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How Neo-Liberalism Has Created
The World's Immigration Crisis

By Jerry D. Rose

12 February, 2008

Nothing is more maddening in the arena of public opinion and policy today than our totally insane approach to the "crisis" of immigration in America; and it's not that much better in some European countries. In an election season, opinion and policy (at least promises of policy) get entertwined in the public discourse and it becomes hard to tell the difference between a blow-hard hot stove ranter and a vote-pandering politician. The "thought" level is equally mind-numbing in either case. Public speakers give us gum-ball demonstrations of how the country is about to get inundated by immigrants, recalling the late 19th century panic about an impending tide of eastern European Catholic immigration or the "yellow peril" of newcomers from Asia. Political candidates of all persuasions take it for granted that we have to "seal our borders" against illegal intruders; and Congress votes funding for a wall separating the U.S. and Mexico, re-inforced by high-tech surveillance equipment and the "assistance" of Minute Man-type vigilantes. Immigration agents invade meat-packing and other factories to haul off "illegals" for swift deportation. States and cities rush to fill in any federal gaps in immigrant-suppression, and Congress gets itself tied in knots about what some call a "path to citizenship" (however rocky) while others scream about amnesty for the "crime" of crossing the border without permission. Republican presidential candidates compete with one another over who would be "tougher" on immigration and Democrats, as usual, practice a "softer" form of suppression in which you're not exactly sure how in the hell they would handle this situation. What to do? What to do?

Well, how about we start with recognizing what may be the crux of the matter: that the U.S. and the rest of the world is caught in a trap of "neo-liberal" globalization which has made corporate profit the be and end-all of public policy. Under the inspiration of this philosophy, the world economy is re-made as a global playground of profit-seeking for its corporate entrepreneurs, with "privatized" societies which render each individual an atom of existence to be manipulated for corporate profit at the expense of the pleasures and supports of the social commons. These "atoms," cut loose from the bonds of family and community, are not only free but compelled for their own survival to move from their ancestral homelands to other places where they have a chance of survival. Given that the more "developed" countries offer employment opportunities that are marginally better than those available to people in the "under-developed" ones, the immigration flow is predominantly from under-developed to developed ones, as from Latin Americans to the U.S. and Canada, Africans and Asians to "old" countries of western Europe.

The clash we now seeing playing out in these "developed" countries is based on what has been happening to working people in those countries as well. "Neo-liberal" policies have certainly not spared them either. Under the influence of Ronald Reagan in the U.S., to mention one bellwether in this movement (like Margaret Thatcher in Britain) , the security of workers has been severely challenged by anti-labor policies that have reduced the organized labor movement to a shadow of its former self; while one after another political administration (especially Republican but also Clinton Democratic) has hammered away against the social compact of public concern for the welfare of individuals. It became relatively easy to "starve the beast" of educational, health and other services for citizens, since these years of retrenchment of government services corresponded with the growth of a (truly) voracious beast of expenditures for (often) needless military purposes that sapped budgets and created huge deficits that helped to undermine Social Security and any chance of a truly national health system.

So there you have it. Workers from under-developed countries deprived of opportunities to make a living at home "flood" into countries like the United States, The Netherlands or France and the socially insecure native workers of these countries see the immigrant workers as the source of their problems. As Jim Hightower says in an article just published in Alter Net, American workers look down on the immigrant as a competitor for work and for scarce public services, when they should be looking up to the people on Wall Street and in Washington who are the really responsible parties for their insecurities. In exactly the same way, it has been noted that the people who hunted and executed witches in Salem in 1692 were traditionally agrarian-oriented people made to feel insecure by the new class of capitalist merchants coming to prevail in that community. However they did not attack the power-wielders in the town and village precisely because they were powerful but instead looked (way) down to some of the outcastes who could serve as appropriate scapegoats on which to express their insecurity. Perhaps immigrants in industrialized countries today are the witches of the 21st century.

We like to think, of course, that we are more "enlightened" than the religious fanatics who carried out the Salem witch trials. That remains to be seen, as he have yet to see whether an "enlightened" path can be found from witch-persecution to the recognition of the common humanity of the earth's peoples. And that path remains to be explored in a later essay that I'm calling "Toward a Just-Plain-Liberal Approach to the Immigration Crisis."

Jerry D. Rose, a retired sociology professor from State University of New York, lives in Gainesville Florida. He edits and publishes The Sun State Activist at He can be contacted at

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