The Flight into Egypt

Illegal Immigration?

Pew Research has an interesting piece up entitled A Portrait of Unauthorized Immigrants in the United States.  There is a lot here to talk about–so much so that this blog post is going to focus only on the opening paragraph:

Unauthorized immigrants living in the United States are more geographically dispersed than in the past and are more likely than either U.S.-born residents or legal immigrants to live in a household with a spouse and children. In addition, a growing share of the children of unauthorized immigrant parents — 73% — were born in this country and are U.S. citizens.

Like I said: there’s a lot here.  I want to break this down into a few topics and look at each one in more detail.  First, I want to talk about the effects of greater geographic dispersal, followed by the ramifications of the fact that growing numbers of illegal immigrants are parents of US citizens.  Finally, I want to talk a bit about the fact that greater numbers of unauthorized immigrants live in intact homes in comparison to US-born residents or legal immigrants.

I want to state up front that I am not a fan of illegal immigration.  I have too many friends and aquaintances who have went to great effort to gain US citizenship through appropriate channels.  At the same time, though, I believe we have created a beuracratic mess of the issue, and that, in addition to protecting our borders, we should be intent upon providing streamlined and effective means for people to immigrate or become resident workers.  Our top priority should be on establishing a record of who is in our nation and removing (i.e. deporting) the criminal element among them.  I think the so-called “amnesty” bill (the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007) put forward by President Bush and supported by John McCain was a step in the right direction and that many of the screeds against it from the right were ill-informed at least and possibly xenophobic; the failure of the bill not only barred the creation of a legal path to citizenship for undocumented workers already present in the US, In my opinion it harmed our national security by allowing such workers to remain under the radar as well as rejecting the security measures included in the bill.  The criticisms from the left were also weak and seemed based upon a presumption of getting something better down the road.  In the mean time, we still have a mess.

All of that said, I think this information from Pew Research is very interesting.  The fact that new immigrants to the US are more dispersed than in the past is a solid counter point to those who claim that immigrants will not enculturate into our society.  In the past, when large numbers of immigrants from one ethnic group came into the US, they tended to huddle in larger cities and create ethnic enclaves.  The fact that immigration is more diffuse is possitive in the sence that it will (I believe) encourage people to interact with their surrounding community out of necessity.  While this will create tensions in more communities than in the past (the English first vote in Nashville being evidence of that), this is simply because immigration is no longer a localized phenomena and is instead spread throughout the country.  Of course, Nashville is a fairly large metropolitan area so one would expect a number of ethnicities to be present.  But I have only lived in the Nashville area for a little over a year; prior to that I lived in Winchester TN and Sewanee TN–neither of which is very large.  In the Monteagle-Sewanee-Winchester area there were a number of businesses owned and opperated by people from various Asian countries, whether Chinese Buffets, or nail salons etc… In addition, there were fairly large hispanic populations working in construction and various other businesses (such as Tyson Chicken).  Leaving aside questions of work environment and other issues for the moment, consider the amazing situation we live in today where immigrants to the United States no longer settle in China Towns or Little Italys, but instead spread out so that there is a small Chinese community in such a small area, and at least one Vietnamese family in a town of around 7,000 people.  This shows that times are not what they once were on the immigration front.

The second issue raised is that growing numbers of illegal immigrants are parents of US citizens.  I understand that there are people who are trying to change the citizenship laws of the United States to make it so that one is not automatically granted citizenship by virtue of being born here.  I think that such a change would be a horrible mistake and fundamentally go against the character of the United States.1 Be that as it may, such a change has not occurred and I seriously doubt any dramatic changes are on the horizon. So we are left with difficult situations in which parents can be divided from their citizen children because they are not legal immigrants. Similarly, there is a “widow penalty” in our immigration law that requires people to have been married for at least two years before they become citizens. While such requirements where well-intentioned to close that popular backdoor to citizenship, the temporary marriage, it has also had the ramification of harming grieving people–including spouses of US soldiers who have been killed while serving their country–by forcing them out of the US.

The final thing brought up in this short snippet is the fact that undocumented immigrants are more likely than either US citizens or legal immigrants to grow up in an intact family. This is a very interesting statistic indeed, and raises two questions in my mind: shouldn’t “family values” conservatives jump at the chance to bolster their ranks and, secondly, what is it about American Citizenship that causes families to break up? Should immigrants want to become part of our society? Might they contract the social diseases that are breaking down our relationships?

Of course, I know there are untold sociological factors at work here, so some of these questions are asked tongue in cheek. But at the same time, I do think this may highlight something important about the break down of the family in the US–a problem that might (at least partially) be corrected by the changes wrought by the economic down-turn.

In his book A Better Hope, theologian Stanley Hauerwas has an essay entitled “Resisting Capitalism: On Marriage and Homosexuality” in which he builds upon an argument made by Nicholas Boyle in his book Who Are We Now?. Hauerwas quotes the following bit from Boyle:

Sexual preference, once detached from the process of bodily reproduction, loses touch with the necessities and enters the realm of play–it becomes part of the entertainment industry, a choice to be catered for, but not a constraint on producers. Indeed, worldwide consumerism makes use of homosexuality as a means of eliminating the political constraints which regulate our role as producers: if marriage is redefined as a long-term affective partnership, so that it may be either homosexual or heterosexual, the essentially reproductive nature of male and female bodies is no longer given institutional (and therefore political) expression. Bodies are seen as the locus only of consumption, not of production; production is thereby repressed further into our collective unconscious; and producers, particularly women, are deprived of the political means of protest against exploitation. (It becomes more difficult to maintain, for example, that certain working practices are more destructive of the family, for ‘having’ a family is treated as the ‘Choice’ of a particular mode of consumption.)

Hauerwas builds on this by noting that “Capitalism thrives on short-term commitments. The ceaseless drive for innovation is but the way to undercut labor’s power by making the skills of the past irrelevant for tomorrow. Indeed, capitalism is the ultimate form of deconstruction, because how better to keep labor under control than through the scarcity produced through innovation? All the better that human relationships are ephemeral, because lasting commitments prove to be inefficient in ever-expanding markets.

There are, to be sure, obvious flaws in this reasoning2., it seems enough to make one wonder whether the tangible benefits of citizenship in a Capitalist hegemon actually outweigh the more fundamental negatives. Of course, given such a characterization of capitalist forces, it’s a wonder anyone marries or remains married–perhaps it says something positive about us that anyone does.


  1. That being said, if the law is changed, I would hope a basic citizenship test would be required–imagine the wailing when supporters of such a change realize many their own children couldn’t pass! []
  2. if Boyle is correct, for example, how does he explain the fact that various countries of Europe, in which homosexuality is more open and accepted even than in the US, still provide much more gracious parental leave to their workers? Perhaps it’s because they are more socialist than the US, and while Boyle may address the issue, I haven’t gotten far enough in his book to find it yet []