Migration in the News

Nineteenth century and although it has gone through many changes along the way, it still continues today, with around 8million Mexicans in the USA in 2000 (cis.org). The article focuses on low-skilled labour migration to the USA, in particular undocumented and illegal migrants who have crossed the border to work at a meat packing factory in Greely, Colorado. The politicization of the US-Mexico relationship is considered along with contrasting perspectives from opposing academics and groups concerned, as the US-Mexican border is now no longer just a physical space; it is now a political space (Coleman, 2007).

Following southwestern US states inclusion in the national economy a constant demand for a cheap labour force was created which provided the large pools of impoverished rural people in Mexico, 50% in poverty in 2002, with the economic motivation to fill the void (Worldbank.org; Cardoso, 1980).

Simultaneous extensions of transport and communication networks under globalisation have facilitated this flow, making migration easier (Driscoll, 1999).

The article is focused on the USA’s relationship and response to these migrants with the dilemma being that “in the USA, undocumented low skilled workers are, at once, unwanted and needed” (Escobar-Latapi, 1999 pp.153).

Historically the USA has produced more jobs than people to fill them, whereas Mexico has often experienced the opposite leading to a gradient upon which migrants flow, triggered by such events as the employment stagnation in the 1980s, where Mexican cities became saturated from rural-urban migration and migration was redirected north to the US (Escobar-Latapi, 1999).

A view held by some, including Mexican officials is that they meet the unmet demands of the US. The immigrants perform the lowest skilled labour, such as meat-packing, along with many migrants in construction, domestic service and agricultural sectors, often unbeknownst to the Native Americans (Castles and Miller, 2003). New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg backs this up as he has said his city would “collapse if they were deported,” referring to Mexican immigrants (abcnews.com, WWW [1]). It is also suggested that immigrants consume less in services than they pay out in taxes, and full employment remains with demand for labour still being high (dmonline.com, WWW).

It is conceded that new workers do add to the supply of labour, but since they consume they add to the demand as well, going some way to explaining how cites are able to absorb such vast numbers of immigrants. (nytimes.com)

David Card is a prominent academic who champions this side of the debate, asking is the “New immigration really so bad?” (Card, 2005 pp.300). He also suggests that as a result of migrant influx, businesses spend less on machines and more on labour, and that the relative wage of low skilled natives in the USA has remained practically constant throughout the migration flows from Mexico (Card, 2005). The view from this side of the fence is that Immigrants do help the economy and they are fuel for growth (nytimes.com, WWW).

On the opposite side of the dispute sit those who see migration as a problem that needs to be solved, presenting contrasting views to supporters of such immigration. Unwanted immigration, which includes illegal border-crossers and those legal entrants who outstay their visas, competes with local people for unskilled jobs, housing and social amenities (Escobar-Latapi, 1999).

The greatest concerns among those calling for solutions are economic, related to wages and unemployment, where it is thought that immigration has caused real harm to lower-income Americans (Borjas, 1996).

George Borjas (1996), who is a prominent academic in this area believing migrants depress wages and hurt the economy, conducted studies and put forward that for every 10% increase in immigrants, wages fell by 3% to 4%.

For example, meat-packers who earned about US$19 an hour two decades ago now make US$9 (abcnews.com, WWW [2]), however, it is also proposed that the impact on wages are less severe than generally believed (Smith and Newman, 1977).

It is also argued that as the US economy is increasing its reliance on high technology, immigration policy change accordingly, promoting more skilled and less low-skilled immigration who slow the rate of modernisation of some industries, such as agriculture (Escobar-Latapi, 1999).

Low skilled immigrants are also believed to lower the price of goods and services provided by firms that use their labour, along with claims that their fiscal contributions are low or zero as they pay low taxes and benefit most from social services such as education and health (Escobar-Latapi, 1999).

The temporal change in immigration flows to the US is highlighted, culminating in a decline in skills, with successive flows of Mexicans experiencing wage decline.

This has implications for unskilled native-born workers in the US and subsequently led to the discontented voters in California enacting proposition 187, prohibiting illegal ‘aliens’ from any welfare services (Borjas, 1996) and draining the state budget (Mcbride, 1999). The US, which has in recent times embraced immigration, initiated acts and policies along with proposition 187 such as the Welfare Act and Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) 1996 which also limited welfare for immigrants (Mcbride, 1999).

Border security, especially after September 11th 2001, became a focal point of policies also, with secure borders being what the population deserves (abcnews.com [2]). Operation Gatekeeper was introduced in 1994 under President Clinton, with fences, helicopters and high tech equipment costing over US$5.5billion in 2000; however no decline in illegal border crossings was seen (Castles and Miller, 2007).

These responses are driven and influenced by American opinion which along with that of some officials has perceived immigrants as a threat to the American lifestyle and cultural homogeneity, with some strong opposition portraying symptoms of xenophobia (Mcbride, 1999).

Guest-worker visas, proposed as a middle-ground and supported by President Bush and many Businesses, are seen as the future, where workers are recruited for set time periods, whilst others call for visas on the basis of skills, as seen in Canada and Australia (nytimes.com). Prospects for Mexican low-skilled migration to the US are thought to include a decreased pressure on emigration as Mexico develops, with new flows and migrants responding faster to demand and policy factors. Policy therefore becomes crucial, with growing importance of effective policy making in both the US and Mexico (Borjas, 1996), however 9/11 has postponed discussions (Castles and Miller, 2007).

It is suggested that NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) should follow the EU (European Union), with development of poorer areas in Mexico and the USA considered and a floor and not a ceiling on wage levels (Escobar-Latapi, 1999).

Roger Lowenstein (WWW) summarises that “the debate over the costs imposed by and the benefits gained from the Mexican immigrant flow, the group which makes up nearly a quarter of current immigration, will surely continue.” (nytimes.com, WWW)