Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Beyond Open Borders

The history of Puerto Rican migration to the U.S. shows why the fight for migrant rights must also be a struggle for racial justice.

By Lilia Fernández, NACLA Report on the Americas
January 5, 2016

The third in a multi-part NACLA series on migration in the Americas – past and present. (Earlier articles in the series can be found here and here.)

Immigration activists in the United States have called for open borders as a solution to the abuses suffered by so many migrants. While there are many good reasons to support this, it’s useful to consider one example of what open-border policy and practice might look like, namely Puerto Rican labor migration to the mainland U.S. in the mid-20th century.

During and after World War II, U.S. officials encouraged and recruited Puerto Ricans to migrate to the mainland to fill agricultural and industrial jobs, particularly in areas with labor shortages. Because Puerto Ricans were assigned U.S. citizenship in the first decades of the 20th century, they bypassed the official immigration inspection to which foreign nationals were subjected. Legally speaking, they were simply domestic “American” migrants, like anyone from Tennessee, Montana, or Virginia who relocated to another state.

Puerto Rican “open border” migration occurred at the same time as the much more highly regulated migration of Mexican contract workers through the Bracero Program (1942-1964). These simultaneous migrations offer a useful comparison of open borders versus regulated or restricted migration, and the consequences of both.[...]

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