Sunday, September 04, 2011

Timothy Henderson's Beyond Borders

For a well-written and judicious history of Mexican immigration to the US, then go read Timothy J. Henderson's Beyond Borders: A History of Mexican Migration to the United States (2011).  It would be great for a history course on immigration--I would consider using it in a political science course, but it does not get to IRCA until about two-thirds through.

There are two things I like in particular.  First, he is very careful to describe specific causes and effects--both intended and unintended--of immigration policy choices.  What policy makers believe will happen very often doesn't. Policies intended to stem immigration, for example, often increase illegal immigration instead.  In a short paragraph, for example, he does a great job of taking the logic of NAFTA apart.  Mexican President Carlos Salinas wanted immigration on the table, but U.S. officials said that was unnecessary because NAFTA would generate so many jobs in Mexico that the immigration problem would take care of itself.  Yet we know NAFTA's very uneven effects prompted more illegal immigration.

Second, and related, the historical emphasis demonstrates how much continuity there is in immigration policy, and how little we learn.  Domestic political pressures, economic pull factors, xenophobia, racism, security concerns, you name it: we've seen it before, and lurch along pretending that we are truly getting a grip on the issue.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio sounds exactly the same as Los Angeles police chief Roy Steckel, who blamed Mexican immigrants for the crime rate and so in 1931 got federal help to launch raids.  Ultimately these had no effect on either crime or unemployment.  And too few seem to learn this.


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