Immigrants at the Margins 3&5

In Chapter 3, “Useful Invaders,” Calavita details the composition of immigrants in Italy and Spain, and the economies of the two countries which use and abuse immigrant workers. She explains how there can be both low local unemployment and high immigrant employment, because there are “too few good jobs, and too many bad ones.” She reiterates that immigrants fill the jobs that local people do not want, willing to be paid scant amounts in the underground economy under unjust working conditions. The low birthrates and declining population of locals mean that not only are immigrants needed by these countries for their labor, but also for their ability to make these countries younger. Further, female immigrant workers are found in large numbers in elderly care, and are taking care of the aging population in a way local Europeans are unable to. Calavita tells how immigrants usefulness to employers is due to their difference and lack of integration, which makes them flexible and willing to do work nobody else will to survive. She ends by telling how the immigrant’s marginality is reproduced from within Spain and Italy from their economic location as much as their legal status, arguing that both legal and economic marginality are intertwined.

In Chapter 5, “Everyday Dynamics of Exclusion,” Calavita details the struggle of immigrant integration in the rights of healthcare and housing. She shows how the government and bureaucratic systems, as well as racialization and immigrants economic location all work together to preclude immigrants from accessing rights, even those they are entitled to. An example of this is the way immigrants who are eligible for healthcare are not aware of it, are turned away from healthcare centers, are made to jump through difficult hoops to secure access, and avoid seeking healthcare for fear of discrimination and deportation. She also details the most serious problem immigrants face, that of finding housing. Landlords and rental agencies sometimes refuse to rent to immigrants, or make them pay high prices for low quality quarters with no running water or bathrooms. When they do get housing, it is sometimes in the city, but separated from the residential districts, reproducing immigrants’ location on the margins of society. She also notes that it is not just illegal immigrants who have trouble finding housing, and face overcrowding and health risks, but even well-off legal immigrants have trouble finding housing. She ends the chapter with a look at immigrants’ resistance strategies, which include protest in the form of sit-ins, marches, squatting, strikes, and organizing. Sometimes these strategies work, and sometimes they do not, but she argues: immigrants are succeeding in bringing attention to social problems which have always existed, and negatively affect everyone marginalized by the legal system and economy.

In one of the resistance examples Calavita tells how the immigrant workers being swindled by their employers in Italy went on strike but their local Italian coworkers did not. I think this is related to the above argument that immigrants are bringing attention to problems in labor which have persisted and effect local Europeans too, but for some reason have not been protested or noticed before. Do you think there is a reason the Italians did not join their immigrant coworkers on strike? Why? And do you think local Europeans, specifically Italians with their powerful labor unions, have brought attention to these conditions and just not been noticed? Or is it just that they are selective with their claims and demonstrations in relation to their immigrant counterparts?

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