Lecture Explores the Economics of Migration

Isiah Reyes

Article Correction Follows:

A series of academic lectures continued in Kreider Hall with a full house on Oct. 16, offering an inside look at the various causes for international migration.

There were two speakers at the “Migration: Why Groups Move” lecture. One was Richard Kamei, an associate professor of sociology who teaches at GCC, and the other was Nathan Sheets, a UC Berkeley alumnus who transferred from GCC and plans on getting his doctorate.

Tying in with the book “Enrique’s Journey” by Sonia Nazario, the goal of the presentation was to show the social relations and living conditions that lead people to migrate to other countries, focusing mainly on the concrete example of the immigration of Mexicans into the United States.

Kamei and Sheets presented an argument as to why there is immigration into the United States.

Sheets said, “immigration sustains capitalism, and capitalism sustains immigration. understanding immigration requires that we understand its political-economic function. Immigration provides a perpetual stream of labor to exert a downward pressure on the wages within industries.”

Sheets continued to point out the capitalistic effect that immigration has on the United States.

“Immigration policy serves as a disciplinary instrument to regulate the labor force and to facilitate profitable business,” Sheets said.

Afterwards, Kamei presented several concrete historical examples of why people migrate to other countries, ranging from the Mexican-American War, to the Bracero Program to neo-liberalism.

According to Kamei, with the Federal Land Act of 1851, many Mexican-Americans found themselves part of the few proletarians (working class) because they lost their land. Also, recruiters from the U.S. were sent to Mexico to employ labor which increased the immigration of Mexicans into the U.S.

The lecture viewed the immigration situation from two sides: the United States side and the Mexican side.

In the period of the 1850s, Kamei said, “The Mexican side benefited from U.S. foreign investment. and the U.S. businesses [were] beginning to dominate major industries within Mexico itself.”

Some of these major industries included oil, mining and railroads.

Thus, the money was not distributed to the people, which led to a mass displacement of workers. The foreign recruiters enlisted these workers to migrate to the United States, which is one of the many reasons why
groups move.

A major key point stressed several times by Kamei in the lecture was that “international migration must be understood as being linked to the integration of the global economy.”

Later in the lecture, the history of Japan and its closed-door policy was presented.

From 1603-1853, Japan realized that they had to industrialize to keep up with the West. The Japanese government heavily taxed the farmers, which led to many displaced workers, leading the way for the first Japanese immigrants to migrate to the U.S.

However, with Japan’s limited resources, they colonized Korea to exploit their resources and their people. With this oppression, the Koreans also migrated to the United States, but they were denied entrance for fear of competition from United States laborers.

Moving along with history, the Integration Act of 1924 did not restrict Mexicans from migrating into the United States, but it did create border patrol. During the Great Depression, things changed as Mexicans were viewed as a scapegoat to the financial crisis.

The situation reversed however as there was more labor demand during World War II, which created the “Green Revolution,” or the desire to industrialize.

As the farmers left the farms and migrated towards the cities, an abundance of laborers were created, causing the government to create the “Bracero Program,” a guest worker program.

The lecture then went on to discuss Public Law 78, which was established in 1951. This law gave the United States control of the guest worker system making the U.S. the supplier of labor for capitalists, taking money from the workers and lowering the wages for workers.

Kamei then went on to discuss the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the rise of neo-liberalism, stating that NAFTA’s original purpose was to solve unemployment, recession and illegal immigration.

However, there were many side effects to this agreement including increased social inequality, intensified low-wage competition and increased immigration to the U.S.

Then Kamei and Sheets provided solutions to the problems of immigration, such as expanding guest worker programs and increasing the enforcement of illegal immigration.

When the lecture was finished, Kamei and Sheets were open to questions regarding the lecture and the immigration topic in general.

Nazario will appear for a book signing on Nov. 5 in the Glendale Central Library at 7 p.m. and on campus Nov. 6 at noon in Kreider Hall.


Correction –

I want to begin by thanking you for the article you wrote on the presentation Nathaniel and I made a few weeks back on immigration. There were a few errors in the article, however. The main one that Nate and I are concerned about is the third from the last paragraph, where you state that our solutions to immigration are to expand guest worker programs and increase enforcement of illegal immigration. This is actually the opposite of what we were suggesting.

First, and, foremost, we do not see immigration as necessarily a problem. If capital is allowed to flow across borders, so should people. We definitely are not for the expansion of guest worker programs that allow for the maximum exploitation of people without providing them human rights. Also, we are not for increasing the enforcement of illegal immigration. We would like to see solutions that are not draconian and anti-immigrant. If neoliberal policies are displacing workers in Mexico, then those policies need to be challenged.

Richard Kamei