexicans living in the US. Which is also wrong.
posted by DU at 8:40 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


I wasn't aware that most people 'thought' about Mexican immigration.

Presidential candidates and their speechwriters certainly do. Culture of fear and all that.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 8:42 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


He seems to consider "Mexican immigration" to be the same as "all South American and/or Central American immigration".
posted by easily confused at 8:44 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


Presidential candidates and their speechwriters certainly do.

Those aren't people. Humanoid, yes...human, no.
posted by spicynuts at 8:53 AM on April 25, 2012


We're seriously reading Princeton Alumni Weekly for policy briefings and social-science research now? I'll look forward to the debate about whether "Class of '33, strong as a tree" is a solid campaign platform.
posted by RogerB at 8:54 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


as always

Immigration - GOOD thing.
Illegal immigration - BAD thing. Other countries would agree, certainly Mexico does.


The fact that politicians hope to count on those illegals voting or at least twist the actual debate into some sort of false claims of racism so others would vote for them is immaterial.


Focusing more on penalizing employers taking advantage of the illegals would be more productive than trying to stop the flow of migrants.

The fact that politicians love the money that those employers donate by exploiting the workers is also immaterial
posted by 2manyusernames at 8:55 AM on April 25, 2012 [4 favorites]


That was really interesting.

I'm curious -- why Illinois as one of the three traditional places for Mexican immigrants to land? Texas and California I understand. But Illinois?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:01 AM on April 25, 2012


2manyusernames-
[citation needed] on the non-citizens voting.
posted by Hactar at 9:01 AM on April 25, 2012 [8 favorites]


Chicago.
posted by resurrexit at 9:02 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Of course, the premise here is still that we want to minimize the number of Mexicans living in the US. Which is also wrong.

Who is saying that?

"if it had just left the border alone — there might be as many as 2 million fewer Mexicans living in the United States today, Massey believes"

I didn't get the sense Massey was claiming that would be a good thing--the reduction in number. He does explain his reasons for opposing current policies, and "it allowed too many Mexicans in the country" does not seem to be one of them.

Good article. Thanks.

He seems to consider "Mexican immigration" to be the same as "all South American and/or Central American immigration".

Wouldn't most of them come through Mexico? Did I miss something?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:03 AM on April 25, 2012


We're seriously reading Princeton Alumni Weekly for policy briefings and social-science research now?

Say what you will about the Ivy League, but both PAW and Harvard Magazine are running a lot of articles substantially deeper and more interesting than what you get from the New Yorker, the Atlantic, Foreign Affairs, etc. I've gotten several good FPPs out of them.
posted by escabeche at 9:05 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I do realize that Chicago is in Illinois, yes. But why would Chicago draw a huge number of migrant workers as opposed to any other large city? Detroit (back when it had an economy) or New York or Atlanta?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:06 AM on April 25, 2012


The larger number of Mexicans--who can just walk across the U.S.-Mexico border--is indeed a problem and an injustice to immigrants of all other nations. If you're from any country south of Mexico, you don't just "walk" into Mexico. Mexicans, however, have the benefit of a largely unsecured border separating them from the U.S. Because there are "too many" Mexicans (and pick whatever number you feel comfortable with), we have to adjust our legal immigration numbers and that, in turn, hurts immigrants from other countries would who otherwise be here but for the fortuity of Mexicans' sharing a border. So I think that's one shortcoming in the "circular migration" system proposed or set out as an ideal by some. It's unfair to all other immigrants.
posted by resurrexit at 9:07 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're seriously reading Princeton Alumni Weekly for policy briefings and social-science research now?

You prefer the MSM?

Young men in Mexico say the US no longer offers them a better future

Or the blogosphere?

Number Of Undocumented Immigrants From Mexico Who Are Entering and Leaving U.S. Hits Net Zero

I agree the post was a little slight. It should have linked to the Mexican Migration Project at the least (though the text of the URL is listed in the article).

But the article itself was a great start for a post.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:07 AM on April 25, 2012


Mississippi River, hoss.
posted by spicynuts at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2012


Something else that is left out of the immigration debate and is misunderstood by immigration hawks because it is counterintuitive: Immigration is an essential ingredient in economic growth. Without immigration, we could well be looking at a decline in the size of the labor force, which is a recipe for stagnation. Historically, societies (including the United States) and communites with high immigration rates have experienced higher, more sustained economic growth. More on this. See also this counterintuitive notion: "Higher immigration — lower crime."
posted by beagle at 9:08 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Not just Chicago. Much of Illinois outside of Chicago is involved in agricultural production. For instance, 95% of the US pumpkin crop intended for domestic processing is grown in Illinois. These are harvested almost exclusively by migrant workers.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:12 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


I do realize that Chicago is in Illinois, yes. But why would Chicago draw a huge number of migrant workers as opposed to any other large city?

I am far from an expert but my understanding is that it is historical having to do with work in meat packing. Hopefully someone with actual knowledge rather than my half-guess recollection can step up.
posted by srboisvert at 9:12 AM on April 25, 2012


Hactar: "2manyusernames-
[citation needed] on the non-citizens voting.
"

re-read my comment. I didn't say they would. I said politicians hope some will vote or to use them to manipulate others to vote a certain way.



The main point is that painting the debate regarding illegal immigration as an attack against all immigration is disingenuous at best.
posted by 2manyusernames at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2012


Everytime I drive through Chicago, there's always an overturned tractor trailer spilling corn all over the highway, so I figured most of Illinois outside of the urb/suburb/exurb area was all farms. It's a big state, and better suited for growing then the plains?
posted by mrgrimm at 9:13 AM on April 25, 2012


So I think that's one shortcoming in the "circular migration" system proposed or set out as an ideal by some. It's unfair to all other immigrants.

That presumes there's some maximum that has to be put on the number of immigrants for reasons other than not liking immigrants. Sure, there's probably some technical limitation on the number of people who can reasonably live within the borders of the US, but it's hardly of concern here.

I suppose there is an argument that it's unfair to someone from, I don't know, Belarus if it's easier for someone from Mexico to move to the US simply because there's a stupidly large border between the US and Mexico. On the flip side, there's an argument that it should be easier to move between the US and Mexico than the US and Belarus because people have been doing it forever and the border is nothing but an artificially imposed barrier, whereas you can't plausibly just pop over from Belarus in the course of going about your daily life.
posted by hoyland at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


easily confused: "He seems to consider "Mexican immigration" to be the same as "all South American and/or Central American immigration"."

No he doesn't, on the second page,
"The MMP has been so successful that in 1998 Massey and Durand launched another project, the Latin American Migra­tion Project, which has conducted similar ethnographic surveys of U.S. migration in nine Central and South American countries. Massey notes that the MMP’s findings differ from the broader Latin American findings in several respects. Migration patterns from places other than Mexico are much less tied to economic conditions in the United States, for example, and many more Latin Americans, particularly South Americans, migrate to Europe."
posted by Blasdelb at 9:14 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Because there are "too many" Mexicans (and pick whatever number you feel comfortable with), we have to adjust our legal immigration numbers and that, in turn, hurts immigrants from other countries would who otherwise be here but for the fortuity of Mexicans' sharing a border. So I think that's one shortcoming in the "circular migration" system proposed or set out as an ideal by some. It's unfair to all other immigrants.

You didn't RFTA. Net illegal immigation is zero.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:15 AM on April 25, 2012


Doesn't there have to be an attack on undocumented immigration? If we just let immigrants in to the US, then they'd be protected by US labor law (such as it is) and covered by minimum wage rules, which would cut profit margins and/or raise prices on the products they produce.

Massey characterizes US policy on immigration as "schizophrenic" (which I assume he does only as a rhetorical strategy, because he seems pretty smart). It's not; actually it makes perfect sense if your goal is to keep wages low and profits high - move the factories to the maquiladora zones and bring immigrant labor to the US for anything you can outsource, but keep it illegal so it's exploitable.
posted by Frowner at 9:16 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


This madness also causes deep wounds in families,

Shattered Families, was a report from the Applied Research Center, which found that there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care who are prevented from uniting with their detained or deported parents. (PDF)

Key Findings:
If nothing changes, 15,000 more children may face a similar fate in the next 5 years.
This is a growing national problem, not one confined to border jurisdictions or states-- ARC identified at least 22 states where these cases have emerged.
Families are more likely to be separated where local police aggressively participate in immigration enforcement.
Immigrant victims of domestic violence are at particular risk of losing their children.
ICE detention obstructs participation in Child Protective Services' plans for family unity.
Most child welfare departments lack systemic policies to keep families united when parents are detained or deported.

Previously
posted by Blasdelb at 9:23 AM on April 25, 2012


I did, too, read fucking the article, where it says: "There are indeed more undocumented Mexicans living in the United States than there were 20 years ago, but that is because fewer migrants are returning home — not because more are sneaking into the country."
posted by resurrexit at 9:25 AM on April 25, 2012


Can we refrain from referring to human beings as "illegals" please? People who have entered the US without following the proper visa or immigration procedures have engaged in an illegal activity. So have people who have fraudulently embezzled millions of dollars from the company that they work for, people who have sexually assaulted a partner, people who have used pot, or people who have neglected to update their car's registration for a month or two past the month of their birth, to list just a few possibilities. Singling out one group of law breakers (or law evaders) and defining their whole existence as human beings as "illegal" is highly inflammatory, to say the least.
posted by eviemath at 9:28 AM on April 25, 2012 [32 favorites]


Why Illinois? Because there is already a significant Mexican-American population. If you are going to be an illegal immigrant, you are probably going to go where you might have family or friends. Double points if it is a relatively close city (relative to the rest of the US big cities and transportation availability) with a lot of economic activity and is not one of the "cracker" states regarding illegal immigration.
posted by gjc at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Doesn't there have to be an attack on undocumented immigration?

The only reason we have undocumented immigration is that documented immigration is so controlled. Open up the borders and let people come here legally, and the vast majority will be happy to be on the books, I'm sure.
posted by empath at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


I said politicians hope some will vote

Bullshit.

or to use them to manipulate others to vote a certain way.

If by this you mean "appeal to legal residents and citizens with close ties to undocumented immigrants to vote for the candidate whose proposals are not batshit crazy and inhumane", then I don't see what's wrong with that. That's how our system works.
posted by rtha at 9:31 AM on April 25, 2012 [5 favorites]


So many problems in the US are because of busy bodies won't let people do stuff that doesn't hurt anybody else.
posted by empath at 9:32 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


Can we refrain from referring to human beings as "illegals" please? People who have entered the US without following the proper visa or immigration procedures have engaged in an illegal activity. So have people who have fraudulently embezzled millions of dollars from the company that they work for, people who have sexually assaulted a partner, people who have used pot, or people who have neglected to update their car's registration for a month or two past the month of their birth, to list just a few possibilities. Singling out one group of law breakers (or law evaders) and defining their whole existence as human beings as "illegal" is highly inflammatory, to say the least.

Nobody is saying the people ARE illegal.
posted by gjc at 9:33 AM on April 25, 2012


Chicago has an enormous Mexican-American population for the same reason that the Detroit area has a huge Arab-American one -- because there was an initial immigrant community established for whatever random reason which fed itself through positive feedback. Once an ethnic community has been established, "there are already people like me there, with the associated support network, groceries from home, etc" is as good a reason as any for others to come.
posted by theodolite at 9:34 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's the same reason the Czech side of my family mostly landed in Chicago in the late 19th century: there was already a Czech community there. Some of my grandmother's older siblings rarely had to speak English, since everywhere they worked, shopped, and worshiped was Czech-speaking.
posted by rtha at 9:37 AM on April 25, 2012


If we just let immigrants in to the US, then they'd be protected by US labor law (such as it is) and covered by minimum wage rules, which would cut profit margins and/or raise prices on the products they produce.

That's true of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs where illegal immigrants work for below minimum wage now, but there's also a large tranche of more skilled jobs where, if there were unrestricted immigration, there would be a large supply of skilled immigrants willing to work for above minimum wage but well below current market rates.

If anybody that wanted to hire a software developer from India and base them in the US could just post a job ad in Bangalore and put the first qualified person who was willing to do it for $40,000 a year on a plane, rather than go through the H-1B process, certainly the wages for US-based software developers would be a lot lower across the board.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 9:43 AM on April 25, 2012


So I think that's one shortcoming in the "circular migration" system proposed or set out as an ideal by some. It's unfair to all other immigrants.

Please don't presume to speak for legal immigrants.

I immigrated to the US legally, and the number of shits I give about Mexicans illegally entering the country is zero. In fact, if anyone willing to work that hard to come to America is precisely the kind of person I want here.

If you want to make the argument that we need to track people coming to our country for security, etc., that's fine. But don't pretend that "fair" has anything to do with it; the only thing separating me and a guy sneaking across the border is pure luck. We broke plenty of laws to leave Vietnam, and my parents would do it again in a heartbeat.
posted by snickerdoodle at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2012 [26 favorites]


Can we refrain from referring to human beings as "illegals" please?

Hear hear. (or is it here here?)

Anyway, I'm always amused that the concept of exploitation and migrant workers are often juxtaposed in ways that don't necessarily match reality.

My first paying job, as an "illegal" migrant worker at 14, actually paid quite decently. Granted, they didn't have to bother with those pesky things like insurance or taxes, but I'd wager that some of the places I worked shelled out more total compensation than some place like Wal-Mart.

Employers who breach immigration laws face competition for labor force in the same way that Wal-Mart does. However, I'd be willing to say that many of these establishments are forced to pay decent wages just because they're not the only game in town, and if they don't the workers won't show back up next year.

Of course, I'm well aware that this doesn't happen everywhere... but I still think assuming that "illegal" equals "exploited" is just bad math.
posted by Blue_Villain at 9:45 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


50 states? Somehow I bet there aren't many illegal Mexicans living in Hawaii.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:50 AM on April 25, 2012


Hear hear. (or is it here here?)

It's "hear" not "here." It's short for "hear him, hear him"--which is ancient English for "This!"
posted by yoink at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2012 [9 favorites]


Mickey Kaus points out:
Old pro-amnesty line: Illegal immigrants ain’t leaving. They’re here to stay. Deal with it!

New pro-amnesty line: Illegal immigrants are leaving! No more problem! Can we reverse the policies that worked now?
posted by John Cohen at 9:52 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


without them, how can business stay competitive?
posted by Phily2k at 9:56 AM on April 25, 2012


resurrexit: "Mexicans, however, have the benefit of a largely unsecured border separating them from the U.S."

Are you nuts? Have you seen the border?

While it's true that we do not have a continuous wall running from one end of the border to the other, significant chunks of it are walled off. And around many small towns near the border where there isn't a wall, the border patrol is pretty much the only business going. You can drive for an hour and the only other vehicles you see (and you'll see them a bunch) are border-patrol trucks, many outfitted with some kind of fancy sensing equipment.

In fact, much like our prison industry and airport-security industry, the border patrol can be viewed in part as a massive federal make-work project and gift to equipment contractors.
posted by adamrice at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2012 [3 favorites]


Illegal immigrants are leaving! No more problem! Can we reverse the policies that worked now?

Even if we agree that we should reduce illegal immigration, ends don't justify means.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:01 AM on April 25, 2012


In fact, much like our prison industry and airport-security industry, the border patrol can be viewed in part as a massive federal make-work project and gift to equipment contractors.

Really, that's the gist of the argument--that billions of dollars in federal money have zero impact.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:02 AM on April 25, 2012


Why Illinois? Because there is already a significant Mexican-American population. If you are going to be an illegal immigrant, you are probably going to go where you might have family or friends. Double points if it is a relatively close city (relative to the rest of the US big cities and transportation availability) with a lot of economic activity and is not one of the "cracker" states regarding illegal immigration.

This (or "hear, hear, I guess).

Detroit has an entire neighborhood (indeed the only neighborhood in the city proper with population growth over the last couple of decades, a recent blip downtown notwithstanding) called Mexicantown. You go where your relatives are, they provide a support system, etc., as noted above.
posted by joe lisboa at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


I thought most people just knee jerked TAKING OUR JOBS THEY ARE!

You might be surprised how many thoughtful people give this matter a great deal of attention and reasoned thought. Some of them are actually white! But, you know, stereotypes are what they are on both sides of the fence.
posted by davejay at 10:10 AM on April 25, 2012


Oh, and on Illinois: yeah, Chicago and the suburbs northward. It is quite a melting pot, Chicago, and neighborhoods tend to be broken apart on racial lines, so if you're immigrating and want a place that you might feel more at home in, it's a great city.
posted by davejay at 10:11 AM on April 25, 2012


New pro-amnesty line: Illegal immigrants are leaving! No more problem! Can we reverse the policies that worked now?

So, Kaus believes economic stagnation was our grand plan to reverse illegal immigration? Because that seems to have been a significant factor leading to the decline of illegal immigration.

I've been an open borders guy for a pretty long time. The common outcry upon hearing this is "But we'll be flooded with immigrants!" Because presumably America is such an insanely great place to be, everyone wants to come regardless the prospects. Explaining that open borders allows people to leave just as easily as arrive simply didn't seem to register. Clearly we now see that illegal immigrants are not all that interested in taking my share of the incredible awesomeness of the USA, as they are not all that eager to come anymore. And it looks like they'd be leaving in even greater numbers if the process of crossing back were not a sometimes death defying act, made that way largely by immigration hawkish policy. Policy that has nothing to do with economic prosperity of the US, let alone the immigrants themselves, and everything to do with political grandstanding to appease the xenophobic streak of ignorant Americans.
posted by 2N2222 at 10:52 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


jacquilynne: "I do realize that Chicago is in Illinois, yes. But why would Chicago draw a huge number of migrant workers as opposed to any other large city? Detroit (back when it had an economy) or New York or Atlanta?"

I dunno. Ask the Poles.
posted by symbioid at 10:55 AM on April 25, 2012


Judging from family stories, the border between the US and Mexico was much more porous in the early twentieth century and this did indeed cause a lot of back and forth movement.

My paternal grandmother was born in California on a farm. Her parents had come up from Mexico to work in the fields. It was seasonal work, though. And after the work was over, everyone would go back to their house and family in Mexico. There was no strong desire to leave their home behind.

It was much later, when my dad was a teenager, that my grandmother decided to move her whole family to the US. By then, it was a much more involved process and after all that work emigrating her children, they decided to stay. As my dad and his siblings became more accustomed to their new home, it became harder to ever go back. But I don't get the sense it was a big plan or achievement. More like inertia.

On the other side of the family, my maternal grandfather was always an adventurous sort. He and one of his best friends traveled throughout the US when they were young, picking up jobs here and there. It was always his intention to return home to Mexico and he did spend the rest of his life there. Later, he worked as a diplomat in Mexico. His earlier forays into the US were just an adventure across a porous border into a strange land. Never more than that.

(Side-note: His friend actually stayed behind in Pittsburgh after he met and fell in love with an Italian girl. And my grandpa returned home and married his friend's sister. So, thus his friend is my great-uncle and we have this Italian/Mexican branch of the family in Pittsburgh. But thats a separate story)
posted by vacapinta at 11:35 AM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


To answer the question about why Chicago is one of the primary destinations for Mexican immigrants? Using the push-pull theory with a dash of neoclassical: First the push: Mexico recently underwent two major demographic/social changes, as massive industrialization transferred its industry and rural agricultural practices, followed by a massive baby -boom. This quickly resulted in large numbers of people seeking work, and urban work in particular. It is no coincidence that the end of their baby boom was matched by a steep decline in outward migration. It is important to note that other Latin American countries also experience similar demographic and social transformations - and many of them immigrated to Mexico. So the population is already migrating internally and they are actively looking for better opportunities.

Now the pull: very important is the immigrants expected wage, the economists will go on about the differential comparison, but essentially the destination (Chicago) work situation must be both better paying and the work positions must be reliably available. In economic downturns like our recent one, the second part of this argument because a major factor; even though the jobs still pay more than comparable ones in Mexico, the expectation has shifted to believing that there simply isn't enough available to uproot and move to Chicago for.

Others have noted the effect of networks and social ties, and these are very important, so what does that actually mean? Chicago is a destination for many immigrants, so it is generally welcoming of folks from all over, and that's a good start. It has many services during the immigration process, and for the eventual residents. Immigration is very daunting - especially for low skill and poorly educated, and so a community in which someone can generally fully function within their language and culture is going to be a major attractor. This is the mechanism for the cultural pull, and Chicago has had a sizable Mexican community since the end of WWII, when they helped fill labor shortages in the various factories, plants and agricultural processing centers here. (Of course we kicked/deported a bunch of folks shortly thereafter!)

There are other cultural institutions that have a major role - in this case it would be the Catholic Church. For example, Pilsen, named for it's originally German population, was a large and thriving Catholic community which has become a thriving Mexican community. The Catholic church has and continues to play a large role in assisting immigrants with the hurdles of migrating, and has provided an essential mediating force between the immigrant community and the host community. Also essential is the role within the immigrant community, which largely distrusts the police to handle community conflicts, among many other major issues the church assists immigrant communities with.
posted by zenon at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


"The fact that politicians hope to count on those illegals voting or at least twist the actual debate into some sort of false claims of racism so others would vote for them is immaterial."

Well, if you don't want to be confused with a racist, don't refer to people as "illegals."

Of course, since I've made this comment before to you, I assume you don't have any problem with people thinking you're racist.
posted by klangklangston at 12:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we refrain from referring to human beings as "illegals" please?

No.
posted by caclwmr4 at 12:20 PM on April 25, 2012


Regarding immigrant networks, it's interesting how certain places will become magnets for a particular immigrant community. One of my grad school professors, a demographer, once told our class that the reason there are so many Armenians in southern California is that in the 70s and 80s there was only one flight to the U.S. from Yerevan was to L.A. They just stayed put when they arrived. Had that flight gone to a different city, they would have settled there instead.
posted by orrnyereg at 12:24 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, if you don't want to be confused with a racist, don't refer to people as "illegals."

The word "illegals" does not specify race. There are "illegals" of all races.

If the word connotes racism in your mind, that is your racism in your mind.
posted by caclwmr4 at 12:32 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Using a dehumanizing shorthand to refer to the immigration status of people says more about the people who use the term than it does anything else.

The word "illegals" does not specify race. There are "illegals" of all races.


Totally. Which is why we're building a huge fence along our Canadian border.
posted by rtha at 12:38 PM on April 25, 2012 [10 favorites]


The word "illegals" does not specify race. There are "illegals" of all races.
[E]nforcement of immigration laws often involves a relevant consideration of ethnic factors
Arizona Supreme Court, State v. Graciano
posted by zombieflanders at 12:57 PM on April 25, 2012


Totally. Which is why we're building a huge fence along our Canadian border.

Are you trying to imply that the primary race inhabiting the South of the continental US border is inferior to, or more criminal than, the primary race inhabiting the North of the continental US border? If you are, that seems racist to me.

I'm not. I'm saying "illegal". Persons from either area could be illegal in the US. There are illegals from Canada in the US, and they should be dispatched under US laws the same as illegals from Mexico or anywhere else.

Full Equal Treatment Under The Law.

If you did mean that Mexicans are inferior, take your racism somewhere else, please.
posted by caclwmr4 at 12:59 PM on April 25, 2012


[DON'T FEED THE TROLLS]

posted by Scientist at 1:07 PM on April 25, 2012


on preview of Scientist's excellent reminder, I have deleted my screed. Thank you.
posted by rtha at 1:08 PM on April 25, 2012


The use of the term "illegals" is not racist in the slightest. It is no different than the word "undocumented". They mean the exact same thing. It is certainly not more dehumanizing to call them one or the other.

Of course for certain people without the ability to debate they resort to calling people names. Which is amusing when they are attacking you because they claim you are calling people names.

Much the same as some do with the discussion of people entering the country without going through the legal channels.

When they can't take a stance of completely open borders, when they can't argue that all immigration should free without any laws, they try to change the argument and say that anyone who is against immigrants entering without obeying the law are against all immigration.


Look at what I said, nothing was racist or even referred to a certain group. I merely said that too many people change what the debate is about and that there should be more enforcing of the laws against the employers and not the workers trying to make a better life.
posted by 2manyusernames at 1:18 PM on April 25, 2012


People are going to make assumptions about you based in part on the kind of language you use. If you are comfortable being lumped in with all the people who mean "lazy wetbacks" when they say "illegals" (because saying "undocumented immigrant" or even "illegal immigrant" is so hard!), then more power to you. If you would rather take paragraphs and paragraphs to explain that no, you aren't in line with jerks who use "illegals" in a racist way - and denying that no one uses it that way is foolish - then, again, more power to you.
posted by rtha at 1:38 PM on April 25, 2012


2manyusernames: calling someone "an illegal" is like calling someone "a gay" or "a handicapped" or "a black" or "a retard" (and people do all of those things, and often). It reduces their humanity to a single characteristic, the characteristic that marks them as separate from "normal" people i.e. straight, able-bodied, able-minded white people. It's a pejorative way of speaking even if the characteristic is strictly true and not in and of itself negative. It's enough that you are reducing the person or group of people to a characteristic that is commonly considered negative (no matter how wrongheadedly) for it to be an unpleasant, lazy, and socially-charged way of speaking. It implies agreement with commonly-held stereotypes about that group of people for you to refer to them by their most-stereotyped characteristic.

If you are not doing that intentionally, as you claim you are not, then you are communicating poorly and should look to change your manner of speech in order to avoid making people think you are a bigot. If you are doing it intentionally, but claiming innocence, then you are not participating in this discussion in good faith.

I like to think that people around here are participating in good faith (though I sometimes have my doubts) so I would like to gently suggest that you take the advice of the people around you here and start referring to people who came to the U.S.A. from outside and settled there without going through the official immigration process as "undocumented immigrants" or, if you must, "illegal immigrants". This takes the focus off of their legal immigration status and puts it more on their simple state of being immigrants to this country, which is an attribute that is not quite so fraught with bigotry and prejudice.

It would be nicer if we could say "people from Country X/Countries XYZ who have illegaly/unofficially immigrated to America" but that is a bit of a mouthful so a compromise needs to be made. "Undocumented immigrants" is the currently-preferred compromise, with "illegal immigrants" being a still-acceptable but increasingly-fraught alternative. Yes, it can be a pain to keep up with the currently-preferred nomenclature for groups of people who are being discriminated against, but until bigots stop reframing previously-acceptable terms and making them into derogatory epithets (or until those terms make it all the way through the cycle and become fully reclaimed and cleansed by the people who used to be harmed by them) it's unfortunately a necessary part of going through life without making people around you think that you're a racist asshole.

Thanks for taking the time to think about this. It's a complicated issue but life is better when we are sensitive to the ways in which our words are interpreted and the effects that they have on the people we are talking to. I will leave you with the song No One is Illegal, by David Rovics. Enjoy!
posted by Scientist at 2:25 PM on April 25, 2012 [12 favorites]


My undocumented Canadian friend calls himself "an illegal" so I guess he's taking it back?
posted by wcfields at 2:37 PM on April 25, 2012


I read an article recently by Michael Clemens in which he makes the argument that restricting migration of people is fundamentally equivalent from an economic point of view to tariff protectionism, only much, much more so, to the point of costing the world economy trillions of dollars.

Not sure if I completely agree with it, however it is a very interesting viewpoint.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 2:44 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


fundamentally equivalent from an economic point of view to tariff protectionism

Oh, absolutely. Hence the popularity of the lump of labor fallacy among opponents of open borders, and the historically exclusionist stance of American labor unions, who still seem to think tariffs are a Good Idea.
posted by anigbrowl at 4:19 PM on April 25, 2012


"The word "illegals" does not specify race. There are "illegals" of all races.

If the word connotes racism in your mind, that is your racism in your mind.
"

Hey, it's fine that you don't mind people thinking that you're racist. Whatever post hoc justification you use, I just thought you might like to know that hey, you totally sound like a racist. If that's important to you — like, for some reason, you might like people to take your points seriously and assume that they come from a position of, say, economic concern over low-cost labor or whatever, and not just assume that you hate brown people because you're using the same rhetoric that an awful lot of racists use in the same context that an awful lot of racists use it — you might want to reconsider. If you don't mind sounding like a racist and having people assume that your points come from a place of irrational bigotry — whether that's because you don't think it sounds racist, or because you're an unapologetic racist — that's your bag. I was just letting you know, hey, you sound pretty racist when you say, "Illegals."
posted by klangklangston at 5:10 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Oh, absolutely. Hence the popularity of the lump of labor fallacy among opponents of open borders, and the historically exclusionist stance of American labor unions, who still seem to think tariffs are a Good Idea."

This is entirely right, and something that folks in the labor movement and on the left should be working internally on reforming.

Unfortunately, a couple of factors work against the best (to my mind) solution, which is working to improve labor standards in other countries. Most other countries have an attitude on labor rights that's just slightly more reactionary than Harry Chandler's, and where Western unions should have moved with globalization to extend their reach internationally, the often brutally repressive responses abroad coupled with a general decline in labor's political power over the last 30 years (making the government less likely to press other countries for higher labor standards and more openness to US unions) have disadvantaged an avenue that would be a lot more fruitful in the long term than trying to restrict trade through protectionist tariffs and fighting a xenophobic war against immigrants here.
posted by klangklangston at 5:17 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mexicans, however, have the benefit of a largely unsecured border separating them from the U.S..
Yes, one which happens to be mostly desert for miles and miles, and undeveloped land filled with lots of Border Patrol agents everywhere else. Not exactly an easy feat.

Because this is always worth posting: There are very few ways of legally immigrating to the US if you're from Mexico (or from anywhere else, really).
posted by cobain_angel at 8:31 PM on April 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


If your family has been in the USA for more than about hundred and twenty years then your ancestors migrated before there was a substantial federal immigration law: they entered the USA via entry into one of the various states. These states had had their own immigration laws, but they were mostly about things like TB and not being a burden on the taxpayer. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of this period, during which the USA became the greatest nation in the world.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:17 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


during which the USA became the greatest nation in the world.

Yeah, our people see their breasts fall off from cancer because they can't get an hour off work for a medical check-up that they couldn't afford anyway, and we've got a rate of infant mortality that's lower than Cuba, but We're Number One!!!!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 11:07 PM on April 25, 2012 [1 favorite]


It would be nicer if we could say "people from Country X/Countries XYZ who have illegaly/unofficially immigrated to America" but that is a bit of a mouthful so a compromise needs to be made. "Undocumented immigrants" is the currently-preferred compromise, with "illegal immigrants" being a still-acceptable but increasingly-fraught alternative.

"Illegal immigrant' derives from the title of the last major overhaul of the immigration laws, the 'Illegal Immigration Reform And Immigrant Responsibility Act', or 'IIRIRA' in the immigration law trade. As it happens, this is somewhat at odds with the legal definitions within the act, because only legally established people are granted immigrant status. Everyone else is an 'alien' of some kind; the term 'illegal alien' was used in a previous version of the law. 'Alien' is an anachronistic legal term dating back to at least the 18th century (see Federalist paper #2, for example).

I am perfectly fine with terms like 'illegal immigrant' or 'illegal alien' and have introduced myself as such on many occasions. Now, I'm white, which makes my life vastly easier in general; so racial discrimination isn't an oppressive factor in my life. On the other hand, I do have to deal with all sorts of systemic discrimination, and frankly, becoming moderately expert on the legal and sociopolitical dimensions of the subject makes that more stressful in a lot of ways. There's no doubt that a lot of people use this or that term as a pejorative and as a proxy for racist sentiments, but there are also many people who have a problem with illegal immigration as a policy problem but no particular racist agenda. Challenging people as racists for how they use a particular term is typically a self-defeating argument that goes nowhere, as we see above. In some cases it's because the challenge is actually misplaced and an unjust accusation of an honest disputant. In others the challenge is simply taking the bait of a nativist and racist troll, who now has one more data point to support the contention that liberals or people of color play the race card at every possible opportunity rather than addressing the issue at hand. This is a great way to lose a debate. Instead of lecturing people, it's far more effective to simply express yourself using terms you feel comfortable with and make the linguistic point by example rather than going down a rhetorical dead end that only impresses people who are already in your corner.

I personally feel that arguments over terminology are superficial and distract from discussions of the substantial problem. At academic symposia on immigration law I've attended and in discussion of the subject in legal journals, a majority - maybe 75-85% - of the contributions come from critical theorists who have a great deal to say about the underlying motivations and meaning of immigration policy, and where particular issues fits in in the context of US imperialism or how it perpetuates the dominant class paradigm or whatever. The other 15-25% is analysis of how cases or won or policy changes enacted into law on a practical level. Critical theorists dominate the debate, and frankly I wish they would die in a fire, because they're obsessed with grinding their own axes and being someone else's grindstone is not fun. I don't like critical legal theory anyway, but my basic objection in this case is that if you want to sell your views on the origin and purpose of policy because many lawyers go on to become politicians later, then teach a course on 'law and politics' or 'Marxist legal theory', because you're not helping to future lawyers to represent people in immigration litigation. Immigration judges are poorly trained and insanely overburdened, and appellate judges who hear immigration cases are, in general, poorly informed about the workings of the immigration system and the byzantine complexities of title 8.

Thanks for taking the time to think about this. It's a complicated issue but life is better when we are sensitive to the ways in which our words are interpreted and the effects that they have on the people we are talking to. I will leave you with the song No One is Illegal , by David Rovics. Enjoy!

The intention is great here, and I thank you for that, but I have to tell you that I find this sort of thing painfully patronizing, kind of like Paul McCartney singing 'Give Ireland Back to the Irish.' Offensive as some people find it, Genesis 'Illegal Alien' is a lot closer to the emotional truth about the aspirations and anxieties that go with living outside the system. Life is better when we're sensitive to the meanings of our words and how they affect others, but this is a two-way street. When you start lecturing other people about their use of language it takes the focus off the policy arguments, which then have to be articulated and argued all. over. again. When I'm arguing with an immigration restrictionist, I don't really care if that person is racist. If s/he is, it will generally be obvious and the person will do a better job of undermining their own credibility in this regard than I can. What I do care about is pointing out the inaccuracies or illogicality in their arguments, and debunking myths and misleading tropes that seem superficially reasonable, as well as making my own arguments for how policy should be different and why. Playing language monitor does not support this objective. I tried it for a long time and I've come to the conclusion that it does much, much more harm than good. Just state your preferred term so people know what you mean, and then use it in an argument. I would rather argue substantively with someone who is calling me a scumbag than get sidetracked into a debate about my interlocutor's right to free expression and authorial integrity and make that person the star of the show.
posted by anigbrowl at 2:05 AM on April 26, 2012


Whenever you refer a group of people that share a characteristic, it is common to use that characteristic to refer to them. Not just common, but necessary. For example, you wanted to make a statement about the people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com, you would use a term that references the fact that they share that trait. So you could call them mefites, or metafors, or metafilterns, or mefarts, or you could even call them people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com. This allows you to make statement in reference to the group of people in question. So you can make statements like: "mefites like to beanplate." or "metafilterns beanplate!" or "people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com like to overthink one plate that contains an unspecified number of beans."

Refering to the characteristic (relevant to the conversation) that a group of people share does not reduce the humanity of the group. It just provides focus to the trait they have that is relevant to the conversation. It does not mean they do not have other traits. Just like calling someone a mefite does not reduce their humanity. Someone who fits the descriptor of "mefite" will have other characteristics, like maybe "is literate," or "enjoys going outside every now and then". If the other characteristics are relevant to the topic, then bring them up. Otherwise you lose focus. In a conversation that is about mefites, but not about how much time they spend outdoors, it is irrelevant, not germane, and disruptive to keep bring up the outdoors. It is acknowledged by all that people within a group will have other traits.

In a conversation about a group of people, it is important that the term used to describe the group of people not violate the Three Syllable Rule. If the term is longer than three syllables, it will fail to be accepted by all parties because of it's unwieldiness. For example, in a conversation about people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com, to continually to refer to them as people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com is disruptive and hinders conversation. People in the conversation about people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com will either create a shorter, more euphonic and comfortable term to describe the people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com, or eventually be discouraged from having conversations about people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com at all, even if the people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com would prefer that you call them people who have memberships to the website called metafilter.com. Something less unweildy has to be used, even if this term is more accurate, more polite, and prefered by the group. I am asserting to you now: the term has to be three syllable or less, or will always meet resistance. If you wish to replace a term that already passes the Three Syllable Rule, it also needs to pass to the same rule to reach acceptance.

But it is of equal importance to note that if term is commonly used as a pejorative, then using it associates you with those who have the pejorative beliefs. In our hypothetical, imagine a group of people who continuously hate on websites because of the color of the background. They only like white backgrounds. In order to meet the Three Syllable Rule, we will call people who hate based on the color of background: backgroundist. Suppose backgroundists commonly use the term "metafor" to describe members of metafilter. If you, too, used the term "metafor" to describe mefites, then you end up giving yourself the appearance of being a backgroundist. Even if you believe the term "metafor" to be descriptive and non-pejorative, using it will give others the appearance that you are a backgroundist. So making a statement like "Metafors need to go outside" or "Metafors are so literal!", even meant positively, can still give others the appearance that you are backgroundist. It may be best to avoid using "metafor" at all.
posted by BurnChao at 2:44 AM on April 26, 2012


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