KU sociologist calls for legalizing current immigrants

Tue, 11/08/2011


Mary Jane Dunlap

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LAWRENCE — In a new book on U.S. immigration, University of Kansas sociologist Tanya Golash-Boza proposes that legalizing immigrants currently in the United States would not only be cost-effective but also a step toward focusing on the human rights of immigrants.

Golash-Boza argues in “Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post 9/11 America” that the war on terror has translated into a war on immigrants.

“Funding used to fight terrorism is being used to instill fear in immigrants,” says Golash-Boza, an assistant professor in both sociology and American studies at KU.

With legalization, the United States would receive more revenue from income taxes – about 75 percent of an estimated 10 million undocumented migrants currently pay taxes. In addition, U.S. Treasury revenues would gain from administrative fees for legalization.

Golash-Boza urges her readers to focus on the human cost of current policies: “The immigration policy debate must take into account the human cost, in addition to security and economic needs.

“The practical solution is not to try to remove all of them or to scare them away, but to encourage them to come out of the shadows by offering them an incentive to do so.” Golash-Boza suggests making legalization less cumbersome and rendering quotas more in line with U.S. labor needs.

U.S. immigration policies have failed to curtail the numbers of migrants, but instead have allowed an immigration industrial complex to thrive – fed in part by a fear of foreigners, Golash-Boza points out. The complex allows some industries to profit by marginalizing a workforce needed only part of a year and for others to profit from enforcement services, such as privately run detention facilities. The combination of fear, profit potential and political power has created a human rights crisis.

A surge of deportations by U.S. immigration authorities since Sept. 11 is a trend that concerns Golash-Boza.

“The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 made it clear that there are people who seek to harm civilians in the United States,” and that there is a need for national security, Golash-Boza writes. “Yet building fences, raiding factories and terrorizing immigrant communities does not make the United States a safer place.”

Most migrants are not terrorists, Golash-Boza notes. Most come to the United States to work, and most come without intending to stay more than a year or two. Some discover they must to stay longer to pay off debt incurred to enter the country illegally. (The going rate to smuggle humans from Mexico is about $4,000 and from China, $80,000.) Most come from Central and South American countries.

“Migrants from Mexico, Central and South America, or other countries in the Global South who walk across deserts, swim across rivers, or climb over fences in search of better employment are not terrorists. Neither are undocumented workers who work in meat processing and garment factories, “ Golash-Boza adds.

Undocumented migrants make up 5 percent of the U.S. labor force – working primarily as agricultural workers, roofers, food-processing employees and as maids and housekeepers. Some U.S. farmers are reporting income losses due to the rise in deportations and increase in border enforcement, she notes.

Undocumented immigrants are an easy group to scapegoat, she says. Media pundits fuel fear with sensationalized reports of crimes committed by undocumented or illegal immigrants. Media pundits and politicians campaigning for office de-humanize people by referring to undocumented immigrants as “illegals.”

In 2009, 85 percent of the undocumented migrants came from 10 countries. The greatest number, 6.6 million, came from Mexico. El Salvador followed with 530,000; Guatemala with 480,000; Honduras with 320,000 and the Philippines with 270,000. India and Korea each contributed 200,000; Ecuador, 170,000; Brazil, 150,000 and China, 120,000.

Yet when Golash-Boza compared the number of deportations by country, the top 10 list included nine nations in the Caribbean, Central and South America and none in Asia. Given the numbers of immigrants coming from Asia, Golash-Boza suggests racial profiling may explain the absence of Asian countries on the deportation top-10 list.

In 2009, about 393,000 people were deported. Not quite a third had been convicted of a crime. More than two-thirds were deported for noncriminal offenses – they lacked proper documentation or had violated the terms of their visas.

Golash-Boza points out that many deportees had lived in the United States for most of their lives, were legal permanent residents, and left behind jobs and families. In some cases, mothers arrested on the job were forced to leave infants behind -- some becoming wards of a state. A few 2009 deportees included teens adopted as toddlers by U.S. families who had never filed citizenship papers.

Golash-Boza is among the first sociologists to focus on human rights. She serves on the American Sociological Association’s section on human rights. She is author of “Yo Soy Negro: Blackness in Peru” and has two more to soon to be released: “Due
Process Denied” and “Deported: The Casualties of Mass Deportation from the United States.”

“Immigration Nation: Raids, Detentions, and Deportations in Post 9/11 America,” was released by Paradigm Publishers this spring and will be available in paperback in March 2012.

Tue, 11/08/2011


Mary Jane Dunlap

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Erin Curtis Dierks