Scholar: Tough laws can cause immigrant woes

Published 5:04 am Saturday, October 18, 2008

By Staff
Says immigrants rally on ethnicity when targeted
Staff Writer
A Harvard-educated scholar told a crowd of more than 100 in Washington on Friday that policies aimed at forcing illegal immigrants to leave or fold themselves into American culture can backfire.
Marrow’s presentation was part of a forum hosted by St. Peter’s Episcopal Church that worked to help identify and publicize opportunities and realities of immigration. Washington Mayor Judy Meier Jennette was a speaker and attendees included local law-enforcement officials.
Even legal immigrants often feel threatened by efforts targeted at illegal immigrants, because many families contain a mix of legal and illegal immigrants, Marrow said. And when those immigrants feel threatened, they often take up political activism under the banner of their homelands, she said.
Policies that force immigrants to learn English quickly tend to lead to children and grandchildren that speak neither tongue well, but left alone, descendants of Latino immigrants will overwhelmingly speak English anyway, said Marrow, a Tarboro native who did her thesis for Harvard on immigrants in eastern North Carolina.
That thesis was recently awarded the 2008 Dissertation Award from the American Sociological Society.
Marrow also criticized the strengthening of controls along the U.S. border.
Almost all immigrants intent on coming to the United States still get in, even if they have to try several times, she said.
The difference is that they stop going home and are more likely to settle here permanently when the border is harder to cross, she said.
Marrow disputed the idea that those immigrants drive up crime rates and cost huge sums in health care and social services.
And she said they do pay taxes.
Many illegal immigrants use fake social security numbers to get jobs, and so pay taxes they can never reclaim, Marrow said.
Many benefits of illegal immigration accrue at the federal level while costs, which do exist, are felt mostly on a more local level, Marrow said.
Immigrants are drawn to the United States mainly by the demand for work, Marrow said.
She called U.S. immigration and trade policies contradictory, and said that treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement promote greater integration and therefore immigration, even as immigration authorities have sought to make it tougher for migrants to come to the United States.
But they also come because life in their homelands is unpleasant, she said. She said that many Latin American countries have, in recent decades, continued a push to move populations from subsistence agriculture to wage labor. That push has created a huge number of former small farmers who can no longer earn a living and come to this country looking for work, she said.
Those migrants would like to come to America legally, but there just aren’t enough slots, she said.
And they’re increasingly coming to North Carolina.
Traditional migrant magnets like southern California and Texas aren’t seeing immigrant populations that grow as quickly as new destinations, such as North Carolina, Marrow said.
Marrow also criticized anti-immigrant rhetoric. She said that Canada has, as a ratio, vastly more illegal immigrants than the United States, but that there is not much of an anti-immigrant movement there.
She also read excerpts from Pat Buchanan and others who are among the furthest-right opponents of illegal immigration.
She said, “You can feel the nativism and the racism in these comments.”