Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

By David Bacon | Go to book overview

Preface

The word “illegal” has become a one-word mantra in the U.S. political debate. For many years, immigrant-rights activists have sought to encourage people to use the word “undocumented” instead, which describes more accurately the predicament of people living in the United States without immigration papers. Activists have especially opposed using “illegal” as a noun, to describe people rather than their actions. One of the most heartfelt slogans shouted in the huge immigrant marches of the last few years, printed on millions of signs and buttons, is “No human being is illegal!” This is an eloquent demand for rights and equality, and a protest against deportations and injustice.

What accounts, then, for the almost universal use of “illegal”? Without a doubt, this has been a victory for a small but vocal nativist movement, with deep racist roots. Using the word to demonize undocumented people is part of this movement's campaign to oppose all immigration. It feeds an anti-immigrant hysteria promoted by some politicians and feared by others. It has important economic payoffs for many employers. It is used incessantly in the media by people who don't think about what the word really means, or what happens to those so labeled.

But “illegal” also describes a social reality—inequality. Applied to immigrants, it has very little to do with the violation of a law or crossing a border. For centuries there were no visas or “papers” needed in order to enter the United States, and anyone could walk across the border. It's still only a minor civil violation to be in the country without documents. “Illegal” is all about social and political status. “Illegal” says society is divided into those who have rights and those who don't, those whose status and presence in the United States is legitimate and those whose status is illegitimate, those who are part of the

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Illegal People: How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page i
  • Contents iii
  • Preface v
  • One - Making Work a Crime 1
  • Two - Why Did We Come? 23
  • Three - Displacement and Migration 51
  • Four - Fast Track to the Past 83
  • Five - Which Side Are You On? 119
  • Six - Blacks Plus Immigrants Plus Unions Equals Power 167
  • Seven - Illegal People or Illegal Work? 199
  • Eight - Whose New World Order? 233
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