How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Carlos Fuentes on immigration, circa 2006

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Carlos Fuentes during a tribute to Mexican writer and anthropologist Fernando Benitez (1912-2000) at the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City, December 18, 2011

One of the many things that celebrated Mexican writer and diplomat Carlos Fuentes was outspoken about was immigration, including the U.S. labor market's demand for it.

Fuentes, who died today at 83, was best known as a novelist; his 1962 novel "The Death of Artemio Cruz," about the loss of idealism following the Mexican revolution, established his legacy as a leading political writer and thinker. He was also a columnist and political analyst, among other things, and served in Mexico's foreign service as ambassador to England and France.

His foreign policy background made him a great interview on complex issues like immigration, a topic he covered in several interviews during recent years. He was critical of U.S. immigration policies, all the while recognizing the demand for cheap labor that helped lure migrants here.

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Immigrants wanted: The future role of immigration to U.S. and Europe

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Spain's version of a green card, January 2009

Since early this year, the Washington, D.C.-based Migration Policy Institute has partnered with the European University Institute in Italy to produce a series of reports and policy briefs on the immigration challenges facing U.S. and European governments. They have explored demographic changes, the economics of immigration and integration, among other things.

A final report just released looks at the shared challenges on both sides of the Atlantic in the future and potential reforms - and at the role that immigration will play as the native-born population ages and leave the workforce.

In Europe, these changes could potentially threaten the region's future economy and global influence, the report concludes, making inbound migration a necessity. From the report:

While the population of Europe will decrease or stabilize, depending upon migration scenarios, most other regions will continue to grow. As a result, the relative weight of Europe in world population terms will dwindle, thereby potentially undermining Europe’s influence in world affairs and the institutions of global governance.

Without migration, Europe would already be experiencing a decline in the size of its labor force. The reduction in the native labor force has already begun and will accelerate in coming years, in stark contrast to many emerging economies that are going through demographic expansion.

Under a no-migration scenario, the working-age population of the European Union would fall by a projected 84 million, or 27 percent of its current size, between 2010 and 2050. Even with migration maintained at the relatively high precrisis levels — a highly unlikely scenario when considering the euphoric economic conditions that drew immigrants to the European Union during the mid-2000s boom and the dramatic collapse that succeeded it — this loss would reach 35 million over the same period, and reductions of 5 to 11 million each would be expected in Germany, Italy, and Poland.

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Will the recession hurt immigrants' move up the economic ladder?

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For much of the last century, the United States has provided a means of upward mobility for immigrants willing to work their way up the economic ladder. But with a slower economy predicted for the next several years, how will this affect their prospects?

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute examines the economic integration of immigrants in the U.S., short-term and long-term. While immigrants enjoy low levels of unemployment and make up a large share of the labor force, they are much more likely to work in lower-wage and lower-status occupations, according to the report, with even high-skilled immigrants working beneath their skill level.

Given predictions of a very slow economic recovery, immigrant workers could well hit a lower ceiling on their way up than in the past. From the executive summary:

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