Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Immigration Advocates Face Challenges

Immigration Advocates Face Challenges:
Tom Barry

The most obvious challenges—including new anti-immi-
grantlegal measures, rising anti-immigrant bias in the
media, and an expanding backlash movement against
immigration—are not necessarily the most difficult ones.
More daunting are challenges facing pro-immigration
groups and immigrant advocates as they seek to estab-
lish a framework for discussing immigration.
If immigrant advocates and immigrants themselves are
to move from the sidelines to the center of the intensify-
ing immigration debate, and by doing so help staunch
the growing influence of the retrograde restrictionist
forces, they must meet five major challenges.
The first challenge is to gain credibility as advocates for
an immigration policy that considers the totality of U.S.
national interests—not just the needs and problems of
immigrants or the demands of business for new foreign
sources of cheap and skilled labor. Marshalling the same
facts and figures used by the Wall Street Journal and
Corporate America, as pro-immigration advocates often
do to describe the net economic benefits of immigration,
falls far short of what is needed if immigration reformers
are to gain the attention and support of the U.S. public.
Macroeconomic figures that show immigrants boosting
national economic growth provide little solace to workers
who see immigrants holding jobs they or their parents
once had, or who find themselves competing in a labor
market where immigrant workers are willing to work
longer, harder, and for substantially lower wages.
The challenge, then, is to offer a progressive vision of a
healthy, multiethnic, multicultural society. Such a society
would collectively move forward with policies to assure
full employment, protect labor rights, and provide basic
social services to all, without unfairly burdening the mid-
dle class, while at the same time facilitating social inte-
gration and a sense of community through language
instruction and good basic education.
The third challenge that immigration advocates face is
overcoming their hesitation to describe the immigration
problem as a class problem. The first step in injecting
class analysis into their advocacy is to disentangle them-
selves from business—whether it be Fortune 500 corpo-
rations, the National Association of Manufacturers,
agribusiness, high-tech firms that increasingly rely on
skilled foreign workers, or even the strong lobby of immi-
gration lawyers—which often support liberal immigration
policies based on their vested professional interests.
Corporate, pro-immigration positions often coincide
with those of immigrants and immigrant advocates. But
failing to distinguish between immigration reform moti-
vated by a desire for cheap labor and immigration
reform advocated to attain a just society make the entire
pro-immigration movement extremely vulnerable to the
critique that it is an open borders lobby.


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