Saturday, May 28, 2011

Reflections on Excerpts on Sassen's "Guests and Aliens"

While I have a keen interest in US immigration, I came into this seminar with little to no knowledge of any European country's immigration policies. Having started reading about differences between policies and misconceptions about the nature of immigration, I find I am fascinated. I especially see parallels between immigration in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries and current immigration issues in the US. I am aware of the popular sentiment that Mexican immigrants and migrants are coming to the US in alarming numbers. Reading these selections made it clear to me that this reaction probably results from looking at the situation statically. Stepping back to realize patterns of immigration over long periods of time shows a very different picture than that of an inpouring of immigrants in greater and greater numbers. People immigrate and emigrate from different regions for different reasons. What I understood Sassen to say was that these reasons are most often structural rather than personal. Germany, France and Italy each developed a different immigration policy depending on its country's needs at the time. Looking at these historical examples while trying to understand our (the US's) own situation can help us to formulate more effective immigration policies than simply "closing the gates."

US immigration parallels Germany in the prejudice generated by public fear of increasing immigration. For Germany it generated Polenpolitik - laws intended to target the Polish immigrant population. For the US, this fear has been used to justify racial profiling in police work, airports and other public institutions. Sassen's analysis of French immigration highlighted the paradox of France's need for immigrants for military service and work with it's population's simultaneous dislike for the immigrant population. The US depends heavily on Mexican immigrants for agricultural and care work, while native US citizens hold immigrants in contempt. The Italian story of immigration in Sassen's work shows the reverse side of the previously mentioned trend: a country whose emigrant population was responsible for some of the most essential yet undesirable jobs, yet received little respect or gratitude for their labor.

1 comment:

  1. I'm very excited to read about your discoveries! And I hope you have a fantastic time abroad.