Abraham F. Lowenthal


On his book Global California: Rising to the Cosmopolitan Challenge

Cover Interview of June 08, 2009

A close-up

Global California should be of interest to national, state and local government officials, corporate and trade union executives, officers and active members of non-governmental organizations, civic and religious leaders, the media and the broad attentive public.  It will also be of interest to scholars and students who are concerned with the growing role of non-central government actors in the making of international policy; to those working on the “intermestic” issues at the boundary between international and domestic affairs; and to those around the world who seek to understand how the United States is changing and what role will be played in the twenty-first century by California and the U.S. West Coast.

An excerpt from pages 101 – 102 illustrates well the book’s substance and style—here are some broad principles to formulate a California perspective on immigration:

“First, there is overwhelming consensus in California (as elsewhere) that current U.S. immigration policies are badly flawed.  They tend to reinforce labor shortages; interfere with scientific and technical progress; keep families separated for extended periods; provide income to criminal people-smugglers; cause risks and even deaths to immigrants; facilitate labor exploitation; allow what often seem like sudden and uncontrolled surges of immigration; present severe fiscal challenges to locales and states with large clusters of unauthorized immigrants; lower the average educational level and productivity of the workforce; and significantly contribute to eroding the rule of law.  These results are the opposite of what Californians want.

Second, because of its aging population as well as the increased educational level of its residents, California in the coming years will probably require more immigrant labor, both skilled and unskilled, not less.  The evolving demography of Mexico, in turn, means that Mexico will face strong pressures to export workers for another decade or so, but that within about fifteen years the number of Mexicans entering the workforce may well begin to fall.  The creation of jobs in Mexico should increase, and the pressures for migration should begin to diminish.  In California and nationally, the policy challenge in dealing with Mexican immigration—the largest, most visible, and most controversial flow—is essentially how to manage this issue until migration pressures predictably subside within fifteen years.

Third, Californians with divergent perspectives share an interest in transferring to the federal government more of the costs of providing education, health, and other social services to unauthorized immigrants.  As unauthorized immigrant concentrations spread to several other gateway states, it should be possible to build a winning multistate coalition in support of such transfers.  California’s political leaders should be aggressively exploring that prospect.

Fourth, most Californians appreciate that all will benefit if those immigrants who do establish long-term residency, whether authorized or not, can become healthy, educated, English-speaking, taxpaying, credit-worthy, property-owning and law-abiding naturalized citizens, contributing positively to the state’s development and welfare.  The successful incorporation of immigrants into the economic, social, political, and cultural future of California, in turn, requires investing in the education of immigrants and their children at all levels; expanding efforts to support English language instruction; promoting naturalization, voter registration, and suffrage; facilitating immigrants’ access to credit and other financial services; and supporting community-based agencies providing social services to immigrants.

These issues should be high on California’s agenda, not mainly out of charity but mostly from enlightened self-interest.  California’s economic competitiveness and social cohesion for decades to come will depend significantly on the educational and vocational achievement of its foreign-born immigrants and their children and on their identification with and commitment to the communities where they reside.

Fifth, a viable approach to national immigration policy must be balanced and pragmatic.  It should foster regularization of the volume and composition of immigrant flows so that they mesh more closely with labor market requirements, family unification, and other goals.  Policymakers should try to maximize the benefits and mitigate the adverse consequences of a deep and powerful current that is ultimately responsive mainly to family and market considerations and thus cannot be simply turned on or off by government policy at any level, much less by mere rhetoric and symbols.”