Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration

Image of Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration
Release Date: 
April 1, 2010
Reviewed by: 

 Jeffrey Kaye’s timely book, Moving Millions: How Coyote Capitalism Fuels Global Immigration, focuses on the impact of immigration worldwide.  The author uses the term “migrant” to describe immigrant labor both legal as well as illegal. His book describes the interdependency countries have with cheap labor to support the worldwide economy, the billions of dollars in remittances (money sent home), and the dominance migrant labor has on economic development. At the core of this discourse is a billion-dollar industry of human smuggling no longer controlled by the “coyote,” a term largely reserved for the lone pirate paid by a desperate migrant to navigate the dangerous wasteland between the U.S. and Mexico.    Kaye says the smuggling of migrant labor has gone corporate.  “At the top are the Patrones, the chief executives that oversee divisions and departments with specialists in transportation and logistics, bribery, surveillance, marketing, banking procedures, and real estate.”  Trafficking has proliferated internationally on a scale that the United Nations estimates at nearly ninety million people worldwide.  The UN estimates that of the ninety million workers, approximately forty million are believed to be illegal.  Smuggling organizations that reach into Vietnam, Thailand, Sweden, Spain, Senegal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Poland, Italy, Czechoslovakia, Russia, Mexico, and Central America transport migrant labor to work in manufacturing, hospitality, agriculture, construction, meat packing, high tech, and any other job hard to fill locally.  Companies and countries are dependent on millions of foreign migrant laborers to fill jobs that can’t—or won’t—be filled by the native population—and to do it for less.  The familiar chronicle of immigrant labor constructing a building one brick at a time is not confined to the United States and Mexico.  For example, Kaye uses The United Arab Emirates as an example of the quintessential hard labor, migrant-dependent economy. It was “legions of foreign laborers, most from South Asia” that built Dubai’s colossal skyscrapers and towering hotels. With a population of 4.5 million residents, more than 90 percent of the labor forces are expatriate workers who send $10 billion home in remittances. Supporting these massive operations are millions of dollars moving through the hands of small-time smugglers to heads of government agencies. The process is ripe for graft and corruption.  U.S. law enforcement officials, including the FBI, took bribes up and down the smuggling industry network.  From 2004 to 2006, American prosecutors charged two hundred public employees with helping to move narcotics or illegal immigrants across the U.S.-Mexican border.  Kaye tells the story of Senior U.S. Border Patrol agents Mario Alvarez and Samuel McClaren, who helped launch a California program that jailed dozens of human smugglers.  They believed they were to receive an award. Instead, they were arrested and charged with releasing illegal immigrants from federal custody in exchange for cash.  Stories of abuse of various kinds appear throughout the book. A common theme is a job promised, but never delivered. Prospective workers pay thousands of dollars, often borrowing the money from loan sharks charging high interest rates.  The realities are the same: jobs far below what was described and pay a fraction of what was agreed upon. The migrant, afraid to complain for fear of deportation or arrest, becomes a slave to the employer, sometimes living in deplorable housing conditions with no means of escape. The immigration story is not limited to physical labor only. Many professionals were caught in the same scenario of broken promises.  The high-tech industry came under fire for hiring too many H-1B visa holders accused of taking jobs from Americans and undercutting U.S. wages. About five hundred thousand people—an approximation—are working in the United States on nonimmigrant “specialty occupation” H-1B temporary work visas good for six years. These professionals are working in businesses that can pay a foreign-born Ph.D. less than an American with a bachelor’s degree.  Many of the recruitment agencies, particularly in India, were operating “body shops:” agencies that delivered employees from India where many engineers flooded the U.S. during the booming dot com years.  The tale of “Subbu” from Bangalore is a good example of an immigrant in the high tech industry looking for a better job than he could get in India to help support his mother.  Leaving his wife and children back home, he was not planning a permanent stay in the United States.  He moved to New Jersey and expected to work full time after paying a body shop $3,500.  As a condition of employment he was required to sign a seven-page agreement pledging to work for the agency for eighteen months or face a lawsuit—even though the agreement was illegal. When he arrived in the U.S. he was told there was no job, and he was sent to live in a small apartment with eleven other recruits.  It took five months before he was employed.  The recruiter “sold” Subbu’s visa to another body shop and rented him out to JP Morgan Chase. During the year he worked, each body shop took a cut from his salary.    What is missing in this book is the attendant side of mass migration: crime.  Not all the “millions” are nice people. There are those who take advantage of the opportunity to flee a life of crime in one country to start a new one someplace else.    Reports from the Center for Immigration Studies said crime rings that are based somewhere else expand in the new country rather than vice versa. The report went on to say that, “criminal gangs operating out of Poland and the Czech Republic recently have developed close ties to mobsters in Chicago and New York.”  Another report told of Asian crime lords in the 1990s that aggressively recruited immigrants to the U.S. to serve as their foot soldiers.       However, Kaye’s book is solely about the impact of migrant labor and how it plays into our global economy. He makes the case repeatedly with examples of countries prospering on the backs of cheap laborers and that migration for economic reasons will never change. The demand for workers far beyond what one country can provide will always exist as long as there are employers looking forward to hiring anyone willing to do the job, legal or not.    While Moving Millions is well written, with excellent documentation, it is often challenging to navigate the context of the various episodes throughout the book.  Kaye covers the transition of Hazleton, a small Pennsylvania coal town that, with the explosion of industry became the eighth fastest-growing Hispanic population in the U.S., and then moves through the marketplaces, politics, smuggling, the importing of professionals as well as hard-labor migrants, and the role of labor unions—all in one chapter. In the end Kaye does not let the book stand on its own for the reader to decide the merits of global immigration. He makes an impassioned declaration that “our treatment of strangers reflects our connection to humanity.” I respect Kaye’s professional credentials and opinion, but closing such a well-balanced exposition with his personal point of view might be considered out of place.  Nonetheless, this reviewer extols Kaye’s masterful attention to detail and exhaustive citations, but it is a lot to devour all at once. Yet, for anyone looking for excellent information and well-documented research on the effects of migrant labor on our world economy, this book is one worth reading.  Reviewer Geri Spieler is the author of Taking Aim at the President: The Remarkable Story of the Woman Who Shot at Gerald Ford (Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).