Thinking the Unthinkable: the Immigration Myth Exposed.

AuthorMarcelli, Enrico A.
PositionBook Review

by Nigel Harris. New York: I. B. Tauris. 2002. Paper, ISBN: 1860646719, $19.95. 183 pages.

Those interested in the causes and consequences of increasingly selective immigration policies shall be both delighted and disturbed by this book. It represents an accessible, provocative, and overdue articulation of government-generated barriers to lower-skilled immigration amidst the relative mobility of investment and trade. Harris commences with several stories of immigrants' life-threatening struggles to find more desirable work in developed nations. But he is most disturbed by our collective nonchalant acceptance of the immigration control regimes on which thousands of migrant deaths and other deplorable conditions depend.

Thus, the author asks a penetrating question in his introductory chapter that many immigration scholars avoid: Why have these restrictive regimes been deliberately instituted and maintained? Three possible answers are considered. First, states attempt to augment natural selection and national economic growth by sifting out relatively weak (e.g., less-skilled) immigrants, and the unauthorized represent an easy target. Second, unauthorized immigrants harm host societies fiscally and socially (e.g., steal jobs, use welfare, and foment ethno-racial disharmony). And, third, unauthorized immigration undermines the sovereign power of states even if its socioeconomic effects are positive.

As a prelude to his conclusion that these regimes are maintained to facilitate xenophobia that permits politicians and the media to peddle their wares continuously to the public, a second chapter argues that although human migration has a long history, the U.S. and E.U. selective turn in immigration policy since the 1960s has generated two conflicting needs--recruiting workers willing to do physically demanding work and excluding foreigners.

The next two chapters discuss the immigration-globalization tension and associate unauthorized immigration with the proverbial hydra. Harris uses this metaphor to suggest that our ill-founded perceptions rather than scientific evidence drive immigration policy in advanced nations. He is not the first to suggest this (Heer 1996). But he explicitly connects what he terms the "shadow play" politics of immigration, or others have called "border games" (Andreas 2000) and "smoke and mirrors" (Massey et al. 2002), with concepts that are familiar to institutionalists. For instance, he argues that the conventional...

To continue reading

Request your trial