The “Border Beat” (June 30, 2008)

As we inch closer to the Democratic and Republican conventions, and with those closer to the November elections, we’ll all be hearing more and more talk about and to Latinos. The issue of immigration works as a rallying point for certain sectors of both parties’ constituencies, acting as the target of political rhetoric meant to move you to vote. At the same time, the numerical realities of electoral politics mean the growing, younger, and as yet unknown political quantity of the “Latino electorate” is as popular as a boat in a flood.

Some thoughts as you dive into the “Border Beat.”

  • McCain and Obama each try to convince NALEAO that they will be our mejor amigo (AP/Yahoo);
  • Is America worried that Latinos are too fertile? (Tucson Citizen/USA Today);
  • USA Today is surprisingly sharp in discussing Latino birth rates and the rise of their presence in rural America…and they have maps!
  • Latinos mobilize in North Carolina, that’s right, NORTH CAROLINA! (ENCToday.com);
  • Women among the rising ranks of undocumented workers, a powerful lesson in what multiple oppression looks like (Houston Chronicle); and
  • Frida Kahlo returns to San Francisco (OC Register).

The second to last article I spotlight today is a simple report from the Houston Chronicle on the rising numbers of women among the flow of undocumented workers into the United States. While the story may be simple, the forces at work are anything but.

Traditionally, with the exception of political refugees, immigration to the United States has been two things almost without exception: young and male. Not only is the actual process physical arduous, but the gendered economic realities of immigration often presented opportunities for males to benefit from wages in el norte while it required women to maintain the “domestic economy” back in the “homeland.”

As those of us in the worlds of Chicano and Latino Studies know, immigration from Mexico and other parts of Latin America has been bucking this trend for some time. For the past few years, numbers reported by the Pew Hispanic Center have shown women account for almost half of the immigration flow from the South. Now, as ICE conducts weekly raids on worksites across the U.S., we have further proof of this.

This trend is a powerful reminder of the ways migrants are, in the words of noted Chicano scholar Ernesto Galarza, “ecological victims.” Their journey is dictated by economic necessity. This is not only a necessity framed by their own household circumstance in Latin America, but also the larger system which desires their body for labor and nurtures their movement from one part of the world to another, from abject poverty to first-world poverty.

Women are a rising share of the undocumented population because they occupy a position of diminished rights within global economic and political systems. This isn’t just a condition of the so-called Third World, it is a reality of the U.S. as well. The millions of Spanish-speaking women working in sweatshops in downtown Los Angeles are living proof of that. But there are others as well, women of all languages and hues and, yes, even economic classes.

The UN estimates that there are currently more than 12 million people working in “forced labor,” or “modern slavery” [see International Labour Organization]. Of these, the overwhelming majority are either adult women or children (both boys and girls). More than 20,000 of these slaves are working now in the U.S. While most of the women in this nation, and most of the immigrant women in this nation, are not slaves, millions of foreign-born women do find themselves working in an economic circumstance of little flexibility or freedom. They work in coercive environments which seek to employ them for the very reason that they are women with diminished political and economic rights.

Land of the free, indeed.

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