Popularly Ignoring the Core-Periphery of Capitalist Production as it Pertains to Immigrants: A Response to “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family.”

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On October 14, 2013 Sonia Nazario published a seemingly heartfelt piece in the New York Times pertaining to the struggles of an immigrant family. In 1989 Lourdes Pineda immigrated to the U.S. leaving two children behind in Honduras. One boy, five years old at the time named Enrique, and one girl, seven years old at the time, were left with grandparents. Nazario has recently completed a book titled, “Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy’s Dangerous Odyssey to Reunite with his Mother.” Although this op-ed piece initially seems empathetic, the end of the narrative hints at larger misunderstandings pertaining to immigration in general.

Fast forward several years to the year 2000, and Enrique finds himself following in his mother’s footsteps in hopes of a better life. However, like his mother he also left behind a girlfriend who was pregnant while he slowly became established. After four years, he endeavored to bring his new family to the U.S. The family then resided in Jacksonville, Florida. Enrique eventually was arrested, while partying with his friends in a motel, over a warrant issued due to a delinquent parking ticket. Due to draconian immigration laws, Enrique faced being deported and replicating his own childhood through the separation of his family whom he had worked so hard to reconnect with.

Essentially, the case study ceases to be the center of Nazario’s writing. The author describes deportation doubling between 2006-2012 to over 400,000 people per year, but then remains primarily focused on the economic burden of these efforts. The author then goes on to suggest that she empathizes with the benefits of economic (rational choice) driven immigration, but questions the risk this places on the family unit, hinting at traditional family structures. Nazario then recommends directed economic stimulus to places like Honduras and surrounding developing countries that seem to source many of our recent illegal immigrants. The author states, “This targeted economic development would cost much less than the billions — $18 billion each year — we currently dole out for immigration enforcement.” This is where the author’s subject-position becomes all too clear. In fact it reflects early U.S. strategies of sending slaves back to Africa and creating for them the unstable country of Liberia. Beyond being too critical this author suffers from what Massey et al. suggested of economic driven immigration theories back in 1993—which was mixing up the level of analysis through which to empirically measure and study international immigration.

On a micro level of analysis the Nazario piece seems to be truly empathetic with the story of the Lourdes. In other words, she made a valiant effort at understanding the individual struggles of an immigrant family. But her scope of analysis remains myopically, if not ideologically, focused on the tragedy of the atomization of the family and uses law enforcement efforts as the central venue to conclude the emerging warning. This warning seems to harken back to a failed Modernization economic stimulus of the sixties. Nazario declares:

For too long, American immigration policy has ensured access to cheap, compliant workers. This has helped spur our economy, but has come at a great cost to taxpayers, as well to the immigrants themselves. We must demand a different approach, one in line with the goal of keeping families intact.

This woefully underdeveloped position could be summarized by the quote, “The core-periphery characteristics of the global economy are embedded and reproduced in the everyday lives of people as marginalized social relations” (Cantu, 1995). In other words the author somehow blames the 25-year consequences on the “rational” decision of the mother to disaggregate the family unit in pursuit of economic prosperity.

While everyone cannot be a sociologist and have the privileged access to the esoteric understanding and debates of the academy, this New York Times piece serves as a stark example of how people come to understand complex processes such as international immigration. More important, is how the above average venue (The New York Times in this case) reifies certain ideological positions concerning immigration and misunderstandings of capital production. More specifically as Massey et al. pointed out the dualism between labor and capital production (1993).

In conclusion, it seems that this op-ed contributor to a national syndicated media outlet could use a graduate course in demography. Rather than perpetuating fairly dangerous and exclusionary national identity politics in lieu of larger levels of analysis or as it pertains to capital modes of production for a global market.

Edward Green
Graduate Student
Sociology
Kansas State University

Sources:

Cantu, Lionel (1995). “The Peripheralization of Rural America: A case Study of Latino Migrants in American’s Heartland.” Sociological Perspectives, 38(3): 399-414.

Massey, Douglas S., Joaquin Arango, Graeme Hugo, Ali Kouaouci, Adela Pellagrino, J. Edward Taylor (1993). “Theories of International Migration: A Review and Appraisal.”

Nazario, Sonia (2013). “The Heartache of an Immigrant Family.” The New York Times, Oct. 14. Retrieved Tuesday October 15, 2013.

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