Following is the text of a keynote speech I gave at the 2014 AKIN annual meeting.
State of the Immigrant Rights Movement
Good evening. I want to thank AKIN for putting together this event and for inviting me to give this talk tonight. When the steering committee invited me to speak, it was suggested that I address the “State of the Immigrant Rights Movement.” Now, if I were a politician – say, the President of the United States – I might feel obliged to assure you that, “The state of our movement is strong.” Then, after your partisan applause, I would spend the next forty minutes explaining how good old American ingenuity and elbow grease will ultimately triumph over the myriad challenges we face today in this exceptional nation of ours, this “shining city on a hill.”
But, unhappily for all of you, I am an academic. And so instead I will say this: the state of our movement is complicated. The challenges we face are numerous and far from easy to resolve.
Ahh… the age old politics of respectability, most recently appearing in a HuffPo article on what immigrants contribute to the US economy. According to the writer, an immigration lawyer with decades of experience, “People do not immigrate to the United States to go on welfare!” And “The rising tide of immigration floats the boat of the U.S. economy.”
First, let’s acknowledge that both of these claims are well supported by data. What’s more, thanks to PRWORA and an ensuing patchwork of state laws, unauthorized immigrants are barred from receiving most forms of welfare, and authorized immigrants are severely limited in their access to public assistance. With regard to the economy, most reputable scholars agree that immigration has a small net positive impact on the economy as a whole (the impact of immigrants on so-called “low skill” workers is worth discussing, but only inasmuch as the conversation focuses on how corporate capitalism pits workers against one another by manufacturing a sense of scarcity).