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On the same day that reporter Jeffrey Kaye visited the Tondo hospital in northwest Manila, members of an employees association wearing hospital uniforms rallied in the outside courtyard demanding pay raises. The nurses at the hospital took home about $261 a month, while in the United States, nurses earn, on average, more than fifteen times that rate of pay. No wonder so many of them leave the Philippines.
Between 2000 and 2007, nearly 78,000 qualified nurses left the Philippines to work abroad, but there's more to it than the pull of better wages: each year the Philippine president hands out Bagong Bayani ("modern-day heroes") awards to the country's "outstanding and exemplary" migrant workers. Migrant labor accounts for the Philippines' second largest source of export revenue—after electronics—and they ship out nurses like another country might export textiles. In 2008, the Philippines was one of the top ranking destination countries for remittances, alongside India ($45 billion), China ($34.5 billion), and Mexico ($26.2 billion).
Nurses in the Philippines, farmers in Senegal, Dominican factory workers in rural Pennsylvania, even Indian software engineers working in California—all are pieces of a larger system Kaye calls "coyote capitalism."
Coyote capitalism is the idea—practiced by many businesses and governments—that people, like other natural resources, are supplies to be shifted around to meet demand. Workers are pushed out, pulled in, and put on the line without consideration of the consequences for economies, communities, or individuals.
With a fresh take on a controversial topic, Moving Millions:
What does it all add up to? America's approach to importing workers looks from the outside like a patchwork of unnecessary laws and regulations, but the machinery of immigration is actually part of a larger, global system that satisfies the needs of businesses and governments, often at the expense of workers in every nation.
Drawing on Jeffrey Kaye's travels to places including Mexico, the U.K., the United Arab Emirates, the Philippines, Poland, and Senegal, this book, a healthy alternative to the obsession with migrants' legal status, exposes the dark side of globalization and the complicity of businesses and governments to benefit from the migration of millions of workers.
Years ago, when Jeffrey Kaye and I were both contributors to New West magazine, I happened to interview a Chicano activist who observed that Southern California is to the Mexican people what Israel is to the Jewish people — a homeland to which they enjoy a right of return. It was (and is) an illuminating and intentionally provocative notion, especially if we recall that the Jewish men, women and children who reached Palestine through the human smuggling operation called the Aliyah Bet were, strictly speaking, illegal aliens.
These observations came to mind as I read Kaye’s timely and compelling new book, “Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration” (Wiley, $27.95). Kaye, perhaps best-known to readers as a longtime correspondent on “PBS NewsHour,” conducted his research around the world, but the book is a uniquely American take on the immigrant experience. At a moment in history when we are debating the newly enacted “Papers, please” immigration law in Arizona, Kaye reminds us that he is among the 40 percent of all residents of Los Angeles who were born elsewhere.
His family journeyed from Russian-occupied Poland to England to the United States, seeking safety and opportunity and liberty, and he points out that his own origins are a reflection of the “mega-issues” that he studies in “Moving Millions.” “I need to acknowledge not only migrant ancestors and contemporary influences, but Alexander III Alexandrovich and Maurice Harold Macmillan, respectively the Tsar of Russia (1881-1894) and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom (1957-1963),” he writes. “If it were not for them, I would not be where I am today. Their policies and actions propelled my family to cross continents and oceans.”
Kaye points out that movement is a basic and enduring fact of human existence. “Humans are a migratory species,” he writes. “To escape problems and to seek out fresh prospects, we’ve been in the process of ‘globalization’ for as many as a hundred thousand years, ever since our ancestral wanderers ventured out of East Africa.” But it’s also true that the process is accelerating: “The world is experiencing an exodus on a scale never before seen.”
As we have seen in the coverage of the new Arizona law, Americans tend to focus on the legal status of the men, women and children who cross our borders. If they have papers, they are welcomed; if not, they are excluded. (The same cruel logic, of course, was used by the British authorities in Palestine to send refugees back to Europe.) But Kaye argues that “the legal arguments mask a convenient historical amnesia and obscure more fundamental issues.”
The factors that prompt and direct our migratory impulses, as Kaye points out, are complex and deep-rooted. In “Moving Milli
1 Lures and Blinders.
2 Growing People for Export.
3 Migrants in the Global Marketplace.
4 Switching Course: Reversals of Fortune.
5 Recruitment Agencies and Body Shops.
6 Smugglers as Migration Service Providers.
7 "We Rely Heavily on Immigrant Labor".
8 Servitude and Cash Flows.
9 "Help Wanted" or "No Trespassing".
10 Politics, Infl uence, and Alliances.
11 Southwest Showdowns.
12 Fresh Blood and National Selection.
13 "Torn Apart for the Need to Survive".