Monday, March 30, 2009

The crash and reverse migration

Seeing an article in the Houston Chronicle about undocumented Mexican immigrants returning home as US jobs have faded gets me to thinking -- as I have done often recently -- about the implications of the economic crisis for immigration. The NY Times also recently looked at this issue, as part of their excellent series about immigrants in America, focusing on Mexican immigrants struggling to hang on in a small Tennessee town.

It's a tough issue to come to terms with. It's tempting to point to the return of immigrants when the economy goes down as an example of how foreign workers benefit the economy. They come here when their labor is needed, and go home when it's not. This is the model of the "guest worker," better known in some European countries than it is here -- although there are examples of officially regulated US guest worker programs for immigrant farm workers. It would seem that even a vehement anti-immigration advocate could see the benefit of this supply-meets-demand phenomenon.

In the hot days of the immigration debates before the economic meltdown, those of us at Open Border Central were not arguing in favor of immigrants as guest workers. The guest worker concept entered the debate as Congress was seeking compromise legislation -- the temporary worker provision seemed like a callous, gutless political concept. But that was before sub-prime.

In those days before it became so popular to condemn capitalism and trample on the sacred memory of Milton Friedman, we Open Border bloggers would in fact have totally disparaged the guest worker notion. Let these people seeking economic freedom come here and work and join the fabric of our society. The cost of providing public service (education, health care, infrastructure) would be small compared to the increase in economic activity stimulated by hard working, low wage immigrants. And that is still true.

So let's be consistent. Let's not say: "see, they go back when there's a depression" as a new twist on our pro-immigrant position. Let's not be happy that immigrants are going home, saving money for hard pressed state budgets. Let's be consister, and say, it's a shame they're going home. If there were to stay, the recovery will come all the sooner, and will be all the more vigious and long-lived.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Marking an Anniversary

Last night I enjoyed screening "Golden Venture" for a group of high school-age kids at CityKids in Tribeca. The group is actually studying the politics of food -- an interesting, focused topic! And of course, "Golden Venture" is all about food. An epic political story, filled with suffering, stoicism and bravery, all centered around a group of 256 people who traveled across the world to make, sell or deliver food.

I've been busy working on my new film, a documentary about domestic violence, and haven't had a chance to update this blog recently. Watching sections of the movie again and talking with the students reminded me that we recently passed the 12th anniversary of the release of Golden Venture detainees from the York, PA County Jail and some other immigrant detention facilities around the country.

The York Daily Record carried an excellent piece about it, including a number of transcribed audio reminiscences from some of the York residents who were involved in helping and advocating for the Golden Venture detainees. .