While Arizona's anti-immigrant law gets all the attention,
countries around the world are pursuing tough immigration polices on
a scale rarely seen in history.
In this town of 800,000, illegal immigrants beg in the middle of
streets and linger along the railway tracks that clack incessantly
with boxcars ferrying food and textiles. They cook over open fires
under highway overpasses. They sleep by day on dirty backpacks that
bulge with a life's belongings and wait for taco stands and cantinas
to close at night to plead for leftovers.
While the migrants draw sympathy from those who give them the
coins from their pockets, others just want them to go home. "Some
people say, 'Oh the poor migrants,' but not when you have been
assaulted as I have," says Blanca Estela Perez, a waitress and cook
at a restaurant who says one of her employees was robbed of a week's
pay last month. "I do not like them here. Not at all."
It sounds like the sentiments of an exasperated resident of Texas
or Arizona on the US-Mexican border. But actually, this is
Tultitlan, in central Mexico, and the migrants overrunning this
industrial city of smokestacks and sweat come from Central America
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Just as Americans want Mexicans out, Mexicans, who might be
tolerant of their country as a passageway north to the United
States, have no patience with the undocumented Guatemalans and
Hondurans increasingly falling short of their destinations. Nor are
their feelings of resentment unique. Around the world, the welcome
mat for outsiders is being rolled up on a scale rarely seen in
history as economies continue to struggle and worries about cultural
In Europe, some countries have attempted to pay Africans and
others to head back home, while Israelis are legislating against
immigration in the name of demographic survival. Across continents,
countries have closed doors on vulnerable refugees, and, in some
places, nativism has reached such heights that urban residents even
want their own rural migrants banished outside city limits.
Anti-immigrant sentiment, of course, has been a recurring theme
throughout history. Just look at the reaction that boatloads of
Irish and Italians got when they landed on America's doorstep in the
19th and 20th centuries.
Yet today the antipathy toward newcomers is more widespread, even
if usually less violent. The number of people living outside their
country of birth is larger than at any time in history, in part
because it has never been easier to communicate and relocate. An
impoverished villager in Bolivia need only flip on a television set
to see opportunities awaiting him or her in Spain. The United
Nations Population Division (UNDP) estimates that the world has
about 200 million international migrants. If they created their own
country, it would become the fifth largest in the world.
Contrary to popular perception, anti-immigrant sentiment today
isn't just about rich nations shunning the mass arrival of migrants
from poorer ones. It is poor nations sending their huddled masses to
other poor nations. It is rich countries sending people to other
rich ones. It is countries acting as transit corridors - switching
stations of humanity. According to the UNDP, only about one-third of
migrants move from a developing country to a developed one.
"We in the West have the tendency to feel overwhelmed when
migrants arrive," says Thomas Weiss, chief of mission in Mexico City
for the International Organization for Migration. "This is without
understanding exactly that many developing countries are at the
present facing irregular flows that are much stronger and much more
difficult to be absorbed by society and by local labor markets."
Much of the resistance to outsiders stems from familiar fears:
that the immigrants will take jobs, tax services, increase crime,
and alter national identities. …