Immigration in a Changing Economy: California's Experience; Forbidden Workers: Illegal Chinese Immigrants and American Labor

In This Review

Immigration in a Changing Economy: California's Experience

By Kevin F. McCarthy and George Vernez
Rand, 1997
338 pp. $20.00

Forbidden Workers: Illegal Chinese Immigrants and American Labor

By Peter Kwong
New Press, 1997
273 pp. $24.00

One-third of foreign-born residents of the United States live in California, differing greatly by country of origin but coming disproportionately from Asia and Latin America. The McCarthy-Vernez book is a fact-filled, sober, and sane analysis of California's immigrants, who, compared to other American immigrant populations, have increased in number rapidly in recent decades, have come more frequently from Mexico and Central America, and have had less education. The authors find that immigrants help the state economy on balance but also create some financial burdens. They call for placing less priority on family reunification relative to other objectives. They also advocate more requirements for educational attainment on entry, and more emphasis on both English proficiency and education for resident immigrants and their children, lest they, and California with them, fall behind the rest of the country.

Forbidden Workers provides a fascinating and highly readable account of networks that facilitate illegal emigration from China -- mainly from Fuzhou, a city of five million -- to New York and elsewhere, and of the lives immigrants encounter. Migration involves incurring large debts to "snakeheads," who arrange for transport and entry and often brutally enforce payment. Because of their illegality and constant pressure from their creditors, Chinese immigrants often accept jobs that pay far less than the U.S. minimum wage and violate American labor standards, and they have no effective legal recourse. The magnitude of the problem, perhaps small but unknown, is likely to grow as the Chinese increasingly seek to improve their prospects by moving out of rural areas.

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