By Albaro X. Tutasig
Committee on U.S.-Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)
Turn to the latest news on U.S. immigration and you often encounter images of politicians scrambling about, fighting and debating over decisions that will determine the future of millions of undocumented immigrants in this country.
There are many sides to this debate. Some highlight the economic benefits immigrants bring to the U.S. through their labor and consumption, and others fear the introduction of criminal elements and call for a complete militarization of the U.S.-Mexican border. While these debates are often the core focus of the mainstream media, there is seems to be a lack of awareness regarding the needs and rights of the migrants themselves. Who are these millions of people, and why have they left their homes and families for another country?
There are approximately 11.7 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the United States. Most of these individuals migrate to the United States for multiple reasons; search for economic opportunities and safety are among the most prominent. Of course, immigration is not exclusive to the United States. Powerful economies throughout the globe also hold immigration to be a growing global phenomenon. Globally, between 1990 and 2013, the number of international migrants rose by 77 million or by 50 percent. 50 percent is a huge increase, but what has been the cause of this dramatic increase?
In her article “Is this the way to go? – The Handling Immigration in a Global Era”, Saskia Sassen, a Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, credits the recent boom in migration to the “…sharp growth of government debt, poverty, unemployment, as well as the closing of traditional economic sectors in the global south, party due to neoliberal economic globalization…” As a result, people who choose to cross international borders run the risk of unsafe migration to their destination. To that end, I now turn to the more serious topic.
The immigration of different groups of peoples from different eras has, historically, always entailed a journey paved with hardships and brutal struggles. Immigrants who chose to migrate, in spite of these notorious struggles, manifest their unconditional vulnerability, thus willing to undertake treacherous actions that strip them of their values, human dignity, and the chance to socio-economic progress.
Going back to her article, Sassen faults globalization for the growing demand of cheap labor, as well as the reestablishment of old local/regional trafficking networks now developed to meet demands on a global scale.
With the FIFA World Cup fast approaching and the 2016 Summer Olympic Games only two years away, Brazil has a new global market for criminal organizations to take advantage of. The games will draw a great number of tourists eager for the games, as well as those seeking perverse pleasures. Brazil may soon top Thailand as the top country for trafficked children.
Child sex trafficking and prostitution is not a new issue for Brazil. According to the National Forum for the Prevention of Child Labor, in 2012 the number of child sex workers ranged at around half a million—half a million too many. From a globalized perspective, these sporting events also attract criminal networks from other South American countries.
The United States is not immune to sex trafficking either. Major sporting events held every year in the United States—Super Bowl—are often accompanied by a growing number of arrests made because of prostitution. Unfortunately, some cases sometimes involve minors. Last February alone, the New York made 45 arrests relating to sex trafficking and other related offenses, while rescuing more than a dozen teen sex workers.
The cruel truth is that exploited victims lack a voice. Especially in the United States, victims are simply too scared to inform authorities about their mistreatment and conditions because of their immigration status. Some immigrant families have their papers held by their employers, or are threatened if they talk. In other words, it means the difference between remaining silent and running the risk of deportation. Employers often exploit their workers knowing the dilemma they encounter.
Why should people’s values be undermined because of the “undocumented” or “illegal” label placed on them? In the United States alone, some 5,500 immigrants have died crossing the U.S.-Mexico border since 1998. Why is there not enough media coverage on these trends? Do their deaths seem less significant because they lacked citizenship? Do the other exploitative issues not matter as much because they are not citizens?
These victims are human beings. They have feelings. They have families. They have rights. Globalization is supposed to be the emergence of countries working together to build a more prosperous global society. Instead it has boosted the rise of a malignant system that shows no mercy to vulnerable individuals in pursuit of a more promising future for themselves and future generations. Every silenced victim is a crushed dream, the end of that person’s aspirations.
But there is hope. Migrants across the globe have stood up for themselves in an effort to advocate for global policy changes. Organizations such as the International Migrants Alliance stand for a several progressive migrant causes, including the establishment of orientation from sending and receiving countries directed at migrants informing them of their rights. The people at the forefront of such organizations are migrants; migrants who should not have to be fighting for basic human rights to begin with, but do so because of the unjust circumstances of our global system. They are intelligent humans that moved to seek a better life and are now combating burdens, thus paving a more safe and just path for future generations of migrants.