Pub. Date:
New Press, The
Guests and Aliens

Guests and Aliens

by Saskia Sassen
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Guests and Aliens presents a comprehensive analysis of worldwide immigration by one of the world’s leading experts on globalization. Putting the current “crisis” of immigration into a historical context for the first time, Sassen suggests that the American experience represents only one phase in a history of global border crossing. She describes the mass migrations of Italians and Eastern European Jews during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and the international dislocations—particularly after the end of World War II—that have engendered the “refugee” concept. Using these examples, Sassen explores the causes of immigration that have resulted in nations’ welcoming incomers as “guests” or disparaging them as “aliens,” and outlines an “enlightened approach” ( Publishers Weekly ) to improving US and European immigration policies.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781565846081
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 06/01/2000
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x (d)

About the Author

Saskia Sassen is a professor of sociology at the University of Chicago. Her previous books include The Global City , The Mobility of Labor and Capital, Losing Control , and Guests and Aliens.

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Chapter One


* * *

Today immigrants appear as threatening outsiders, knocking at the gates, or crashing the gates, or sneaking through the gates into societies richer than those from which the immigrants came. The immigration-receiving countries behave as though they were not parties to the process of immigration. But in fact they are partners. International migrations stand at the intersection of a number of economic and geopolitical processes that link the countries involved; they are not simply the outcome of individuals in search of better opportunities. Part of the problem of understanding immigration is recognizing how, why, and when governments, economic actors, media, and populations at large in highly developed countries participate in the immigration process.

    Refugee flows are also at the intersection of various processes. And for much of the twentieth century it has been recognized that refugees were unwilling departees, pushed by circumstances completely out of their control rather than by the desire for better opportunities in a rich county. Policies and conventions among states recognized refugee flows as an outcome of the actions of other actors—particularly the actions of states. This understanding is increasingly under scrutiny if not attack. Slowly the same imagery prevalent regarding international migration is gaining ascendance: refugees are now often seen as individuals in search of better opportunities in a rich county.

    International law, statecraft, and everyday discourse aboutimmigrants and refugees are out of touch with the political and economic realities which govern their existence. If it were true, for instance, that the flow of immigrants and refugees was simply a matter of individuals in search of better opportunities in a richer country, then the growing population and poverty in much of the world would have created truly massive numbers of poor invading highly developed countries, a great indiscriminate flow of human beings from misery to wealth. This has not been the case. Migrations are highly selective processes; only certain people leave, and they travel on highly structured routes to their destinations, rather than gravitate blindly toward any rich country they can enter. The reason migrations take this highly structured form has to do with the interactions and interrelations between sending and receiving countries.

    When policy makers and the general public misunderstand migration as caused simply by the poverty of or persecutions in poor countries, they are left with very few policy options. The seemingly logical response to a mass invasion would be to close all the borders. Xenophobia and racism are but the most extreme expression of this option in a country's political culture; milder versions of "closing the gates" to immigrants and refugees are appearing in all highly developed countries.

    My purpose in this book is to widen the options we envision for dealing with immigrants and refugees by making a broader interpretation of why these people in motion exist in the first place. To do so means looking at Europe itself, at its own history of migration and exile, for within that evolving European context there developed the active participation today of the rich nations in the system of migration flows.

    In particular, I have sought to explore how the history of migration and refugees in Europe over the last two centuries might lead to an interpretation which sets us free from the imagery of "mass invasion." I show how various migrations in the past and today have been, first, patterned and bounded in durations and in geography. Second, I show how such migrations transcend the brute facts of persecution, poverty, and overpopulation. Of course I could not and would not deny the spur of such forces, but argue that these brutal motivations are raw ingredients which combine and metamorphose within larger political and economic structures so that people are set in motion. When persecution, poverty, and overpopulation are seen as no longer sufficient explanations in themselves of migration flows, then images and metaphors based on invasion will no longer satisfy us, and policy-making concerned with immigration could be more innovative, because it would address a confined event, a shaped experience, a manageable process.

    Understanding the place of migrants in the development of Europe leads back into the beginnings of modern industrialization, in particular the shift to factory-based manufacturing and the development of the railroad. The shifts in the economy from the late eighteenth to the late nineteenth century were complemented by new ways in which states dealt with religious and political refugees. Shifts in modernization of course occurred at different times in different countries and regions, and at different rates. But generally these shifts occurred during an era of little border control and the lack of bureaucratic and technical state capacities for such control. The migrations occurred in patterns sufficiently complex to set limits to the size and duration of flows, and determine the geography of flows. I explore if this shaping of flows tempered the will of individuals to migrate, and set limits to the numbers who wound up migrating. And I probe, more analytically, whether and how such systemic conditioning of migrations might have had an effect akin to a quasi-equilibrating mechanism.

    We know that high-growth situations have required mobilizing "foreign" labor supplies throughout the period of colonial expansion. Such recourse to foreign labor has assumed many different forms: vast forced-labor movements for work in mines and plantations, the most extreme form of which was slavery; but also millions of indentured workers from the Indian subcontinent shipped to the Caribbean, white European indentured servants to North America, and forced-labor systems imposed on indigenous populations in South America, such as the mita and the encomienda. Because it was not known to have any other resources, Venezuela was raided for labor to supply the plantations in the Caribbean islands. These are familiar features; they are generally recognized to be an integral part of the economic history of the Americas, of Africa, of Asia. In this context it is also worth noting that Japan, untill recently perhaps the single highly developed country that had negotiated massive growth in the 1950s and 1960s without resorting to labor imports, has had to resort to immigrant workers for agriculture, fishing, and manufacturing and is expected to need large numbers of people for low-wage service jobs that are being vacated by elderly Japanese ready to retire.

    But what about Europe? The master images about migration and Europe are the millions who left the continent. How important and how integral a part were labor migrations within Europe over the last two centuries? The West European nations have steadfastly maintained that they are not immigration countries, that immigration in Europe basically began in the 1960s—an exceptional measure due to the massive destruction of the war and the need for reconstruction. I try to show how historical reality diverged from this belief.

    Though my data are mainly numeric and geographic, this alternative history cannot be told without considering the cultural and political representations of the migrant in different periods and under different conditions. Today it is frequently asserted that one of the problems with contemporary immigration is racial, cultural, and often religious distance—all factors which can be seen as creating barriers toward the assimilation of immigrants. I therefore ask, were racism and antiimmigrant sentiment less likely when the immigrant was of the same race and, broadly speaking, the same West European culture?

    These issues culminate in exploring the meaning of borders. Today we see a combination of drives to create border-free economic spaces and drives for renewed border control to keep immigrants and refugees out. The context in which today's efforts to stop immigration assume their distinct meaning for me is the current transnationalization of flows of capital, goods, information, and culture. Governments and economic actors in highly developed countries are increasingly seeking to reduce the role of national borders in such flows, to create transnational spaces. Current immigration policy in developed countries is increasingly at odds with other major policy frameworks in the international system and with the growth of global economic integration.

    The European Community and the national governments of member states have found the juxtaposition of these divergent regimes rather difficult to handle. Indeed, all highly developed countries have received rapidly growing numbers of legal and undocumented immigrants over the last decade; none has found its immigration policy effective. These countries are opening up their economies to foreign investment and trade, and deregulating their financial markets. The emergence of a new economic regime sharply reduces the role of national governments and national borders in controling international transactions. Yet the framework of immigration policy in these countries remains centered on older conceptions of the nation-state and of national borders. Immigration policy has to account for the facts of rapid economic internationalization, the corresponding transformation of national governments, and the new meaning of borders when it comes to economic transactions.

    A parallel dilemma is shaping up on the refugee front. Beginning with World War I, West European states had developed the full technical and bureaucratic capacities to control their borders and regulate a growing share of activities and events taking place in their territories. A crucial component of this process is the strengthening of the interstate system. The definition of refugee coming out of the Geneva convention shortly after World War I, is a very narrow definition of refugee and a function of the interstate system. It basically describes those fleeing from communism. The state participates in the identification of refugees and in their regulation. This definition held for the next fifty years, the period of the coming of age of the interstate system.

    But in the two decades preceding World War I and the subsequent decade, Europe was awash with millions of refugees, marking the beginning of the modern mass refugee era, a profoundly European history. And then again in the 1930s and after World War II Europe saw millions of refugees. I have explored the mechanisms which allowed European states to negotiate the divergent conditions represented by a very narrow definition of "the refugee," the reality of a mass of refugees classifiable or not, the absolute sovereignty of the state in refugee matters, and resulting rigidities of the interstate system.

    The interstate system has played a crucial role in the definition of the modern refugee beginning with the end of WWI. But in the last ten years a redefinition is emerging. This is partly because of the changing role of the interstate system in an increasingly global world. Partly because the end of the Cold War calls for a change in the formal definition of the "refugee." Partly because the drama of large-scale refugee shifts is being played out today in Asia and Africa. Within the framework of the West European states, the question "Who is a refugee?" is finally complicated by the growing belief that these are economic migrants masquerading as political victims. Who is a refugee? Are those driven by economic despair which may come from war and generalized oppression as was the case with the 2.5 million Jews who left Russia and East Europe between 1880 and World War I, "legitimate" refugees? Does such a broadening of the definition undermine the status of refugee? Is control by the state over the definition of refugees tenable in the new political and economic reality of Western Europe, one characterized by growing transnationalization?

These questions about immigrants and refugees, and about the policy dilemmas they evoke, organize this book. Displaced, uprooted, migratory people seem to have dwelled in the penumbra of European history, people living in the shadows of places where they do not belong. But I call immigrants and refugees "today's settlers" to indicate that old concepts of belonging do not fit present realities. Migrations are acts of settlement and of habitation in a world where the divide between origin and destination is no longer a divide of Otherness, a world in which borders no longer separate human realities.

Table of Contents

3.After 184833
4.Nations and Migrations: Germany, France, Italy51
5.The State and the Foreigner77
6.Patterns, Rights, Regulations99
7.Making Immigration Policy Today133
Appendix.Tables, Immigrants and Asylum Seekers 1960-1996159

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