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Immigration: A Triangular Affair

(With apologies to J. Baird Callicott*.)

It's easy to slip into thinking of the U.S. immigration debate as a two-sided one, with anti-migrant forces lined up against pro-migrant ones. But I think there are really three positions: nativism, business pro-migration, and progressive pro-migrant. The latter two groups, are both "pro-immigrant" in the limited sense that they want the U.S. to let in lots of immigrants and dislike punitive measures toward those who are here without status under the current regime. But once you get beyond the front lines of the battle with the nativists, the coalition between the business and progressive positions unravels quickly.

To understand the difference between the two views too often lumped together as pro-immigrant, take the following two quotes. The first is a comment left on an editorial in The Oklahoman, and quoted (with tacit approval) by Marisa Treviño:

I live here in Arizona where the infamous sheriff of Maricopa county has the" Immigration Fever" and his politics is beginning to hurt in the county pocketbook.

The illegals that were trying to get a work release and come here to work in the low paying sector has been run away. Now the Unions are sending people in to get these jobs, but they want two thirds of a higher salary. Maricopa county is now in financial trouble.

This is a common argument in favor of immigration. But it's a business-type argument that should be anathema to progressives. It boils down to "immigration is good, because immigrants work for cheap and we can exploit them." This kind of argument may make short-term gains in staving off "deport them all and build a wall" policies. But it perpetuates the destructive dynamic of pitting native and immigrant workers against each other.

Now consider this encouraging story, linked by brownfemipower, about efforts by New York carpentry unions to organize immigrant workers:

While the Carpenters union has struggled to organize immigrant workers, union members supported the walk out. "Part of what you need to do to organize non-union workers is to organize your own workers to support the campaign," said Andres Puerta, who's been organizing immigrant workers for the UBC. "Carpenters in New York are aggressive, proud union members and part of that identity is that they support these campaigns."

This approach is not going to help Maricopa County fix its immediate fiscal crisis, since it would lead to immigrants working for the same union wages as citizens (though the roots of the budget woes in Maricopa -- and other Arizona counties, and the state -- go far deeper than Sheriff Joe running immigrants out of town). But it's an approach that integrates support for migrants as people (as opposed to immigration as a phenomenon) with the rest of the progressive agenda.

*Callicott is an environmental philosopher who wrote a famous article "Animal liberation: a triangular affair," which argued that, contrary to the conventional wisdom that the environmental debate is a matter of anthropocentrists versus non-anthropocentrists, there are actually three positions -- anthropocentrism, animal liberation, and ecocentrism. Ecocentrists like Callicott have nearly as much to complain about against the animal liberation view as they do against anthropocentrism.

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