Immigration: Critical Readings on the buzzword of 2016

2016 was a year of disruptions, collapses, and reactions and nothing embodied this more than the dominance of discussions around immigration, and the resurgence of the right-wing in the United States and Europe under the auspices of controlling a migrant crisis which threatened the survivability of the State and its citizen-subjects alike.

eu-poll-immigration-as-top-concern-2Many readers might think of the rhetoric of Trump and nod in understanding, but this is even more pronounced in EU member states, where concerns about broadly-framed immigration surged to the top of the domestic public’s list of concerns. The attached graph shows the six most frequently mentioned concerns among Brits leading up to Brexit. Note the shift from “economic situation” to “immigration”.

However, I think it is wrong to chock this up purely to xenophobia and some sort of nebulous hatred for the “other” among the populaces of the captialist centers (though such attitudes are certainly cultivated and exploited to varrying extents). In acknowledgement that immigration is a complex, dynamic component to an equaly complex worldwide capitalist system, I am sharing three choice links which I believe stimulate critical thought on the topic of immigration. As both a student of critical social sciences and as someone who exists within the milleu of “migrant justice” activism, it is my hope that this topic is handled delicately by those concerned with justice and dignity for the masses of the world, perhaps these works will help.


by Nemequene Tundama

While these pro-immigration movements are indeed helpful and necessary in the short-term they also neglect the background story and therefore tend to reinforce Western-centric narratives in the long-term. Narratives that fundamentally portray us migrants and refugees as people to be saved from what is ‘self-inflicted barbaric’ conditions back home. Narratives that entertain the idea that the solution lies in the West’s reaction to the ‘crisis’ rather than in destroying its cunning parasitism that lies at its source.

Here, Nemequence Tundama provides a salient critique of pro-immigration movments in the “west” (i.e. the global centers of capital – Canada, the United States, and western Europe) and their relation to imperialism. They argue that such movements have a tendency to erase the role that imperialism plays in creating mass migration and refugee crises, helping reproduce colonial attitudes of superiority among liberal, cosmopolitan professionals who have the resources to co-opt these solidarity movements as they exist now.

Nemequene Tundama is an anti-imperialist activist based in London, UK, originally from Muisca Territory, Colombia. They are currently working on organising an anti-imperialist study group in London. If interested in this study group or for other inquiries, Nemequene can be reached at


by Maximillian C. Forte

Immigration, rightly or wrongly, has been marched to the frontline of current political struggles in Europe and North America. Whether exaggerated or accurate, the role of immigration is situated as a central factor in the Brexit referendum in the UK, and the rise of the “America First” Trump movement in the US. It seems impossible that one can have a calm discussion about immigration today, without all sorts of agendas, assumptions, insinuations and recriminations coming into play. Staking a claim in immigration debates are a wide range of actors and interests, with everything from national identity and national security to multiculturalism, human rights, and cosmopolitan globalism. However, what is relatively neglected in the public debates is discussion of the political economy of immigration, and especially a critique of the role of immigration in sustaining capitalism.


This work introduces a critique of immigration discourse in relation to capitalism and the role immigration can play in sustaining a capitalist, imperialist world-system through acting as a “safety valve” for collapsing neo-colonial regimes or flooding markets with cheap labor so as to drive down the wages of domestic workers. Forte expands this critique in two other posts (linked below) discussing the liberal ideology of “immigrationism” which serves to silence discussions about the causes and effects of the current worldwide migrant crisis. Forte also disects popular accompanying buzzwords to immigration such as “undocumented” or “illegal immigrant” which serve to polarize politics, particularly US politics, without offering real solutions to either migrants or domestic workers.

Max Forte, who’s work has be shared and cited frequently on this blog, teaches full time in Anthropology and Sociology at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec. He is the author of numerous books as well as the publisher of  The New Imperialism series, which features research by students in his advanced seminar as well as his own research. He tweets at @ZeroAnthro and can be reached for inquiries at


by Matthew Hayes

Yet, Trump’s election also reproduces the conditions of political polarization and economic vulnerability that has helped spur a migration flow of tens of thousands of U.S. citizens to Ecuador over the last decade. As the impact of North-South migration to locations in lower cost Latin American countries leads to various forms of transnational gentrification, and even land expropriation and displacement, they also risk reproducing the poverty and dislocation that are often at the heart families’ decisions to send loved ones across the border to the North – any way they can.

Here, Matthew Hayes explores the contradicitions of immigration discourse by contrasting the position of Ecuadorian migrant workers in the United States (“Cuencanos”) and the large expatriate community in Ecuador, which is primarily of white, North American origin. Hayes suggests that immigration, rather than simply poor migrants coming to wealthy states, is instead a more dynamic system of moving capital and labor around the world, leading to “globalized gentrification”.

Matthew Hayes is an Associate Professor and has been with the Saint Thomas department of sociology in Fredericton, New Brunswick, since 2009 and is a colleague of mine at the NB Media Co-op. His current research is on North-to-South migration, particularly expatriates from North America living in Ecuador.He tweets at @matthewfhayes and can be reached for inquiries