Understanding the Immigration Debate

By LaVonne Neff 8-02-2010

If I hadn't just read Moving Millions, I might not have noticed how many of this morning's news stories relate to immigration.

Jeffrey Kaye, a freelance journalist and special correspondent for The PBS NewsHour, subtitled his book How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration. It's a book that goes way beyond what I'm used to reading in news stories or op-ed pieces about Arizona's new law. Kaye looks at immigration around the world, not just in America. He frequently puts today's stories in historical context. Most of all, he looks at business practices and government policies that either entice or drive people to leave their homes in search of a better life.

There's a lot of data in the book, and Publishers Weekly called it "a dense read." It isn't, really -- Kaye injects enough stories and interviews to keep eyes from glazing over. If I sometimes found it hard going, it was because each chapter examines a different facet of immigration, and sometimes the evidence seems to lead to contradictory conclusions. In the final chapter Kaye ties things together and clearly states his own views, though he offers no policy recommendations. Since it majors on information, not advocacy, Moving Millions will probably appeal more to wonks than to activists.

But back to this morning's news stories, and how Kaye helped me understand them:

  • "Immigrant Maids Flee Lives of Abuse in Kuwait." Indentured servitude seems to be par for the course in some Middle Eastern countries where the elite have an obscenely luxurious lifestyle and immigrants, whose passports are confiscated so they can't run away, are forced to do all the work. Moving Millions includes a damning chapter about immigrants in Dubai.
  • "Christiane Amanpour Takes On ABC News' 'This Week.'" Immigrants contribute to the American economy at all levels, as you've no doubt noticed if you've looked for a doctor lately. Amanpour, a British citizen, is the daughter of an Iranian named Mohammad and a British Christian. She is married to an American Jew and recently moved from London to New York.
  • "Border Deployment Will Take Weeks." Yup, and it's not going to accomplish anything except possibly help re-elect politicians who should know better. Fences and guns don't keep people out when businesses lure them in. And if businesses stop hiring illegal immigrants, expect the American cost of living to skyrocket.

Interestingly, some companies are trying to have it both ways. According to one Arizona politician quoted in the book, "Many of the companies that made a profit off the backs of migrant workers were the same companies donating money to anti-immigration proponents." See my April 29 post in which I suggest that many businesses want immigrants here, but they want them scared. They are so much easier to exploit when they're terrified of being sent home.

portrait-lavonne-neffLaVonne Neff is an amateur theologian and cook; lover of language and travel; wife, mother, grandmother, godmother, dogmother; perpetual student, constant reader, and Christian contrarian. She blogs at Lively Dust.

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