Every year, three-thousand people try to immigrate into the US illegally from Mexico, while three-hundred only make it. Immigration has been an exceedingly complex topic that has been a big debate in the twentieth century. Numerous attempts of immigration reform and policy have been established or broken down by different government parties. Conflict theory will be used to explore the history of immigration, the influences on why people immigrate, and problems immigrants face in the country. Conflict theory can be defined as society, composed of groups, is in a constant condition whereas the groups are always competing for scarce resources.
To understand the complexities of illegal immigration, an understanding of events during 1519 and how those events relate to the World Systems Theory should be established. The World Systems Theory, developed by Immanual Wallerstein, places countries in three main categories: core, periphery, and semi-periphery. With each category, the placement will determine the countries relationship status with others in relation to the capitalist world economy.
“Core countries are capitalist countries that benefit most from the world economy due to the exploitation of resources from periphery countries. Periphery countries were areas lacking strong central governments or were controlled by other states. These countries exported raw materials and relied on coercive labor practices. The core expropriated much of the capital surplus generated by the periphery through unequal trade relations (History).”
The final category of country, the semi-periphery country, share characteristics from both core and periphery categories. As such, these countries could be used as an intermediary to establish a connection between the upper core nations and the lower peripheral nations, playing a vital role in stabilizing the world trade system. Countries are able to move up or down the World Systems ladder, with the date of 1519 being the first informal establishment of superpowers in the World Systems as well as the establishment of the World Economies. In 1519, “The epic of the Spaniards and Portuguese in America combined propagation of the Christian faith with usurpation and plunder of native wealth (Galeano 1997: 13).”
Spaniards, the dominant group known as the bourgeoisie at the time, took advantage of the natives, the subordinate proletariats, by forcing the Natives to pay tribute with resources such as gold and silver creating class conflict. Class conflict can be defined as conflict resulting from the bourgeoisie’s exploitation of the proletariat group, with the smaller bourgeoisie group controlling the means of production. Europeans started importing non-native plants such as sugarcane to plant on rich foreign soil due to how profitable the plant was at the time, forcing the natives to tend to the farms. Eventually, the Europeans started to set up colonies with the natives to increase capitalism. As a result, migration is a natural consequence of economic capitalism.
Most illegal immigrants from South America, Central America, and Mexico are the victims of historical capitalism by European nations which include colonialization by the bourgeoisie, and exploitation of native proletariats for resources. “The Brazilian Northeast is today the most undeveloped area in the Western hemisphere. As a result of sugar monoculture it is a concentration camp for 30 million people – on the same soil that produced the most lucrative business of the colonial agricultural economy in Latin America.
Today less than a fifth of Pernambuco’s humid zone is used for growing sugar; the rest is not used at all (Galeano 1997: 63).” As a result, conditions such as poverty sprouted in the current century that created many factors for why people decide to migrate illegally to the United States. One factor that influenced people’s decisions to migrate to the US is economy. Immigrants, both illegal and legal, look for jobs to further support families. Often times, the immigrants will send remittances back to family that are unable to migrate to the US as well.
However with jobs, there is a split labor market between illegals, legal immigrants, and natives. With the split labor market, exploitation of minority groups occur for the dominant group’s gain. Another factor that influences people’s decisions to migrate is education for children. A final factor that influences migration is avoiding conflict in the immigrant’s native country such as drug cartels in Mexico. The migration of immigrants to the US due to these factors contribute to the cycle of migration. This cycle is known as the brain dead cycle whereas, skilled workers and professionals needed by the home country leave looking for work in other countries. As a result, the home country is “brain dead” due to lack of skilled citizens. This cycle furthermore contributes to the unequal distribution of world resources.
With immigrants entering the US, both legally and illegally, many are treated in less than humane ways while in the United States. Xenophobia plays an integral role due to the fear of outsiders. This is a result of stereotypes placed on the migrants such as all immigrants being drug traffickers, terrorists or gang members. As a result, immigrants are tied to almost every social problem such as a spike in national unemployment rates and crime rates increasing. Furthermore, both legal and illegal immigrants are constantly racially profiled, even more so with the new presidential administration cracking down on illegal immigration (Mehan 1997: 448).
Racial profiling can be defined as suspecting someone of committing a crime based on race or ethnicity, whereas the crime is being in the US illegally. Additionally, immigrants working in agricultural fields are exposed to an enormous amount of pesticides while working. “More than one hundred herbicides and pesticides are used. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health show that upward of twenty thousand farmworkers suffer from acute pesticide poisoning every year (Hedges 2014: 183).”
With the exposure to pesticides, healthcare is scarce due to the low pay wage of the field workers. The healthcare is even scarcer with illegal immigrants because the employer does not have to abide by normal work regulations and laws that would pertain to legal residents, especially with pay. “We need the job. I don’t complain. If I complained then the next day I wouldn’t have a job (Hedges 2014: 184)”
Moreover, the media claims immigrants are granted many privileges, however there is more evidence that supports immigrants are being treated like slaves, especially in labor demanding jobs like agriculture. The veil, plays an enormous part on the treatment of immigrants. The veil can be defined as the white’s lack of clarity to see other minority races as equal. Historically in the past, maltreatment of workers by the dominant group occurred. “In Peru, the colony’s crude products were never as perfect as the native textiles of Pizarro’s time but economic performance was very great. The industry was based on force labor by Indians who were locked into the shops from before dawn till late at night (Galeano 1997: 175).”
In the current century, maltreatment of migrant workers still exist. Florida has had many cases of modern day slavery, whereas workers are chained at night in shacks to prevent the laborers from running away. “More than a thousand men and women in the state of Florida have been freed by law enforcement over the past fifteen years from slave camps. There have been nine federal prosecutions for modern-day slavery since 1997… workers are kept in gated enclosures at night, at times chained to prevent escape, and warned that their families in Mexico or Central America will pay the consequences if they flee and report the abuse to authorities (Hedges 2014: 199)”.
With the maltreatment of migrant laborers, alienation occurs. Alienation can be defined as being removed from the product of one’s labor; from each other; and from full human potential. Removal from the product of one’s labor relates to the workers being unable to decide the product, how the job is done, and any benefits associated with the product. With lower wages, laborers are removed from each other by competing against each other for jobs. Laborers are removed by full human potential due to working as a means of survival.
There is no joy in any of the work, in large due to many of the jobs immigrants take are jobs that are unwanted by US residents such as trash collectors, farm workers, and dish washers (Passel 1986: 194). If class consciousness should occur, there is little the migrants are able to do due to language barriers, lack of education, competition by the natives, and an already established sense of false consciousness by the capitalist bourgeoisie. False consciousness can be defined as when an individual ignores structural reality of society, believing an individual’s place in society all depends on the individual, which leads to the individual being blind to the structural realities’ of one’s society.
With illegal immigration, there are many solutions that have been suggested. One suggestion is building a wall along the entire southern border of the United States. However, this solution will not work. Building a wall will cost millions of dollars. Furthermore, the construction process will face many geographical issues such as rivers, mountains, and canyons. Additionally, human ingenuity will always prevail. Humans are constantly learning and adapting the environment. Moreover, wall is created as a barrier. However walls in the pass has invoked violence across the world such as the Berlin Wall. A long term answer to the illegal immigration problem is education.
This includes education about resource distribution in the world, and the results of capitalism. Both US residents and illegal immigrants must realize why illegal immigrants are migrating to the US, including learning what happened to the poverty stricken countries in the past. “You believe perhaps, gentlemen, that the production of coffee and sugar is the natural destiny of the West Indies. Two centuries ago, nature, which does not trouble herself about commerce, had planted neither sugarcane nor coffee trees there.” The international division of labor was not organized by the Holy Ghost but by men – more precisely, as a result of the world development of capitalism.