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Toward a Freer Flow of Labor (with Rights)

June 30, 2008

Politicians who argue for restricting immigration cast newcomers as an invasion of foreign settlers. Their rhetoric misses a simple fact. Many of the people who cross the border to work in U.S. farms and factories aren’t looking for a new home. Many just want to work.

Most new immigrants are deeply attached to their families, their communities and their nations. They need more income, yes, and with the wage differential,even low-paying jobs in the U.S. are an attractive option. But given the choice, a significant number would be “circular” migrants,traveling north to work for part of each year and returning home regularly to tend to their businesses and families. As Princeton-based sociologist Douglas Massey and others have argued,in the context of the U.S. and Mexico,the regular flow of workers back and forth across the border to meet specific labor needs has economic and personal human logic.

Circularity can be a good thing...

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Jennifer Gordon is an associate professor at Fordham University School of Law and the author of Suburban Sweatshops: The Fight for Immigrant Rights (2005).