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How The Global Economy Contributes To Illegal Immigration

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Aired 5/17/10

Arizona's new immigration law has reinvigorated the nation debate over illegal immigration. We'll look at how the global economy is driving immigration.

Book cover for Jeffrey Kaye's new book, "Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration."
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Above: Book cover for Jeffrey Kaye's new book, "Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration."

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. Arizona's new law cracking down on illegal immigration by having police ask people to show them their papers is getting a big thumbs up in national polls. Despite outcries from civil rights supporters and others, a new Pew Research Poll finds nearly 60% of Americans agree with the law. Many reasons have been given for this support, the worst is racism; among the most practical is the recession. But a new book reminds us that despite being a nation of immigrants, America is, like the rest of the world, deeply entrenched in a complex love/hate relationship with migrating workers. I’d like to welcome my guest Jeffrey Kaye, a journalist and correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, and author of the new book, "Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration." Jeffrey, welcome.

JEFFREY KAYE (Author/PBS NewsHour Correspondent): Thank you very much for having me.

CAVANAUGH: We’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Are you surprised by how many Americans support the new Arizona law? Do you think illegal immigration is hurting the country? Give us a call with your questions and your comments. Our number is 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Jeffrey, here in San Diego we’re very familiar with the term coyote applied to someone paid to smuggle people into the country. So what do you mean by coyote capitalism?

KAYE: Well, yeah, you got it right. The slang term is coyote for a human smuggler and the job of a human smuggler is to get someone across the border. They don’t really care about the circumstances, why they’re coming, why they’re being either pushed out, pulled in, or what happens to them once they arrive. And, similarly, you can look around the world and see people, for whatever reason, being moved around, pulled in, pushed out, often they’re expendable, and that’s what I mean by coyote capitalism, is systems either inadvertent or intentional around the globe that actually encourage and promote migration really without regard to the welfare of the migrants themselves.

CAVANAUGH: So how does the global economy affect immigration?

KAYE: Oh, well, it has ever since people start – rose up on two feet and were able to move around the globe. Any time that there’s been trade, there’s been opportunity, there’s been money moving or merchants moving around from one place to another, people naturally follow. And so as globalization has expanded and opportunities for business and trade has expanded across the seven seas, naturally people go to where they can find opportunities. Just as capital and goods and ideas move around the world, people will follow.

CAVANAUGH: Tell us a little bit about the Philippines because I believe, isn’t that the number one place people send money home to in their jobs around the world?

KAYE: Yeah, I think it’s one – Yes, I believe it is. I mean, there’s so much going – in the pipeline around the world. It’s something like $300 billion is sent by migrants to their families, and that’s the reason most people move when they move, is to move and – is to earn money and send it home to families. And the Philippines really has a culture of migration. There, people are expected to grow up, learn a trade or not, or go abroad, send money home. And one generation after another has stories about how their families – Just about everywhere I went, I – mostly, I was in the capital, but as anyone who lives in this country knows, you can’t go into a clinic or a hospital without encountering a Filipina or Filipino nurse. And, really, what they do there is they grow nurses specifically for export. That’s the ambition of people who go into the medical field there. No one really wants to stay in the Philippines. They all want to go abroad, unfortunately, and leave their families. And as a result, ironically, there’s a shortage of nurses in the Philippines.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, my. That’s amazing. When the people do leave from the Philippines to pursue some sort of career or get a job somewhere else around the world, is it their intention to return to the Philippines after their working years?

KAYE: Yeah, often it is. Often, it’s to bring – It’s to join families who have already made the trek across the globe somewhere or it’s to return. And I should say, I think when you look at migrants around the world, often the ambition isn’t necessarily as we often think just to go abroad and stay put, it is to return home. And I’ve met many people who had that as their ambition. And many people who came from Eastern Europe, Southern Europe in the twenties, themselves did that. It wasn’t so easy to go back home. But it’s – People – It is often a great sacrifice for people to go abroad and pull up roots. And one of the most poignant things that I came across in writing the book was a slogan I encountered from Filipino activists in the Philippines who said we dream of a society that will never be torn apart just for the need to survive. And when you think about it in those terms, it puts a different perspective on the whole issue of migration, one that I think we would do well to consider as we set about making laws and establishing policy.

CAVANAUGH: Jeffrey, in your book, “Moving Millions,” you give a wonderful example of how economies have made it almost necessary for people to migrate from their countries. You use Senegal as an example of how the people of Senegal have almost been forced to become migrants.

KAYE: Yeah, forced and – but what’s going on in – I mean, what I tried to do when I went around the world doing research for the book is to look at a combination of so-called sending countries and receiving countries. Obviously, the U.S. is a major receiving country as is most of the developing world. Senegal, the Philippines are sending countries, and what’s going on in Senegal is not unlike what’s happening elsewhere, where the farmers there have had difficulty competing with cheap, subsidized – often subsidized food, subsidized by the European governments, that are available in the marketplace and farmers can’t compete with those kinds of prices just as, under NAFTA, we export cheap, subsidized corn to Mexico and Mexican farmers have, in a sense, been forced off the land, unable to keep – to compete with cheaper corn from the United States. If there are no jobs, what are you going to do? You’re going to move north across the border. And so in Senegal, people are trying to make it, have tried to make it to Europe, just as in Mexico people are trying to, and have made it to, the United States.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Jeffrey Kaye. He’s a journalist and correspondent for PBS NewsHour, and he’s the author of the new book "Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration." We’re taking your phone calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a phone call now from David, calling from San Diego. Good morning, David, and welcome to These Days.

DAVID (Caller, San Diego): Oh, thank you. Thank you for taking my call. I haven’t had a chance to read his book yet but I’m sure it’s a wonderful book. But my comment is that while I believe in immigration reform and I think that it’s the right thing to do, that so many people throughout my lifetime that I’ve known have gone through the right channels to make it here to America to where we can have hopes and dreams and be able to find a job. I blame a lot of it on the government in Mexico especially on how they treat their people so they’re forced to come to America and try to pursue their dreams. A lot come here for the wrong reasons and a lot do come here for the right reasons. And I just support the – what’s going on in Arizona. I know not everyone does but I think it’s the right thing to do, wait your turn, and do it the right way.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for your call, David. Let’s hear from Bruce calling from La Jolla. Good morning, Bruce. Welcome to These Days.

BRUCE (Caller, La Jolla): Good morning. Thanks for taking my call. I’m sorry, I can’t agree with David at all. I believe that these people are coming here to work. I believe that our reaction to that in the form of this law is a form of racism. You know, we’re really happy in this hugely globalized capitalistic economy to have money flowing all over the place but we seem to be unhappy about having labor flow to meet where the demands of that are. We’re going to have a huge problem in this country with the graying of the population if we don’t accept a batch of younger workers coming in here to work, pay into the system. Otherwise, we’re going to wind up like Japan where there’s far more older people than there are workers supporting the system. We need these folks.

CAVANAUGH: Bruce…

BRUCE: It’s racism when we resent it. The legal immigrant is so low that these people have to become illegal immigrants just to come in and take the jobs that are available. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Bruce. Thank you for your call. We got two perspectives there, and I’d like you to react to them, Jeffrey.

KAYE: Well, I guess my main reaction to both of – both gentlemen, both David and Bruce, who had very different views, is that we’ve got to step back a little bit and deal with a policy that might be sensible. The idea that Arizona can solve this by itself, California, or even the United States, Washington, where we look for, for example, for solutions, doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense to me. By its nature, as Bruce pointed out, immigration is an international issue. By its nature, immigration involves borders. So if we’re going to deal sensibly with immigration issues, we’ve got to, at the very least, be talking internationally with bilateral discussions between the United States and Mexico about what is being done. The point was made about corruption in Mexico, and the ineffective government there, absolutely, we’ve got to deal with those issues but we’re not even making the effort. We’re assuming that Arizona can go it alone. We’re assuming that Washington should go it alone. It’s not going to happen. And interestingly enough, President Bush, before 9/11 did start talks with Mexico at the ministerial level that went to the presidential level when Vicente Fox came to visit him just before 9/11. And then after 9/11, we started looking at terrorist issues, the border got closed up, and any notion of bilateral talks about how to deal sensibly with immigration got – just got tabled. Bush completely took the issue off the table. Obama has followed suit. We need to get back to looking at immigration as an international issue if we’re going to resolve it, deal any – deal sensibly with the issue.

CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with Jeffrey Kaye and we’re talking about his new book, “Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration." We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take another call. Penny is calling us from Bonita. Good morning, Penny, and welcome to These Days.

PENNY (Caller, Bonita): Oh, good morning. I would like to address something that I don’t anybody is talking about and that is the ability of a host country to sustain itself when it’s overrun by legal and illegal immigrants. I’m afraid that we’re going to be seeing the fabric of our society just ripped to pieces and our natural and our economic resources decimated. There doesn’t seem to be any way, you know, anything in place to control that possibility. You know, we’ve opened our doors so wide in a legal, you know, situation that even that, you know, is putting the, you know, indigenous population at risk.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Penny. Thank you for your call. Yes, Jeff.

KAYE: Well, as a matter of fact, Penny, a lot of people have been talking about this issue and have for a couple of centuries. Benjamin Franklin was so worried about the nation being overrun, as you put it, by immigrants from Germany who were streaming into Pennsylvania that – and putting up signs in German, writing contracts in German, that he suggested that there be interpreters hired so that, as he put it, one half of the Pennsylvania legislature could understand what the other half was saying. So from time immemorial, ever since migrants have been pouring into the United States, there’s been concern about they won’t assimilate. It was feared that Italians would never learn English, that Eastern European Jews would all be speaking Yiddish and never be able to somehow assimilate in the United States. So these are sort of age old perpetual issues that we don’t really think about in historical context but they always come about particularly in economic downtimes and that’s something I think we need to be thinking about today, is how what’s going on today relates to what’s taking place in the future. There’s natural anxiety when a recession or a depression comes along. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We don’t know what the future will hold. And so what we’ve done in the past and what we’re starting to do more and more today is, in my view, scapegoat migrants, round them up. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than ever before just as we’ve done in the past, whether that’s been setting a quota for, or banning, Chinese from moving into the country as we did in the 1880s, from deporting Mexicans as we’ve done periodically through history, during the Depression, during the fifties. When the economy goes bad, these are the issues that come to the fore. They’re destroying the fabric of our society, as Penny put it. And I think we’ve got to look more sensibly about what we’re doing to deal with migration rather than fan the flames of hysteria.

CAVANAUGH: I want to let everyone know that we are taking your calls but you can also post your comments online at KPBS.org/thesedays. Jeffrey, in your book, “Moving Millions,” not only do you talk about the history of people who have fears that waves of immigrants will not assimilate into the United States but there’s also – there seems to be this idea that other waves of immigrants came to this country for more altruistic reasons. They were – they wanted freedom, they wanted freedom of religion, they wanted to escape something terrible going on in their countries of origin, which makes the idea of people moving simply to get a job seem to be a sort of second rate reason to come to the United States. But you make the point that that’s been a major reason all down the line.

KAYE: Yeah, and sometimes it’s been really hard to separate the reasons. There’s really a large panoply of reasons that make people move and sometimes there are combinations, and have been combinations. When the colonists came, certainly they were fleeing religious – some were fleeing religious persecution just as your Eastern European Jews were fleeing persecution. Irish left for a number of reasons, one of which was religious but also there was a famine, but with all these groups, that every one of them has desired to improve their lives. That’s what we tend to do as human beings. You can trace it back, I think, to even pre-historical civilizations or pre-historical entities. Before there were humans, there were little creatures who crawled out of bogs looking for an opportunity to better their lives with better food and shelter. And I think to some extent we’ve been hard-wired to do the same thing. If there are opportunities, we’re going to go for it. And over the years, I’ve asked many people who’ve had different positions on immigration, I’ve been particularly interested in the response of conservatives who have had hardline positions on immigration and put the question to them, if you were living someplace and making $3.00 a day for your family and had the opportunity to move, would you do it? And to a person, everyone has said yes, they would, of course they would. But the problem is, the issue is, we can talk all we like about what we like and what we don’t like about migrants, about the immigration policy, but my contention is we’re never going to be able to stop it or control it or manage it in the way that certain people would like us to because if there’s a will, there’s going to be a way. Janet Napolitano, who is now the Secretary of Homeland Security, said when she was governor of Arizona, wisely, I think, you show me a 50-foot fence, I’ll show you a 51-foot ladder. She was making a point in – as governor in Arizona. She doesn’t make that point so much now when she’s in Washington. But I think the underlying issue, the point that she was stressing, is as significant today as it was back when she was governor.

CAVANAUGH: There are a lot of people who want to join our conversation. Let’s get in a few phone calls. Cameel is calling us from Chula Vista. Good morning, Cameel (sp). Welcome to These Days.

CAMEEL (Caller, Chula Vista): Good morning. Hi. My comment is that I think we are going to need immigrants. I’m, in fact, an immigrant. My parents came when I was young. I’ve become naturalized since then. I went through school, I studied. Now I have a job, I pay my taxes. I think it’s needed. I think you need people to come to work hard in this country, keep it growing and make it – and keep it the best that it is. And also I just want to make – I disagree with the Arizona law but we do need to change immigration but I don’t think that’s the right way.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for your call very much. Steve’s calling us from San Diego. Good morning, Steve. Welcome to These Days.

STEVE (Caller, San Diego): Yes, ma’am. I’d just like to say that the Arizona law exasperates (sic) the problem and one thing that we don’t say is that we’re all immigrants here. Other than African-Americans who were brought here, you know, forcefully, we’re all immigrants here. So we need to think of a comprehensive problem instead of exacerbating the problem, think of a comprehensive problem, I mean a comprehensive way in which we can alleviate this so-called problem because in 10 years we’ll be fighting over the same thing and it’ll cost millions and millions of dollars.

CAVANAUGH: Right, thank you, Steve. Thank you for your call. You know, Jeffrey, you use your own family story in your book to explain how economies get people to move. Would you share that with us?

KAYE: Well, sure. I’m an immigrant myself. I came here in the 1960s with my family, my—as a teenager—my sister. We came because my father was a jeweler in England, an artisan and made stuff with his hands. The economy was bad. He had prop – they raised taxes. We had financial difficulties, problems, and we came as a result of the economy there and policies that were put in place by the British government as well as the personal calculation that we made, or that my parents made, that the opportunities might outweigh the risk. And so my point is that it’s a combination of factors that lead to migration. We often focus on just the legal issues but I think we need to get off the legal issues and focus much more on what it is that is pushing and pulling migration. I do want to talk a little bit about Arizona. It’s in the news. There’s going to be again today, the ACLU and other groups are filing a lawsuit to try to overturn it. And in a way I think what happened in Arizona makes some of the points that I make in the book and that is there was – It was pretty predictable. If you go back and look at some of the policies that were put into place, you could trace it back to the Clinton administration during the nineties. Clinton militarized the border in Texas and Arizona in response to political pressure as migrants kept coming across from Mexico. The idea was to funnel people into Arizona, hoping that they’d be deterred by the inhospitable desert there. But, of course, what they ended up doing was funneling people into the most conservative state or one of the most conservative states in the union without changing—and this is important—without changing any of the conditions that prompted people to move in the first place. So what he essentially did was funnel people through Arizona, you don’t change the conditions that are pushing people out, or attracting people—and people were attracted by jobs—and there was a collision course. And, in a way, if you connect the dots, you look at policies which we tend not to do, you could kind of see what was put in place that led to the unfortunate law in Arizona.

CAVANAUGH: Do you find it surprising that it’s had so much support in national polls?

KAYE: No, not a’tall. I think, again, that’s fairly predictable. As I was talking about before, when the economy goes downhill, people become anti-immigrant. They want to look for those who they think may be causing the problem, and blaming immigrants is a long tradition in this country, and particularly when we’re so anxious about the future. So, no, I’m not a’tall surprised at the angry reaction in Arizona, particularly when demographics changed so much. That’s something that I think makes everyone a little bit disquieted, on edge, nervous, when you see your neighborhoods change and the signs are changing and the languages are changing. And sometimes your neighbors don’t look the way they used to. People naturally get nervous by those things. That’s no excuse for a racist reaction but I certainly understand why those reactions are in place.

CAVANAUGH: I want to take another call quickly, if we can. Rick is calling from Mission Valley. Good morning, Rick, and welcome to These Days.

RICK (Caller, Mission Valley): Good morning. Yeah, my thing – This whole thing reminds me so much of the war on drugs and I think the way they’re attacking it’s going to go the same way, which is that, you know, they’re trying to attack, I mean, this is regarding the Arizona law, that, you know, they’re trying to attack the supply, you know, the people coming in. I think history has shown that that really just never works. You know, the only way that you can hope to control this is by eliminating the demand, you know, people willing to give, you know, jobs to these people.

CAVANAUGH: Right, right. Rick, thank you. Thank you for that. And that, as you point out in your book, is something that is happening all over the world: the demand for migrant workers, for people to leave their country and come and work for lower wages, lots of times, than anybody in the host country will work for.

KAYE: It’s a global issue. We like to think that America is somehow exceptional but it’s happening everywhere where there are disparities in income and opportunities between the developed world and the developing world, so people are naturally going to migrate to where they find the opportunities. But I disagree to some extent with what Rick was saying. Obviously, jobs are the magnet but we got to look again across borders. The idea that you just deal with jobs is not going to resolve the issue. What we need to work towards is sustainable economies in both the sending countries and the receiving countries so that if there are opportunities that can be put into place by economic development that should be taking place in the sending countries and to make jobs rewarding in the receiving countries so that we don’t become a country or continue to be a country that is addicted to cheap, migrant labor, that we reward those people who want to do some of the most essential jobs that we have, growing our food, taking care of our young people or our elderly people, and make those worthwhile for people, then I think we’re starting to deal more sensibly with immigration rather than just trying to put up bigger fences and hire more Border Patrols, whether that be in the United States or in Europe, which is increasingly becoming fortress Europe for the same reasons as – that we’re dealing with in the United States.

CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you so much for speaking with us today. Thank you.

KAYE: I’ve enjoyed it. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: Jeffrey Kaye, journalist and correspondent for the PBS NewsHour, author of the new book, "Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration." If you’d like to post your comment online, please do, KPBS.org/thesedays. Stay with us for hour two. You’ve been listening to These Days on KPBS.

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