Academic journal article Social Justice

The Battle for the Border: Notes on Autonomous Migration, Transnational Communities, and the State

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Battle for the Border: Notes on Autonomous Migration, Transnational Communities, and the State

Article excerpt

Introduction

The global landscape in the late 20th century presents a dramatic socio-geographical picture: the movement across world regions of billions of capital investment dollars and of millions of people, and concerted attempts to facilitate the former and restrict the latter. Capital, in its various forms, e.g., corporations and financial funds, circulates among core countries and peripheral regions of the world economy. In the former setting, international funds finance such enterprises as real-estate development, service industries, and stock and money markets. In the latter, it gravitates to a host of financial and production activities, including banking, mining, manufacturing, and the exploitation of natural resources. Numerous international economic agreements (GATT, NAFTA, EC, etc.)(1) emerge to facilitate the transnational movement of capital. Two agreements (the EC and NAFTA) attempt to establish regional economic communities with few or no restrictions on the transnational movement of capital. Human movements across nation-state borders are just as dynamic: 100 million people relocate across the world regions of Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and North America (Migration World, 1994).

For some, this global scene represents a fundamental change threatening the established world system of nation-states. Among the most urgent issues listed by the vocal leaders of those concerned with these dynamics are the relocation of jobs to less-developed countries and the loss of control over national borders. In the United States, dramatic measures are being implemented to halt the immigration of people who enter the country without papers (the "illegal aliens"). In workplaces, these measures include the enactment of federal regulations to create a new worker status of "authorized worker," pilot projects to verify authorized-worker status through centralized computer data in Washington, D.C., and pilot projects to draw on the collaborative support of employers in replacing unauthorized workers with authorized workers. At the U.S.-Mexico border, the measures include a large increase in the number of U.S. border agents, a human fence of Border Patrol agents in El Paso, construction projects to erect fences, ditches, walls, and other physical barriers, and calls by visiting political candidates for the deployment of U.S. troops. In California, voters approved a referendum to exclude undocumented residents from public-supported services, and in other regions of the country, county and city officials acted to rid undocumented immigrants from public social welfare programs. Across the country the anti-immigrant mood raises the issues of the need for a national identification card and the denial of citizenship to U.S.-born children of undocumented parents.(2)

These attempts to halt undocumented immigration and to curtail legal immigration I refer to as "the battle for the border." On the U.S. government side, the principal actors include the large bureaucracies of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Border Patrol, the National Security Council Working Group on Illegal Immigration, units of the National Guard and Army Reserves, well-financed special-interest groups and think tanks, and university scientists developing new border surveillance technology. On the migrants' side, the principal actors include men, women, and children from mainly working-class backgrounds with little education and income, as well as persons fleeing political persecution. The migrants' side also includes smugglers, who often share a social background with the immigrants they bring, and sometimes employers. Before it became illegal in 1986 to hire undocumented workers, big and small employers played a major role in attracting these migrants.

The battle for the border is more than just a struggle to "stem the tide" of an undocumented migrant wave; the battle for the border is fundamentally about social-historical development. …

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