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‘Moving Millions’ Author Probes Capitalism, Immigration Connection

May 25, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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Jeffrey Brown talks with author Jeffrey Kaye about his new book on immigration and about how the pursuit of cheap labor to power the world's economy perpetuates global migration.
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JEFFREY BROWN: The debate over immigration law is once again very much with us with Arizona’s recent actions, but even when not dominating the national conversation, it presents a huge series of problems and dilemmas that workers, families, employers, and government officials face daily here and around the world.

That’s the subject of a new book, “Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration.” Author Jeffrey Kaye covered immigration and many other stories for the “NewsHour” from Los Angeles and points around the globe for nearly 25 years, and, for most of that time, has been a good friend of mine.

So, welcome to you.

JEFFREY KAYE, author, “Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration”: Absolutely. Nice to be here, Jeff. Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Jeff, what did you set out to do? Why this subject among all the ones you covered for us?

JEFFREY KAYE: Well, immigration was a constant theme in most of the coverage and the reporting I was doing for the “NewsHour,” but there was always — there was a sense of frustration, as in-depth as I was able to get in most of the stories, that there was something missing.

And, so, what I set out to do was try to put it all together, to try to understand what it is that motivates people to move, to migrate. It seemed to me that, in all my travels, that unless we actually got to the root causes, we were just recycling the same debates. And…

JEFFREY BROWN: So, what kind of theme? What jumps out at you? What themes emerge, when you put all these pieces together?

JEFFREY KAYE: Well, it’s different in different countries. But Mexico, for example, there’s a long tradition of migration.

The themes that really — that started around the turn of the 20th century, where Mexicans were wanted in the United States, their labor was required, and, over time, we have welcomed them in, and sometimes deported them when the economy got bad.

The themes that I saw often have to do with the economic conditions in either the sending countries, the countries that export migrants, or — and the receiving countries. There’s an interdependence that we often don’t think about. We’re focused, we’re fixated almost, on the legal status of migrants, rather than some of the economic issues that motivate…

JEFFREY BROWN: As well as all that government policies play in the push and pull.

JEFFREY KAYE: Absolutely.

JEFFREY BROWN: And this — and this somehow is not well understood, that somehow we have these very noisy debates, without looking at the underlying causes?

JEFFREY KAYE: Right. And I think that those are often — those come often at times when people get anxious and nervous about the economy.

Often, migrants are scapegoated, and not just today. I’m talking back in history, whether that’s immigrants from South Europe or Eastern Europe or China, wherever it might be. And, often, the — so, we never really get to the more fundamental issues, which are international in scope, not national.

And that’s one of the frustrations, I think, is, when you look at the debates, rather than trying to treat immigration as an international issue, which, of course, it is — it involves a border — we try to keep with it and the rest of the developed world tries to deal with it on purely national grounds.

JEFFREY BROWN: You use the term coyote capitalism.

JEFFREY KAYE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: I mean, it’s coyote capitalism, yes?

JEFFREY KAYE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: What does that mean?

JEFFREY KAYE: Well, you know what a coyote is. It’s a slang term for a human smuggler. The job of a smuggler is to get someone across a border.

It doesn’t really matter the circumstances that are either driving that person across or pulling the person across. As long as that person gets across, the coyote gets his or her money. Don’t really care about the welfare of the migrants.

And if you kind of expand that out to look at a global interconnected system, if you will — I don’t mean that in a conspiratorial sense, but a mechanism that drives migration, you can see that often what fuels migration is not so much individual decisions about whether or not to migrate, but a much larger, broader picture, which is what I try to get across.

JEFFREY BROWN: It was also interesting to read the parts about the sender countries. One in particular was the Philippines.

JEFFREY KAYE: Yes.

Well, the Philippines has a culture of immigration. There, you’re expected to grow up, go abroad, and send money home.

JEFFREY BROWN: It’s part of their economy and part of their culture.

JEFFREY KAYE: It’s a huge part of the culture.

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes.

JEFFREY KAYE: And people are raised essentially as cash crops. And the expectations are — and one family after another will tell you about how — whether it’s a construction in the Middle East or nursing in the United States, Canada, or the U.K., there’s a long tradition of migration to.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, here we are again, as we mentioned, with Arizona raising this again.

JEFFREY KAYE: Yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Put all — put where we are now into these broader themes. What…

JEFFREY KAYE: In terms of Arizona…

JEFFREY BROWN: Yes. What do you see? Yes. What do you see going on?

JEFFREY KAYE: Well, I think Arizona is kind of a perfect illustration of some of the things I touch on in my book, in that we never really connect the dots.

And I think you can trace what happened in Arizona back to the Clinton administration fortifying the border in the ’90s in response to the outcry. Migrants had been coming over in California and in Texas. The intention was to drive people, funnel people through Arizona, one of the most conservative states in the United States, with the hope, with the expectations that people would be deterred because of the inhospitable terrain, the desert there.

That didn’t turn out to be the case, simply because the conditions really didn’t change in Mexico that led people to migrate in the first place. And a booming economy and a need for service workers in California and the Southwest pulled people across.

So, without addressing the fundamental issues there, it didn’t work. And so the result is what we see in Arizona.

JEFFREY BROWN: And — and people there, including the governor, when she signed this law, talked a lot about how they were tired of waiting for federal action.

JEFFREY KAYE: Yes. Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: So, it also raises this kind of local feeling vs. federal action.

JEFFREY KAYE: Right.

JEFFREY BROWN: Another aspect. So, you talked about international and national. There’s also the local side.

JEFFREY KAYE: Yes, of course.

And Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, when she was governor of Arizona, also said she needed to sign bills, which she did, because of federal inaction. But she also said, show me a 50-foot fence, and I will show you a 51-foot ladder.

And, really, the circumstances haven’t changed. And now Janet Napolitano is in Washington, may or may not be able to do something about it. But I would suggest that Washington, acting by itself, can’t really affect migration issues any more than Arizona can or any of the thousands of municipalities that have passed laws.

It takes an international approach. By its nature, immigration involves borders and is international.

JEFFREY BROWN: And what does that mean as a way forward?

JEFFREY KAYE: As a way forward, that means we have to try to rethink and reframe the debate in some way, that we need to think of globalization, we need to think of immigration as an international issue, rather than a national one, because people are pushed out and pulled in because of trade policies, because of all kinds of policies that really need to be — we need to be thinking about.

So, the United States needs to engage, at the minimum, Mexico and binational discussions. And if we have a global organization that deals with trade, why can’t we also look at global migration in the same way?

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, the book is “Moving Millions.”

Jeffrey Kaye, nice to talk to you.

JEFFREY KAYE: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.