Thursday, January 17, 2008

An Informed Discussion

As with much of American politics, the current immigration debate is filled mostly with polemics and demagoguery. It is often difficult to find a nuanced discussion of the issues and the wider context in which they exist. Luckily over the holiday break I was able to dive into two books on the subject, both of which provide a very contextualized account of central issues and controversies and where they reside in the course of debate.

The first one I read is They Take Our Jobs: And Twenty Other Myths About Immigration by Aviva Chomsky. It was a great book. Chomsky identifies key myths that are pushed about immigration from both pro and con positions. It places the immigration issue within the larger context of neoliberal reforms. While I wish some of the entries were longer, always good to leave the reader interested in finding out more, the book really stands out as a critically engaged account of the issues. One thing that particularly stood out was the role of marginalized labor and its place in the U.S. economy from the time of the American Revolution.

Ex Mex: From Migrants to Immigrants by Jorge CastaƱeda, a former foreign minister of Mexico, examines the historical context that situates the current debate. He also provides an excellent discussion of possible policies and the likely proponents and opponents to these policies. Examining the ways immigration from Mexico has changed, but also how it remains remarkably similar to previous decades, helps to identify that what we face is nothing new. Also noteworthy is that it provides a Mexican perspective on the issue, particularly from a person who has had a lot of influence and experience dealing with this issue at the highest levels of government.

While these are just two of many possible books that provide accounts of the current immigration debate, they are both very accessible and well-written. A proper discussion of immigration and its ramifications must start somewhere and these are good resources for that discussion.