Magazine article Tikkun

A New Social Contract: Social Welfare in an Era of Transnational Migration

Magazine article Tikkun

A New Social Contract: Social Welfare in an Era of Transnational Migration

Article excerpt

Almost every Sunday, Boston residents from the small Dominican village of Boca Canasta get toL L to work on projects aimed at making life I better back home. Over the last forty years, they have raised thousands of dollars to build an aqueduct, fix roads and bridges, and renovate the school, community center, and health clinic. Lately, they've set their sights on helping community members in Boston. Finding ways to lower high school dropout rates and rising crime is now their focus. Like many immigrants across the United States, they are putting down roots in the place where they've moved while continuing to remain active in the economics and politics of their homeland.

A short drive from Boston, in the suburbs of northeastern Massachussetts, a community of immigrants from the villages and small towns of Gujarat State on the west coast of India has settled in affluent new subdivisions. Even as they work, attend school, and build religious congregations locally, these immigrants are also pursuing Gujarati dreams by opening businesses, renovating homes and farms, and building schools and hospitals in India.

Similar stories are unfolding in immigrant neighborhoods all over the country.

The streets of Pilsen in Chicago, Washington Heights in New York, or Koreatown in Los Angeles are filled with proof of the transnational activities of their residents: travel agencies, stores that wire money to relatives back home, phone cards, and homeland food items. This is because people continue to vote, pray, and invest in businesses in the places they come from at the same time that they buy homes, open stores, and join the PTA in the countries where they settle.

In the twenty-first century, more and more people will live their lives across borders and belong to several communities at the same time. Just as money follows opportunity, so labor also moves toward brighter horizons. For some people, this comes easily. They have the education, skills, and social contacts to take advantage of opportunities anywhere. Others are forced into transnational lives because they cannot provide adequately for their families at home or abroad. Either way, today's migrants are moving in a world of economic crisis, neoliberal restructuring, precarious jobs, and major cutbacks in social welfare.

Migrant-Powered Economies

As more people live transnational lives, their hard-won earnings move across borders as well. According to World Bank estimates, in 2010, officially recorded remittances (money sent home by migrants) totaled over $440 billion worldwide. In 2009, remittances equaled more than 10 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in twenty-four countries; in nine countries they equaled more than 20 percent of GDP. In countries such as Mexico or Morocco, these contributions are one of the principal sources of foreign currency; their governments, now dependent on these remittances, need to make sure the money keeps flowing.

To keep migrants close, governments institute policies such as tax and investment incentives, allowing dual citizenship, the expatriate vote, or even special immigration lines at the airport. To keep money flowing, they put programs in place that enhance migrants' contributions to development. The Mexican government, for example, matches every dollar that migrants donate with a dollar from the local, state, and federal government. Some countries even protect and provide for their citizens in the countries they move to. Supporters applaud these as welcome developments because communities that have benefitted from remittances now have the schools, roads, and health clinics that they previously lacked. Critics express fear that poor countries now rely upon migrants to propel development and to provide social services and infrastructure that should be the responsibility of the state.

The Need for Transnational Social Institutions

While increasing numbers live transnational lives, they are still served by education, health care, legal, and pension systems that are stubbornly nationally bounded. …

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