Great Decisions 2007 Migration | How Does Globalization Affect Immigration?

Editor’s note: Jeff Bourasa, a teacher at Fairmont High School, and his students came up with these questions about migration in today’s world. Published in the The Dayton Daily News, “Opinions”, April 25, 2007

Nancy Brown Diggs, Ph.D., has published four books on international topics, as well as the forthcoming Hidden in the Heartland: The New Wave of Immigrants and the Challenge to America.

This week’s participants: Beavercreek High School students [Anu Menon, Ben Hoffman, Betty Bai, and Margaret Nevrekar] posed questions to Nancy Brown Diggs, who has published four books on international topics.

Migration in today’s world is closely tied to globalization, and immigration has become a controversial subject in many countries, not just the United States.

Q Recent immigration bills introduced in Congress have included controversial sections that will provide amnesty to some illegal immigrants. What effect does amnesty have on immigration, and why is it such a controversial issue?

A In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act granted amnesty to more than 3 million undocumented immigrants. This encouraged others to come to the U.S. illegally in the hope that they, too, would eventually be granted amnesty. Come they did.

This is why politicians who speak of immigration reform are careful to avoid the “A” word; they prefer the term “earned legalization.”

Q Why has the U.S. signed a free trade pact with Mexico when the U.S. does not want to integrate their labor markets?

A Virtually all economists believe that free trade increases the general prosperity of trading partners, but there are gainers and losers. Some groups and union leaders, in particular, blame free trade for taking away jobs from Americans.

The great number of immigrants now working here illegally do constitute an integration of labor to some extent.

Remedios Gomez Arnau, Mexico’s consul general for Georgia, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, insists that the United States needs them. She cites Labor Department statistics that indicate that by 2010, there will be 10 million jobs in the United States that can’t be filled by American citizens, due to our aging population.

The solution?

The consul argues for granting more visas and establishing guest worker programs.

Many American leaders agree that we need immigrants. They add, though, that we need to know who and where they are. In 2005, almost one-fifth of the federal prison population were illegal immigrants, while some 270,000 illegal immigrants spent time in local jails and state prisons.

Congress is considering establishing a guest worker program, increasing legal immigration from Mexico and offering earned legalization to certain residents. Unlike the flawed bracero programs of the 1930s and 1940s, any program would have to include, among other things, provisions for health care plus “sticks” and “carrots” to ensure that workers return home.

Q How can our current policy on immigration be amended to maximize the benefits of global migration while minimizing the detriment to our own economy?

A Most economists concur that the present situation has not hurt, and has even helped, the economy as a whole, but may have harmed less-skilled workers (although they disagree on the extent).

But it’s not just a question of economics. Do we really want an underclass that is often mistreated, underpaid, ill-housed and placed at risk, afraid to complain for fear of deportation?

Americans are united by two things: the rule of law and the English language. It’s important that these pillars of our unity not be eroded.

That’s why government leaders must work toward legalization, as well as target employers who fail to abide by the law. Any program must also include a provision for acquiring English proficiency.

Q Is there a cause-and-effect relationship between a country’s tendencies for free trade or protectionist policies and the mass migration of highly skilled workers?

A If free trade helps the economies of all the trading partners, it should better enable highly skilled workers to stay in their home countries. In the case of Mexico, NAFTA has proven to be a disappointment, due to unexpected competition from China.

But the economic liberalization to which it is now committed may eventually help stop the brain drain—skilled professionals are also leaving Mexico—and prevent the exodus of the best and the brightest.

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