Inequality and Immigration

Inequality and Immigration

In his article “Immigration Dilemmas,” Richard Rothstein essentially argues (1) the impracticability of controlling immigration and (2) the economic advantages immigration confers upon American society. He also lists policies that, if adopted, would in time limit immigration. For the American left there are normative issues as well, which Rothstein ignores: should immigration, especially of poverty-stricken persons, be restricted at all; and if so, by what means?

Furthermore, granted the economic advantages of immigration, what price must immigrants pay to create them? Rothstein briefly notes the low wages for which immigrants often work but is not otherwise concerned with their working conditions. Yet the exploitation of immigrant labor lies at the center of the immigration problem. It is this exploitation, not the immigrants as such, that much of American labor has always perceived as a threat to its living standards. If Eugene Debs once cried that to restrict the immigration of “the exploited” was “utterly unsocialistic, reactionary, and in truth outrageous,” he did so on the assumption that labor was strong enough to combat that threat. The assumption may be weak, but the idea he expressed retains its moral sting.

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Wurgraft | University of California Press Lima