A veteran photojournalist explores the human side of globalization and argues for new ways to think about and legislate around immigration
For two decades veteran photojournalist David Bacon has documented the connections between labor, migration, and the global economy. In Illegal People Bacon explores the human side of globalization, exposing the many ways it uproots people in Latin America and Asia, driving them to migrate. At the same time, U.S. immigration policy makes the labor of those displaced people a crime in the United States. Illegal People explains why our national policy produces even more displacement, more migration, more immigration raids, and a more divided, polarized society.
Through interviews and on-the-spot reporting from both impoverished communities abroad and American immigrant workplaces and neighborhoods, Bacon shows how the United States' trade and economic policy abroad, in seeking to create a favorable investment climate for large corporations, creates conditions to displace communities and set migration into motion. Trade policy and immigration are intimately linked, Bacon argues, and are, in fact, elements of a single economic system.
In particular, he analyzes NAFTA's corporate tilt as a cause of displacement and migration from Mexico and shows how criminalizing immigrant labor benefits employers. For example, Bacon explains that, pre-NAFTA, Oaxacan corn farmers received subsidies for their crops. State-owned CONASUPO markets turned the corn into tortillas and sold them, along with milk and other basic foodstuffs, at low, subsidized prices in cities. Post-NAFTA, several things happened: the Mexican government was forced to end its subsidies for corn, which meant that farmers couldn't afford to produce it; the CONASUPO system was dissolved; and cheap U.S. corn flooded the Mexican market, driving the price of corn sharply down. Because Oaxacan farming families can't sell enough corn to buy food and supplies, many thousands migrate every year, making the perilous journey over the border into the United States only to be labeled "illegal" and to find that working itself has become, for them, a crime.
Bacon powerfully traces the development of illegal status back to slavery and shows the human cost of treating the indispensable labor of millions of migrants-and the migrants themselves-as illegal. Illegal People argues for a sea change in the way we think, debate, and legislate around issues of migration and globalization, making a compelling case for why we need to consider immigration and migration from a globalized human rights perspective.
Review The Huffington Post - July 15, 2009
“Illegal People is a deep political analysis elucidating on migration and why it has increased in the context of globalization, while at the same time humanizing migrants, a much-needed approach. Bacon's solid journalistic skills seamlessly depict the human face of pain, sweat, work and death of migrants behind his serious analyses and theories . . . the independent work of David Bacon and his book Illegal People represents an island of rationality in a sea of tumult.”
"Bacon's timely analysis is as cool and competent as his labor advocacy is unapologetic. In mapping the political economy of migration, with an unwavering eye on the rights and dignity of working people, Bacon offers an invaluable corrective to America's hobbled discourse on immigration and a spur to genuine, creative action."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"A fascinating look at trade and immigration policies and the people directly affected by them."-
"David Bacon is the conscience of American journalism and an extraordinary social documentarist."
"Illegal People documents how undocumented workers have become the world's most exploited workforce-subject to raids and arrests, forced to work at low pay and under miserable conditions, and prevented from organizing on their own behalf. In this richly reported book, David Bacon makes a powerful case for the centrality of 'illegals'-of all nationalities-in the global struggle for economic justice."
—Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
"From the Hawaiian sugar plant organizing drives of the 1930s to the 2007 miners' strike in the Sonoran Desert, Bacon chronicles the struggles and lives of Mexican, Guatemalan, Filipino, Indian and Salvadoran workers . . . [and] unabashedly writes as an advocate. The result is refreshing."
—Gary Delgado, ColorLines
"David Bacon's book . . . demonstrates that there is hope, and we can win something better, today, not just for immigrants, but for all working people!"
—Dolores Huerta, cofounder of United Farm Workers
A Beacon Press book