Academic journal article Social Justice

Guest Workers and the New Transnationalism: Possibilities and Realities in an Age of Repression

Academic journal article Social Justice

Guest Workers and the New Transnationalism: Possibilities and Realities in an Age of Repression

Article excerpt


GUEST WORKER PROGRAMS HAVE GENERALLY RAISED THE IRE AND OPPOSITION of immigrant rights activists in the United States, particularly those most rooted in Mexican and Mexican-American communities. Recalling the abuses of the Bracero Program, worried about the reduced legal protections that might be afforded to those deemed "guests" rather than residents, and concerned about the competition to domestic and immigrant worker incomes that would be induced by a "permanent temporary" labor force, many advocates have publicly resisted discussions of the design of an "acceptable" program.

In the last several years, however, two phenomena have contributed to a quiet softening of the progressive opposition, both in private conversations and increasingly in the public sphere. The first has been the realization of an increasingly transnational existence on the part of immigrants--not just from Mexico, but also from many other parts of the world. (1) Although it has always been the case that many immigrants are sojourners, fully intending to return to their home country and staying only long enough to earn the savings necessary to secure a better existence at home, the increasing depth of immigrant social networks, the continuing U.S. demand for unskilled labor, more established but circular flows of migration, and other factors seem to have given rise to a more transnational population. (2) Indeed, many believe that even more immigrants would be sojourners if not for the increased securitization of the border, with enhanced enforcement operations along the U.S.-Mexico frontera, and at airports and other points of entry, inducing immigrants to stay put rather than risk arrest and deportation (Massey, 2003).

The increasingly transnational realities and desires of Mexican workers have given rise to new needs and demands. It is no longer safe to assume that immigrants are on a trajectory to gain legal residency and eventually citizenship, although many do continue to follow that path. Recognizing that some immigrants will choose to be in circulation rather than in residence, some Mexican nationals have, for example, fought for the right to vote in Mexican elections and there has been an upsurge in hometown associations, cross-border indigenous groups, and other trends that suggest a growing identification as trans--or bi-nationals. Meanwhile, activists and others have fought directly for immigrant rights per se, reflecting a political identity that is formed, in part, through the cross-border flow itself. (3) To the extent that immigrant rights advocates wish to continue to protect and reflect this population and its needs, new strategies and concepts need to be in place, ones that go beyond obtaining legalization and amnesty and make it possible for some to realize their transnational dreams.

The second phenomenon prompting a questioning of the usual progressive opposition to guest worker strategies was the attempt by President Vicente Fox of Mexico to secure a historic agreement with the United States for an "orderly framework for immigration" (Krikorian, 2001). Fox' initial elevation of the issues reflected domestic concerns within Mexico, particularly the desire to secure some political advances in the realm of rights for Mexican nationals in the U.S. that would not only regularize the flow of remittances southward, but also make up for the limited probability of rapid reform in Mexico itself in light of a recalcitrant Congress, an unresolved indigenous uprising, and a stubbornly slow economy. The resurrection of the issue in January 2004 by U.S. President George W. Bush--after years of putting off Fox in order to focus his administration's attention on military interventions in the Middle East--likewise reflected a domestic calculus, particularly the desire to cultivate Latino votes as the 2004 elections approached.

The resurrection of interest in guest worker programs was entirely predictable, and not simply because of the electoral calculus. …

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