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142 Chapter 7 Repair Manual: U.S. Immigration Policies for a New Century I mmigration policy is often cast as a Hobson’s choice between open and closed borders, between the free and unhindered movement of immigrants and the imposition of strict limitations on their numbers and characteristics. Public officials and citizens alike generally think about immigration using the conceptual apparatus of neoclassical economics, whether they realize it or not. They see a developing world filled with millions of desperately poor people who, unless they are forcibly blocked or at least strongly discouraged, will surely seek to improve their lot by moving to developed nations such as the United States. This view focuses not only on the gulf in living standards but also on a contrasting demography. Whereas the developing world is large (5 billion people) and growing rapidly (by 1.7 percent per year), the developed world is much smaller (1.2 billion people) and growing more slowly (just 0.1 percent per year). Unless wealthy countries keep up their defenses, it seems logical to conclude, they will be “flooded” or “invaded” by impoverished migrants from the Third World. When framed in these stark terms, the necessity of a strict immigration policy seems self-evident, and given the conceptual tools offered by neoclassical economics, the only realistic policy is to attempt to raise the costs and lower the benefits for both documented and undocumented migrants. Such has been the logic employed by U.S. policymakers in recent years. By militarizing the border, penalizing employers who hire unauthorized workers, barring immigrants from social programs, limiting their rights to housing, health care, schooling , and employment, and generally making life unpleasant for for- Repair Manual 143 eigners in the United States, U.S. policy has sought to tilt the costbenefit calculation to make immigration seem less attractive. We have seen, however, that the causes of international migration are by no means limited to those theorized under neoclassical economics . Although some migrants do indeed move to take advantage of a wage gap to maximize lifetime earnings, it does not follow that wage differentials necessarily “cause” immigration. Indeed, the largest migration streams are generally not associated with the widest wage gaps, and large differences in living standards frequently do not yield significant migration streams, even in the absence of formal barriers . It is not that the theory of neoclassical economics is wrong, but that by itself it is seriously incomplete. As our review here has shown, international migration stems as much from the mechanisms specified by the new economics of labor migration, social capital theory, segmented labor market theory, and world systems theory as from those described by neoclassical economics. If a comprehensive understanding of international migration requires a synthesis of different theoretical viewpoints, so too does the formulation of an enlightened and efficacious immigration policy. In this final chapter, we lay out a vision for immigration reform intended to lead policymakers and the public away from the costly and self-destructive policies of the past. Our vision offers a third way between the extremes of an open border and draconian restrictions on international movement. It is grounded in a broad conceptualization of international migration that recognizes its multi-causal nature. Rather than attempting to discourage immigration through unilateral repression—seeking to stamp out flows that U.S. policies otherwise encourage—we propose to recognize immigration as a natural part of North American integration and to work to manage it more effectively. Much as flows of capital, commodities, and goods are managed for the mutual benefit of trading partners by agreements such as NAFTA, labor migration can also be cooperatively managed to maximize the benefits and minimize the costs for both sending and receiving societies . Foundations of a New Policy To be successful, any policy must be grounded in certain realities. First and foremost, it must be grounded in scientific truth. During the 1940s and 1950s, for example, Soviet authorities built an agricultural policy around the theories of T. D. Lysenko, whose ideas on the inheritance of acquired characteristics were consistent with Stalinist ideol- 144 Beyond Smoke and Mirrors ogy but ran counter to the basic principles of scientific genetics (Sheehan 1985). The end result was not a triumph of Soviet socialism but a series of disastrous harvests and needless famines. In the same way, immigration policies grounded in ideology rather than scientific understanding can be expected to yield bitter fruits—perhaps not massive famine, but wasted money, lost lives, depressed wages, and missed...


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