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Immigration Reform Must Consider Why People Migrate in the First Place

"Unless there's an alternative to the neoliberal economic order, in 20 years we'll have a similar debate about what to do with undocumented people that will be here because of the same neoliberal policies."

Photo Credit: Rodrick Beiler


The following is a transcript originally published in The Real News Network

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted to begin debate on its version of the comprehensive immigration reform bill currently before Congress. Now joining us to discuss this bill is Professor Alfonso Gonzales. He's at Lehman College at the City University of New York and the author of the upcoming book Reform without Justice: Latino Migrant Politics and the Homeland Security State.

Thank you for joining us, Professor Gonzales.


NOOR: So, Professor Gonzales, President Obama said on Tuesday there's no reason why we can't have comprehensive immigration reform by the end of the summer. What's your reaction to this push to get comprehensive immigration reform passed and the current versions of the bill in the Senate and the House?

GONZALES: Well, the efforts to pass immigration reform today are a product of the last, really, decade of Latino migrant activism. In 2000, there was negotiations between President Fox of Mexico and President Bush, and they were going to broker an immigration reform deal that was going to basically militarize the border, seal the border, and create a guest worker program. That bill fell apart because of 9/11. Certain groups in civil society, anti-immigrants groups, nativist groups in Washington, D.C., were able to use the security concerns around 9/11 to sabotage immigration reform bills. And really there's been about--at least five--and it depends how you count it--at least five immigration reform proposals that have been on the table since 2000. And this particular bill is the latest manifestation of these proposals.

And essentially what all these proposals seek to do is what I call state-managed migration. And it's not just immigration enforcement, because when people say immigration enforcement, that assumes that the state is only concerned about preventing people from coming in and regulating the conditions for them coming in. But what we really see going on, not just in the United States but in Europe and other parts of the world, is that states are trying to manage migrant flows. And this bill and the many bills that have been proposed like it essentially seek to create a long-term, temporary [inaud.]


So what the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act, or S 744, is trying to do is trying to do what the last five or six immigration reform proposals have sought to do since 2000, and that's secure a temporary, independent, a temporary and flexible, meaning highly exploitable labor force that can come in and serve the interests of capital but at the same time not give these folks their [inaud.] temporary status, essentially what you're doing is you're securing cheap labor but preventing those in these different types of temporary status from having the same rights as U.S. citizens. And that makes these workers extra exploitable, super exploitable, or what academics like to say, like to call it turns these undocumented workers into--they already are flexible workers, but it secures a stable, flexible labor force over the long run.

NOOR: And can you talk about the aspects of this bill that you support and the aspects that you oppose?

GONZALES: Well, there's many important things to recognize here. Obviously, this is a bill that a lot of us are critical of, and if someone's undocumented, they face the fear of deportation every day. They face the possibility of going out to get a gallon of milk for their kids and not coming back if the police stop them with all the enforcement stuff in place. So I understand that having some type of relief from deportation, at least in the immediate--through this registered provisional status--.

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