Population & Immigration (Summer 1993)

Vol. 4, No. 2: Summer 1993

No argument is more likely to seriously injure the fragile alliance between environmentalists and communities of color – and the growing environmental justice movement which so many have worked so hard to build – than the debate over U.S. immigration policy. Already on the defensive about the white, upper-class male character of their leadership and their behind-the-scenes role in negotiating policies with which low-income communities must live, environmentalists are now accused of legitimizing a racist anti-immigrant movement. Their response is that people of color and social justice advocates for immigrants' and women's rights do not take seriously the global population explosion and its inevitable damage to the earth and all its inhabitants.

This topic is especially hard for our budding movement because it leads us back to the existential values that motivate our work and thus becomes personal. For example, while researching this special issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment, we've noticed a stark, and we think class-based, difference in the language that people use to discuss population and immigration.

We've done a lot of talking to friends and allies in both movements to try to understand the arguments and find the boundaries of the debate. Social justice activists claim that some environmentalists find it easier to close the borders to this nation which uses many more times the energy and raw materials than any of the developing countries from which immigrants come, rather than work to change consumption patterns and industrial practices in the developed world. They claim also that such environmentalists undermine their own ends by refusing to confront the global causes of increased fertility and immigration - the loss of agricultural land by indigenous people, unemployment caused by some ripple in the world market, poverty, debt and the disempowerment of women; Confronting these causes would mean that environmental activists had joined social justice activists in working to change U.S. foreign policy and trade relations that enforce global inequality.

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1   This Modern World
     by Tom Tomorrow

2   Editors' Notes

EDGE Proceedings

3   Why Communities of Color Fear the Population Debate
     by Linda Wong

6   Environmentalists and the Anti-Immigrant Agenda
     by Cathi Tactaquin

9   Optimum Human Population Size
     by Gretchen Daily, Anne Ehrlich & Paul Ehrlich

12 Population Paradigms and Perception
     by Mith Eddy

Why Migration?

15 Why Migration?
     by Saskia Sassen

Women, Race & Class

21 Racism, Birth Control and Reproductive Rights
     by Angela Davis

Sierra Club Migration Wars

24 Not Thinking Globally: The Sierra Club Immigration Policy Wars
     by Hannah Creighton

26 The Right Calls the Shots
     by Ruth Conniff


30 Lessons from Seven Successful Societies
     by Frances Moore Lappe & Rachel Schurman

36 A Proposal for Global Environmental Democracy
     by Anil Agarwal& Sunita Narain

37 Demand for a Chapter on Indigenous Peoples

38 Women's Declaration on Population Policies

Freeways, Communities, and Environmental Justice

41 Oakland's Clean Air Alternative Coalition Fights Environmental Racism: An Interviewwith Eco-Justice Hero Chappell Hayes
     by Penn Loh

Seattle Coalition

44 Environmental Justice Coalition-building in Seattle
     by Hazel Wolf

45 Urban Habitat Program Update

46 Resources

48 Kettleman City Wins the Big One

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Notes from the Editors

No argument is more likely to seriously injure the fragile alliance between environmentalists and communities of color – and the growing environmental justice movement which so many have worked so hard to build – than the debate over U.S. immigration policy. Already on the defensive about the white, upper-class male character of their leadership and their behind-the-scenes role in negotiating policies with which low-income communities must live, environmentalists are now accused of legitimizing a racist anti-immigrant movement. Their response is that people of color and social justice advocates for immigrants' and women's rights do not take seriously the global population explosion and its inevitable damage to the earth and all its inhabitants.

This topic is especially hard for our budding movement because it leads us back to the existential values that motivate our work and thus becomes personal. For example, while researching this special issue of Race, Poverty and the Environment, we've noticed a stark, and we think class-based, difference in the language that people use to discuss population and immigration. Those who want to restrict immigration and those who are intensely focused on increases in fertility talk about immigrants in terms of insect infestation. They think about the land they have fought to preserve, and like fanners they fear the "swarms" and "hordes" and the "influx" of immigrants they believe will destroy it. Or, they use water metaphors, describing the "flood" of immigrants "washing" over the border. The term "carrying capacity" which likens Earth to a boat has this same flood imagery.

People who are fighting for economic or cultural survival and those who spend their lives fighting against systemic poverty and discrimination don't imagine immigrants that way. In fact, they imagine themselves as the immigrants they or their parents recently were. They see themselves huddled in a sewer pipe waiting to sneak across the border or as refugees, running from death squads out to murder every voice of opposition. They think of twenty years of toil in an urban sweat shop or a frightened widow waiting for years to join her only child in the U.S. The women's eyes well up as they identify with the young Puerto Rican woman tricked into signing a sterilization permit she didn't understand. Overcoming this tremendous difference in perception and language will be difficult.

These stark differences were aired earlier this year at the first conference of EDGE - The Alliance of Ethnic and Environmental Groups. Over 200 people, a majority of them people of color, listened to four thoughtful presentations on population and immigration, tried hard to grapple with these issues, and discovered the enormity of the rift. The text of those speeches forms the core of this special issue.

We've done a lot of talking to friends and allies in both movements to try to understand the arguments and find the boundaries of the debate. Social justice activists claim that some environmentalists find it easier to close the borders to this nation which uses many more times the energy and raw materials than any of the developing countries from which immigrants come, rather than work to change consumption patterns and industrial practices in the developed world. They claim also that such environmentalists undermine their own ends by refusing to confront the global causes of increased fertility and immigration - the loss of agricultural land by indigenous people, unemployment caused by some ripple in the world market, poverty, debt and the disempowerment of women; Confronting these causes would mean that environmental activists had joined social justice activists in working to change U.S. foreign policy and trade relations that enforce global inequality.

Environmentalists who advocate for strict U.S. immigration policies acknowledge that the social justice community is right about the discrepancy in resource use and right about the racism and disregard for human rights that characterizes the history of U.S. immigration and population control policy. They insist, however, that social justice activists will hurt those they wish to defend, that the focus on unequal resources and coercive population policies helps to legitimize the right ' wing agenda of economists like Julhn Simon, author of The Ultimate Resource, who advocate for unrestricted immigration in order to create a larger pool of workers and thus lower U.S. wages. Further, some environmentalists claim that there isn't t i e to correct the global economic structures that lead to rising fertility rates in the underdeveloped world before the United States will be completely degraded by further development and industrial growth. Last, they claim that to accuse them of racism is to cut off all debate.

Clearly, the editors of this journal come down on the side of the social justice advocates. Most of the pieces we've reprinted here try to fill out the argument that environmentalists would do much more to stop the global rise in fertility if they brought their considerable clout to the international struggle to democratize economic decision-making and control the behavior of corporations. We do agree, however, with environmentalists who say that those fighting against a strict U.S. immigration policy and immigrant bashing often fail to acknowledge that there is a serious global increase in fertility that accompanies the increased economic inequalities and that this global increase must be confronted.

We've tried here to be solution-oriented and that is why we chose to publish an excerpt of Francis Moore Lappe and Rachel Schurman's Taking Population Seriously. It is five years old, but it’s the best thing we've found that talks in specifics about what kinds of economic and health measures can lower fertility. The piece "Why Migration" by Saskia Sassen fills out part of the economic information we need to understand the global pressures that now make migration the only choice for so many people. We searched in vain for a piece that would inform us about how much our own economic behavior and consumption is dependent on immigrant labor. How much would a head of lettuce, a new dress or a redwood deck cost if it weren't for the criminally cheap labor of immigrants?

The excerpt we reprint here from Angela Davis' Women Race and Class is several years old also, but for us it's the most powerful account of the racist and coercive population policies that have brought us to the place where even the phrase "family planning" is so tainted as to be almost unusable. Which brings us back to language. Our movement can and must talk this through and in doing so create a new language to use together to fight our common battle to save the Earth and its people. Some who are clearly doing that are those in the Sierra Club who are working to change the Club into one that is part of the movement for ecological justice and takes on the globalization of the economy and poverty. We are grateful for their help in investigating the policy battles in the Sierra Club. We hope they and all of our readers will find this special issue to be part of that effort.   


 Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993

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Optimum Human Population Size

Although the tremendous size and rate of growth of the human population now influences virtually every aspect of society, rarely does the public debate, or even consider, the question of what would be an optimum number of human beings to live on Earth at any given time. While there are many possible optima depending on criteria and conditions, there is a solid scientific basis for determining the bounds of possibilities. All optima must lie between the minimum viable population size, MVP (Gilpin and Soule, 1986; Soule, 1987) and the biophysical carrying capacity of the planet (Daily and Ehrlich, 1992). At the lower end, 50 to 100 people in each of several groups, for a total of about 500, would constitute an MVP.

At the upper end, the present population of 5.5 billion, with its resource consumption patterns and technologies, has clearly exceeded the capacity of Earth to sustain it. This is evident in the continuous depletion and dispersion of a one-time inheritance of essential, non-substitutable resources that now maintains the human enterprise (e.g. Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1991; Daily and Ehrlich, 1992). Numerous claims have been made that Earth's carrying capacity is much higher than today's population size. A few years ago, for example, a group of Catholic bishops, misinterpreting a thought exercise by Roger Revelle (1976), asserted that Earth could feed 40 billion people (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1990); various social scientists have made estimates running as high as 150 billion (Livi-Bacci, 1989). These assertions are based on preposterous assumptions, and we do not deal further with them here.

Nonetheless, we are left with the problem of determining an optimum within wide bounds. Above the minimum viable level and within biophysical constraints, the problem becomes a matter of social preference. Community level, national, and international discussions of such social preferences are critical because achieving any target size requires establishing social policies to influence fertility rates. Human population sizes have never, and will never, automatically equilibrate at some level. There is no feedback mechanism that will lead to perfectly maintained, identical crude birth and death rates. Since prehistoric times, societies have controlled fertility and mortality rates to a substantial degree, through various cultural practices (Harris and Ross, 1987). In the future, societies will need to continue manipulating vital rates to reach desired demographic targets. Most important, societies must reach a rough consensus on what those targets should be as soon as possible because the momentum behind the growth of the present population ensures at least a doubling before any decline is possible (UNFPA 1992).

This paper is a contribution to that necessary dialogue. What follows is a brief statement of our joint personal views of the criteria by which an optimum should be determined (in no particular order).

1. An optimum population size is not the same as the maximum number of people that could be packed onto Earth at one time, nurtured, as they would have to be, by methods analogous to those used to raise battery chickens. Rather, almost everyone who puts value on human life appreciates the importance of quality of life. Obviously, many more human beings could exist if a sustainable population were maintained for thousands to millions of years than if the present population overshoot were to destroy much of Earth's capacity to support future generations.

2. An optimum population size should be small enough to make it possible to provide the minimal physical ingredients of a decent life to everyone (e.g., Ehrlich et al., 1993), given both the inequitable distribution of wealth and resources and uncertainty regarding rates of long-term, sustainable resource extraction and environmental impacts. We agree with Nathan Keyfitz (1991): "If we have one point of empirically backed knowledge, it is that bad policies are widespread and persistent. Social science has to take account of them." The grossly inequitable distribution of wealth and basic resources prevailing today is highly destabilizing and disruptive. While it is in nearly everyone's selfish best interest to narrow the rich-poor gap, we are skeptical that the incentives driving social and economic inequalities can ever be fully overcome. We therefore think a global optimum should be determined with humanity's characteristic myopia and selfishness in mind. A further downward adjustment in the optimum should be made to insure against both natural and human-induced declines in the sustainable flow of resources from the environment into the economy and increases in anthropogenic flows of wastes, broadly defined, in the opposite direction.

3. Basic human rights in the social sphere (such as freedom from racism, sexism, religious persecution, and gross economic inequity) should be secure from problems generated by the existence of too many people. Everyone should have access to education, health care, sanitary living conditions, and economic opportunities; but these fundamental rights are difficult to assure in large populations, especially rapidly growing ones. Political rights are also related to population size, although this is seldom recognized (Parsons, 1977). Democracy seems to work best when populations are small relative to resource bases; personal freedom tends to be restricted in situations of high population density and/or scarce resources.

4. We think an optimum population size should be large enough to sustain viable populations in geographically dispersed parts of the world to preserve and foster cultural diversity. It is by no means obvious that the dominant and spreading "Western" culture has all the secrets of long-term survival (Ehrlich, 1980) – to say nothing of cornering the market on other values. We believe that cultural diversity is an important feature of our species in and of itself. Unfortunately, many cultures borne by small groups of people are in danger of being swamped by the dominant culture with its advanced technologies and seductive media, or worse, of being destroyed deliberately because of social intolerance or conflicts over resources.

5. An optimum population size would be sufficiently large to support a "critical mass" in each of a variety of densely populated areas where intellectual, artistic, and technological creativity would be stimulated. While creativity can also be sparked in sparsely populated areas, many cultural endeavors require a level of specialization, communication, and financial support that is facilitated by the social infrastructure characteristic of cities.

6. An optimum population size would also be small enough to ensure the viability of biodiversity. This criterion is motivated by both selfish and ethical considerations. Humanity derives many important direct benefits from other species, including aesthetic and recreational pleasure, many pharmaceuticals, and the basis and health of agriculture. Furthermore, the human enterprise is supported in myriad ways by the free services provided by healthy natural ecosystems, each of which has elements of biodiversity as key working parts (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1992). Morally, as the dominant species on the planet, we feel Homo sapiens should foster the continued existence of its only known living companions in the universe.

In general, we would choose a population size that maximizes very broad environmental and social options for individuals. For example, the population of the United States should be small enough to permit the availability of large tracts of wilderness for hikers and hermits, yet large enough to create vibrant cities that can support complex artistic, educational, and other cultural endeavors that lift the human spirit.

Innumerable complexities are buried in this short list of personal preferences, of course. But with the world's population size now above any conceivable optimum and (barring catastrophe) destined to get much larger still (UNFPA 1992), it appears that many decades are available in which to debate alternative optima before even stopping growth of the population, much less approaching an optimum. During that time, human technologies and goals will both change, and those changes could shift the optimum considerably.

It is nonetheless instructive to make a tentative, back-of-the-envelope calculation of an optimum on the basis of present and foreseeable consumption patterns and technologies. Since the human population is in no imminent danger of extinction due to underpopulation, we focus here on the upper bound of an optimum. We begin by using humanity's energy consumption as a rough, indirect measure of the total impact civilization inflicts on Earth's life-support systems (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1991). Energy, especially that provided by fossil fuel and biomass combustion, directly causes or underpins most of the global environmentally damaging activities that are recognized today: air and water pollution, acid precipitation, land degradation, emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and production of hazardous materials and wastes.

At present, world energy use amounts to about 13 terawatts (TW; 1012 watts), about 70 percent of which is being used to support somewhat over a billion people in rich countries and 30 percent to support more than four billion people in developing countries. This pattern is clearly unsustainable, not only because of the gross disparity between rich and poor societies, but because of the environmental damage that results. The consumption of 13 TW of energy with current technologies is leading not only to the serious environmental impacts indicated above but also to several forms of destabilizing global change, including a continuous deterioration of ecosystems and the essential services they render to civilization (Ehrlich and Ehrlich, 1991; Ehrlich et al., 1993).

An examination of probable future trends leads to dismal conclusions. The world population is projected to increase from 5.5 billion in 1993 to somewhere between 10 and 14 billion within the next century. Suppose population growth halted at 14 billion and everyone were satisfied with a per-capita energy use of 7.5 kilowatts (kW), the average in rich nations and about two thirds of that in the United States in the early 1990s. A human enterprise that large would create a total impact of 105 TW, eight times that of today and a clear recipe for ecological collapse.

A scheme for avoiding such an ecocatastrophe over the next century was proposed by John Holdren of the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. The Holdren scenario (Holdren, 1991) postulates expansion of the human population to only 10 billion and a reduction of average per-capita energy use by people in industrialized nations from 7.5 to 3 kilowatts (kW), while increasing that of the developing nations from 1 to 3 kW. The scenario would require, among other things, that citizens of the United States cut their average use of energy from almost 12 kW to 3 kW. That reduction could be achieved with energy efficiency technologies now in hand and with an improvement (by most people's standards) in the standard of living.

While convergence on an average consumption of 3 kW of energy by 10 billion people would close the rich-poor gap, it would still result in a total energy consumption of 30 TW, more than twice that of today. Whether the human enterprise can be sustained even temporarily on such a scale without devastating ecological consequences is unclear, as Holdren recognizes.

But the Holdren scenario says very little about the technologies involved, which will inevitably change in the future as reserves of fossil fuels, especially petroleum, are depleted. Perhaps through careful application of more benign technologies (such as various forms of solar power and biomass-derived energy), the rate of environmental deterioration could be held to that of today. We must hope so, for the Holdren scenario is perhaps the most optimistic one yet put forth by a careful, competent analyst.

Against that background, what might be said about the upper limits on an optimum population size, considering present attitudes and technologies? In view of the environmental impacts of a civilization using 13 TW today, to say nothing of the threats to the future prospects of humanity, it is difficult to visualize a sustainable population that used more than 9 TW.

One might postulate that, with careful choices of energy sources and technologies, and with a stationary population, 9 TW might be used without degrading environmental systems and dispersing non-renewable resources any more rapidly than they could be substituted for. Under similar assumptions, a 6-TW world would provide a 50 percent margin for error, something we deem essential considering the unexpected consequences that often attend even very benign-appearing technological developments (the invention and use of chlorofluorocarbons being the most instructive case to date). A more conservative optimum would be based on a 4.5-TW world, giving a 100 percent margin for error. Which upper limit one wished to choose would depend in part on some sort of average social risk aversion combined with a scientific assessment of the soundness of the 9 TW maximum impact.

In the real world, the maximum sustainable population might well be determined in the course of impact reduction – by discovering the scale of the human enterprise at which ecosystems and resources seemed to be holding their own. For our thought experiment, let us consider a 6-TW world. If we assume a convergence of all societies on 3 kW per capita consumption, that would imply an optimum population size of 2 billion people, roughly the number of human beings alive in 1930. Such a number seems at first glance to be reasonable and well above the minimum number required to take advantage of both social and technical economies of scale. In the first half of the twentieth century, there were many great cities, giant industrial operations, and thriving arts and letters. A great diversity of cultures existed, and members of many of them were not in contact with industrializing cultures. Large tracts of wilderness remained in many parts of the world. A world with 1.5 billion people using 4.5 TW of energy seems equally plausible and would carry a larger margin of safety. This is about the same number of people as existed at the turn of the century.

To summarize this brief essay, determination of an "optimum" world population size involves social decisions about the lifestyles to be lived and the distribution of those lifestyles among individuals in the population. To us it seems reasonable to assume that, until cultures and technologies change radically, the optimum size of the human population lies in the vicinity of 1.5 to 2 billion people. That number also is our approximate best guess of the continuous standing crop of people, if achieved reasonably soon, that would permit the maximum number of Homo sapiens to live in the long run. But suppose we have underestimated the optimum and it actually is 4 billion? Since the present population is over 5.5 billion and growing rapidly, the initial policy implications of our conclusions are still clear.


This work was supported by grants from the W. Alton Jones, Winslow, and Heinz Foundations, and the generosity of Peter and Helen Bing.


Daily, G.C.. and P.R. Ehrlich. 1992. Population, sustainability, and Earth's carrying capacity. BioScience 42:761 -771.

Ehrlich, P.R., 1980. Variety is the key to life. Technology Review. Vol. 82. no. 5, March-April. pp. 58-68. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Mass.

Ehrlich, P.R., G.C. Daily, and L.H. Goulder, 1992. Population growth, economic growth, and market economies. Contention 2:17-35.

Ehrlich. P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich, 1990. The Population Explosion. Simon and Schuster, New York.

Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich, 1991. Healing the Planet. Addison Wesley, New York.

Ehrlich, P.R., and A.H. Ehrlich, 1992. The value of biodiversity. Ambio 21:219-226.

Ehrlich. P.R., A.H. Ehrlich, and G.C. Daily. 1993. Food security, Population, and Environment. Population and Development Review 19:1 (March). pp. 1-3 1.

Gilpin, M.E., and M.E. Soule. 1986. Minimum viable populations: the processes of species extinctions. Pp. 13-34 in M. Soule (ed.). Conservation Biology: The Science of Scarcity and Diversity. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, Mass.

Hams. M., and E.B. Ross, 1987. Death, Sex, and Fertility: Population Reaulation in Preindustrial and Developing Societies, Columbia University Press, New York.

Holdren, J.P., 1991. Population and the energy problem. Population and Environment, 12:231-255.

Keyfitz, N, 1991. Population and development within the ecosphere: one view of the literature. Population Index 57:522

Livi-Bacci, M., 1987. A Concise History of World Population, Blackwell, Cambridge, MA.

Parsons, J., 1977. Population Fallacies, Elek/Pemberton, London.

Revell, R., 1976. The resources available for agriculture, Scientific American 235, no. 3:164-178.

Soule, M. (ed.),1987. Viable Populations for Conservation, Cambridge Univ. Press. Cambridge.

UNFPA (United Nations Fund for Population), 1992. State of the World Population 1992, United Nations, New York.

Gretchen C. Daily is a Post Doctoral Fellow at the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California at Berkeley and a Research Associate at the Center for Conservation Biology at Stanford University. She has a PhD. from Stanford. She is investigating the carrying capacity of the earth from both biophysical and economic perspectives.

Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993


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Why Migration?

Years of work and arduous debate went into the writing of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, a vast revamping of the law aimed above all at stemming the flow of undocumented immigrants. Yet the flood of unauthorized entries continued to grow unabated. A new law signed in November, 1990 allowed increasing numbers of immigrants with a flexible cap of about 700,000. Yet 1991 entries reached over one million. What is it about immigration policy that makes it so ineffective?

U.S. policy-makers and the general public believe the causes of immigration are evident: poverty, unemployment, economic stagnation and overpopulation drive people to leave their countries. Whether to accept immigrants thus becomes a humanitarian question, unrelated to U.S. economic policy or political responsibility.

These basic assumptions – shared by conservatives and liberals, the latter typically more generous that the former – have led policy-makers to treat immigration as autonomous from other major international processes and as a domestic rather than an international issue.1 They focus on regulating who may cross the border legally, and on encouraging foreign investment to alleviate the conditions which supposedly spark migration in the first place.

The central role played by the United States in the emergence of a global economy over the past 30 years lies at the core of why people migrate here in ever-increasing numbers. U.S. efforts to open its own and other countries' economies to the flow of capital, goods, services and information created conditions that mobilized people for migration, and formed linkages between the United States and other countries which subsequently served as bridges for migration. Furthermore, the relatively open nature of the U.S. labor market, epitomized by the notion that government should stay out of the marketplace, provides a necessary condition for immigration to occur.

Measures commonly thought to deter emigration – foreign investment, or the promotion of export-oriented agriculture and manufacturing in poor countries – have had precisely the opposite effect. Such investment contributes to massive displacement of small-scale agricultural and manufacturing enterprises, while simultaneously deepening the economic, cultural, and ideological ties between the recipient countries and the United States. These factors encourage migration. Proponents of the proposed North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the United States, for example, may claim it will discourage people from leaving Mexico by providing employment opportunities there. Yet it is more likely to exacerbate the flow of people across the border.2

The prevailing assumptions about why immigration occurs do not explain the new immigration from certain Asian and Caribbean Basin countries. Many countries with high population growth, vast poverty and severe economic stagnation do not experience large-scale emigration. Poverty and stagnation had long characterized most Asian and Caribbean Basin countries when large-scale migration flows started in the 1960s. And not all migrant-sending countries are poor; take, for example, South Korea and Taiwan.

In fact, emigration took off at a time when most countries of origin were experiencing accelerated economic growth according to conventional measures, considerably greater than countries that did not experience large-scale emigration. Annual gross national product (GNP) growth rates during the 1970s ranged from 5% to 9% for most of the leading migrant-sending countries. Even in Mexico, official GNP growth rates ranged between 4.2% and 7.5% in the early 1970s and then again late in the decade. South Korea is the most obvious example. With a growth rate of GNP among the highest in the world during the1970s, it was also one of the countries with the fastest growing levels of migration to the United States.

This is not to say that overpopulation, poverty and economic stagnation do not create pressures for migration; by their very logic, they do. But the common identification of emigration with these conditions is overly simplistic. If these factors were a constant long before emigration commenced, what accounted for the sudden upsurge in migration to the United States?

In the case of the Dominican Republic, the answer seems to lie in linkages with the United States that were formed during the occupation of Santo Domingo by U.S. Marines in 1965. The occupation, to suppress a popular uprising against a pro-U.S. coup, resulted not only in greater political and economic ties, but in personal and family linkages due to the settlement of middle-class political refugees in the occupying country. U.S.-Dominican ties were further consolidated through new U.S. investment in the Dominican sugar industry to replace that lost as a result of the Cuban revolution.

Dominican migration to the United States began to increase soon thereafter, rising from 4,500 between 1955 and 2959 to 58,000 between 1965 and 1969. The real take-off occurred in the early 1980s, as sugar prices fell and the United States invested heavily in tourism, offshore manufacturing, and non-traditional export agriculture on the island.

Haiti has not been subjected to direct U.S. military intervention since the 1920s. But the mass emigration which began in the early 1970s occurred parallel to a surge in new U.S. direct foreign investment in export manufacturing and the large-scale development of commercial agriculture. This created a strong U.S. presence and forced, often through violent means, independent farmers into a rural proletariat.

Despite El Salvador's longstanding poverty, only in 1981, when U.S. military involvement escalated sharply, did emigration begin on a massive scale. People left out of fear for their lives and because it became impossible to eke out a living with the war raging around them. But it was the linkages created by U.S. investment during the 1970s, and its military presence after 1980, that made emigration to the United States seem like a real possibility, even though for many the United States represented the enemy. Sarah Mahler found that many Salvadorans who emigrated to the United States had first worked as migrant laborers on export-oriented coffee plantations.3

Even in Mexico, where territorial continuity is routinely interpreted as a principal cause of immigration, the pattern of linkages is similar and in many ways unrelated to the existence of a shared border.4 This is also true for East Asians. After the Korean War, the United States actively sought to promote economic development in the region in order to stabilize it politically. U.S. troops were stationed in Korea, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Massive increases in foreign investment occurred during the same period, particularly in South Korea, Taiwan and the Philippines. Together, U.S. business and military interests created a vast array of linkages with those Asian countries that subsequently developed large migration flows to the United States.

That migrations are patterned is further reflected in the figures on the U.S. share of global immigration. Though inadequate, the available evidence compiled by the United Nations in the mid-1980s shows that the United States receives about 19% of global emigration.5 The United States receives 27% of total Asian emigration, but 81.5% of all Korean emigration and almost 100% of emigration from the Philippines. It receives 70% of Caribbean emigration, but almost 100% of emigration from the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and 62% from Haiti. And it receives 19.5% of all emigration from Central America, but 52% of emigration from El Salvador, the country with the greatest U.S. involvement in the region.

Follow the Money

One common factor in this pattern over the last two decades is direct foreign investment in production for export, especially manufacturing and assembly of components and consumer goods such as toys, apparel, textiles, and footwear. While total U.S. investment abroad increased between 1965 and 1980 with large amounts continuing to go to Europe and Canada, investment in the Third World quintupled, much of it going to a few key countries in the Caribbean Basin and Southeast Asia. A large proportion of investment in non-industrialized countries went to industries producing for export, which tend to be labor-intensive, precisely one of the rationales for locating factories in low-wage countries. The result was rapid employment growth, especially in manufacturing, during the post-1965 decade. At a lower level, this was also the case in Mexico.

According to conventional explanations of why migrations occur, this combination of economic trends should have helped to deter emigration, or at least to keep it at relatively low levels. The deterrent effect should have been particularly strong in countries with high levels of export-oriented investment, since such investment is labor-intensive and thus creates more jobs than other forms of investment. Yet it is precisely such countries, most notably the newly industrializing countries of East Asia, which have been major senders of new immigrants.

To understand why this occurs, we have to examine the impact of such investment on people's lives. Perhaps the single most important effect is the uprooting of people from traditional modes of existence. It has long been recognized that the development of commercial agriculture tends to displace subsistence farmers, creating a supply of rural wage laborers and mass migrations to cities. The recent large-scale development of export-oriented manufacturing in East Asia, the Caribbean Basin, and Mexico's Border Industrialization Program has had a similar effect. In each case, the introduction of modem relations of production transforms people into migrant workers and potential emigrants.

In export manufacturing, the catalyst for the breakdown of traditional work structures is the massive recruitment of young women into jobs in the new industrial zones.6 The mobilization of large numbers of women into wage labor disrupts village economies and rural households which traditionally depend on women's often unwaged work in food preparation, cloth-weaving, basket-making and various other types of craftwork. Today most people in these regions have been thoroughly proletarianized.

One of the most serious and ironic consequences of the feminization of the new proletariat has been the rise in male unemployment. Not only must men compete with the new supply of female workers, but the massive departure of young women from rural areas, where women are key partners in the struggle for survival, reduces the opportunities for men to make a living there.

More generally, in some poorer, less developed regions or countries, export-led production has come to replace other more diversified forms of economic activity oriented to the internal market The impressive employment growth figures for most of the main emigration countries do not convey the severe limitations of the type of growth involved and the frequent destruction of a more diverse economy.7

For men and women alike, the disruption of traditional ways makes entry into wage labor increasingly a one-way proposition. With traditional economic opportunities in rural areas shrinking, it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for workers to return home if they are laid off or unsuccessful in the job search. This is particularly serious for female workers in new industrial zones, who are often fired after a short period of employment in order to keep wages low and replace workers whose health begins to fail due to poor working conditions. Moreover, beginning in the late 1970s when tax concessions from local governments in the older zones were exhausted, many companies packed up and moved on to "new" countries where labor was even cheaper.

Due to all of these trends, people first uprooted from traditional ways of life, then left unemployed and unemployable as export firms hire younger workers or move production to other countries, may see few options but emigration—especially if export-led growth strategies have weakened the country's domestic economy.

But the role of foreign investment in encouraging large-scale emigration does not end there. In addition to eroding traditional work structures and creating a pool of wage laborers, foreign investment contributes to the development of economic, cultural, and ideological linkages with the industrialized countries.8 Workers employed in the export sector – whether as managers, secretaries, or assemblers – are, after all, producing goods and services for people and firms in industrialized countries. For these workers, already oriented toward Western practices and modes of thought, the distance between a job in the offshore plant or office and a comparable one in the industrialized country itself is subjectively reduced. It is not hard to see how emigration comes to be regarded as a serious option.

Beyond the direct impact on workers in the export sector, the linkages created by foreign investment also have a generalized ideological effect on a receiving country or region, making the culture of industrialized countries seem less foreign and the prospect of living there more attractive. This ideological impact turns a much larger number of people into candidates for emigration.

Immigration and U.S. Economic Policy

No analysis of immigration would be complete without examining changes in labor demand. While the internationalization of the economy contributed to the initiation of labor migrations to the United States, their continuation at high and ever-increasing levels is directly related to the economic restructuring of this country.

Beginning in the late 1970s, the supply of low-wage jobs in the United States expanded rapidly, while the labor market became less regulated. Such tendencies facilitated the incorporation of undocumented migrants by opening up the hiring process, lifting restrictions on employers and typically lowering the cost of labor.10 The increase in low-wage jobs was in part a result of the same international economic processes that channeled investment and manufacturing jobs to low-wage countries. As industrial production moved overseas or to low-wage areas in the South, much of traditional U.S. manufacturing was replaced by a downgraded sector characterized by poorly paid, semi-skilled or unskilled jobs.

Three trends converged: first, the growing practice of sub-contracting, and the expansion of sweatshops and industrial homework (all of which have the effect of isolating workers and preventing them from joining together to defend their interests); second, the downgrading of skill levels required for jobs through the incorporation of machines and computers; and third, the rapid growth of high-technology industries that employ large numbers of low-wage production workers. These conditions make the United States an attractive location for foreign manufacturers and other types of firms and, at the limit, make certain areas of the country competitive with Third World countries as production sites.11

The rapid growth of the service sector also created vast numbers of low-wage jobs, in addition to the more publicized increase in highly paid investment banking, management and professional jobs.12 The growth industries of the 1980s – finance, insurance, real estate, retail trade, and business services – feature large numbers of low-wage jobs, weak unions if any, and a high proportion of part and female workers. Sales clerks, waitresses, secretaries, and janitors are among the growth occupations.

The expanded service sector also creates low jobs by raising the demand for workers to serve lifestyles and consumption requirements of the income professional and managerial class. The concentration of these high-income workers in major cities has created a need for legions of low -wage service workers – residential building attendants, restaurant workers, preparers of specialty and gourmet foods, dog walkers, errand runners, apartment cleaners, childcare providers and so on. The fact that many of these jobs are "off the books" has meant the rapid expansion of an informal economy.13

Immigrants are more likely than U.S. citizens to gravitate toward these jobs: they are poorly paid, offer little employment security, generally require few skills and little knowledge of English, and frequently involve undesirable evening or weekend shifts. In addition, the expansion of the informal economy facilitates the entry of undocumented immigrants into these jobs. Significantly, even immigrants who are highly educated and skilled when they arrive in the United States tend to gravitate toward the low-wage sectors of the economy.

While the transfer of manufacturing to less industrialized countries has helped promote emigration from them, the concentration of servicing and management functions in major U.S. cities has created conditions for the absorption of the immigrant influx. The same set of processes that promoted emigration from several rapidly industrializing countries has simultaneously promoted immigration into the United States. The fact that the primary generators of low-wage jobs are the major growth sectors of the U.S. economy, such as high technology and services, rather than the declining sectors, suggests that the supply of such jobs will probably continue to expand for the foreseeable future. As long as it does, the influx of immigrant workers to fill these jobs is also likely to continue.

Profit Knows No Borders

While individuals may experience their migration as the outcome of their personal decisions, the option to migrate is itself the product of larger social, economic and political processes. One could ask, for example, if there are systemic linkages underlying the current East Europe, and Soviet  migrations to Germany and Austria. Rather than simply posit the push factor of poverty, unemployment and the general failure of socialism, we might look at the fact that before War II both Berlin and Vienna were major receivers of large migrations from a vast eastern region. And the aggressive campaign during the Cold War years, touting the West as a place where economic well-being is the norm and well-paying jobs are easy to get, must also have had some effect in inducing people to migrate westward.14

Similarly, as Japan became the leading global economic power and the major foreign investor in Southeast Asia in the 1980s, a familiar combination of migration-facilitating processes appears to have been set in motion: the creation of linkages that eventually come to serve as bridges for potential emigrants, and the emergence of emigration to Japan as something that would-be emigrants see as a real option.

Japan is a country that never considered itself an immigrant country, has always been proud of its homogeneity, and has kept its doors closed to foreigners. Now it is experiencing a new illegal influx of workers from several Asian countries with which it maintains strong economic ties and investments in off-shore manufacturing but no shared border: Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines and Thailand.

The impending free-trade agreement between the United States and Mexico is perhaps the best example. At the Bush Administration's insistence, immigration was kept off the negotiating table. The administration claims, however, that an agreement would stem illegal immigration from Mexico. Yet the considerable growth of export-assembly industry in northern Mexico over the last two decades has not deterred Mexican emigration. On the contrary, it encouraged new migrations from the interior of the country to the northern border zone, which in turn served as a platform for crossing into the United States. On a broader scale, the maquila program has consolidated a transnational border economy within which trade, investment and people move rather freely.

A free-trade agreement could substantially strengthen existing economic linkages and create new ones, from cross-border personnel transfers to the packaging and trucking of goods made in Mexico for the U.S. market. Such linkages would engender new patterns of communication, work and travel between the two countries – and would further integrate Mexican workers into the U.S. economy, intensifying Mexican contact with U.S. popular and work cultures. These conditions could spawn a generalized notion that people are entitled to free movement across the border.

Perhaps we need new ways to think about the process we call immigration. The category itself, with its strong emphasis on the concept of national borders, seems inadequate. The forging of strong economic and geopolitical relations between countries of unequal development and unequal job opportunities tends to promote labor migration from poorer to wealthier countries. Until policy-makers understand this basic fact, and abandon the notion that immigration control is a police matter, attempts to "stem the flood" will continue to fail.

1. This article uses materials from the author's recent books. 'The Mobility of Labor and Capital; A Study in International Investment and Labor Flow," (New York: Cambridge University Press 1988), and "The Global City: New York, London, Tokyo." (Princeton University Press, 1991).

2. See Saskia Sassen, “Free Trade and Immigration," Hemisphere (Winter/Spring 1991).

3. El Salvador's tradition of internal migration for the coffee, sugar and cotton harvests meant that peasant farmers had already been mobilized into wage labor. See also, Sarah J. Mahler, "Tres Veces Mojado: Undocumented Central and South American Migration to Suburban Long Island." (Ph.D.diss.. Dept. of Anthropology. Columbia University. 1992).

4. The large mass migrations of the 1800s followed the same pattern. They emerged as part of the formation of a trans-Atlantic economic system binding several nation-states through economic transactions and wars that brought massive flows of capital, goods and workers. Before this period, labor movements across the Atlantic had been largely forced, notably slavery, and mostly from colonized African and Asian territories. Similarly, the migrations to England in the 1950s originated in what had once been British colonies. Finally, the migrations into Westem Europe on the 1960s and 1970s occurred in a context of direct recruitment and of European regional dominance over the Mediterranean and part of Eastern Europe. There are, I would say, few if any innocent bystanders among countries receiving large labor migrations.

5. This figure is derived from data on permanent settlement, which excludes illegal immigrations and unoffical refugee flows between countries, a growing category. This and other figures in this paragraph are from "Demographic Yearbook," (United Nations, 1985) and "World Population Prospects,"(United Nations, 1987).

6. Most of the manufacturing in these zones is of the sort that also employs women in developed countries. Electronics assembly, toys, textiles, and garments account for the largest share, but it is diversifying fast. For the initial phase of this process see, for example, Norma Diamend, "Women and Industry in Taiwan," Modem China, Vol.5, No.3 (July 1979); Helen I. Safa, "Runaway Shops and Female Employment: The Search for the Cheap Labor," Signs. Vo1.7, No.2 (Winter 1981); E. Boserup. "Women's Role in Economic Development," (New York, St. Martin's Press, 1970); also E. Bodding. "Women: the Fifth World". Foreign Policy Association Headline Series No.248, (Washington. DC: February 1980) and June Nash and Maria Patricia Femandez Kelly, 'Women and Men in the International Division of Labor" (Albany: SUNY Press, 1983).  See also the film. "The Global Assembly Line," by Lorraine Gray.

7. In a detailed examination of the employment impact of export-led industrialization, the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) found that in general, this type of development eliminated more jobs than it created because of its disruptive effect on the rational manufacturing sector, especially in the less industrialized countries of the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, 'World Industry since 1960," Progress and Prospects (Vienna: UNIDO, 1979).

8. Each country is unique and each migration flow is produced by specific conditions in time and place. Yet the general dynamic in the U.S. occurs in other countries characterized by economic dominance and the formation of transnationa1 spaces for economic activity. This type of analysis seeks to capture the impact of the internationalization of the economy on a) formation of migration flows, and b) the labor marks in the receiving country, particularly changes that may contribute to the absorption of immigrants.

9. Comparing 1973 and 1989 income data shows that relative incomes fell for 80% of all families and rose for 20%. The truly rich, the top 1%, gained the most. Much of the 20% at the top represents an upper middle class, rather than "the wealthy." See U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1989, Series P-60, No 168.

10. Saskia Sassen, 'The Mobility of Labor and Capital.”

11. The inflation-adjusted hourly earnings of factory production workers rose by 70% from 1947 to 1973. From 1973 to 1987 they fell by 5.4%. The real value of the minimum wage fell by about 23% from 1981 to 1989. See Gary Burtless, ed., "A Future of Lousy Jobs," (Washington: Brookings Institution, 1990), p.15.

12. These trends have sharpened over the last few years, bringing about growing inequality in the U S occupational and income structure. Inflation-adjusted average weekly wages peaked in 1973, stagnated over the next few years and fell in the decade of the 1980s. Up to 1973 there was an increase in the degree of equality in the distribution of earnings. Since 1975, the opposite has occurred. In the decade from 1963 to 1973, 9 out of 10 new jobs were in the middle earnings group, whereas after 1973 only one in two new jobs was in the middle-earning category. If one were to add the increase in the number of workers who are not employed full-time and year-round, then the inequality becomes even more pronounced. Part-time workers increased from 5% in 1955 to 22% in 1977, and by 1986 were a third of the labor force. Approximately 80% of these 50 million workers earn less than $1,000 a year. Paul Blumberg. "Inequality in an Age of Decline," (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), pp. 67-79; Robert Z. Lawrence, "Sectoral Shifts and the Size of the Middle Class,” Brookings Review (Fall 1984); Bennet Harrison and Barry Bluestone. "The Great U-Turn," (New York: Basic Books, 1988). A report by the House Ways and Means Committee found that from 1979 to 1987, the bottom fifth of the population experienced a decline of 8% in its personal income while the top fifth experienced an income increase of 16%. And data from the 1990 Census shows that the top 20% of the income structure accounted for most of the increase in personal income in the decade of the 1980s while the bottom 40% lost ground.

13. A comparison of trends in New York, Los Angeles, and other major cities can be found in Saskia Sassen, "The Global City’, part three.

14. Saskia Sassen. "Six Concepts for Analyzing Immigration: Do They Work for Germany?" Work in progress for the Wissmschaftszentmm (Berlin, Winter 1992).

Population & Immigration       ?õ¬?       Vol. 4 No. 2      ?õ¬?       Summer 1993

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