COLOMBIANS ON THE KOVEs POLICY IMPLICATIONS
OF THE NEW MIGRATIONS FOR THE INTER-AMERICAN SYSTEM
Elsa M. Chaney, Ph.D.
Women in Development/AID
U.S. Department of State
Prepared for the Panel "The Political
Economy of International Population
Movements," Wayne A. Cornelius, Chair
American Political Science Association
Annual Meeting, September 3, 1977
COLOMiBIANS ON THE MOVE: POLICY IMPLICATIONS
OF THE NEW MIGRATIONS FOR THE INTER-AMlERICAN SYSTEM
Current discussion in the press on Afro-Caribbean and Latin
American migration to the U.S. -- if one can characterize by so
mild a term the scare headlines on the "brown tide" washing in
upon us [New York Times, April 9, 1976, quoting Benjamin F. Holman,
director of the Community Relations Service, U.S. Justice Depart-
ment] -- might lead us to believe that Western Hemisphere migra-
tion to this country is a recent phenomenon. Indeed, the title of
my paper may be misleading, since I have used the term "new migra-
tions" when, in fact, a glance at the sources of migrants to the
U.S. demonstrates that substantial numbers from this hemisphere
began arriving in the early years of our nation's history. The
proportionate increase of migrants from the Americas and the cor-
responding decrease in European immigrants has been long-term,
gradual and, except for two or three exceptional periods, remark-
In the decade 1820-1830 (the first period during which immi-
gration records were kept), 70 percent of all migrants to the U.S.
originated in Europe, and only 10 percent came from the Americas.
From 1921-1950, however, the Western Hemisphere contributed fully
one-third of all immigrants, representing nearly 2 million persons.
By 1969-75, only one-quarter of immigrants were of European origin,
while 45 percent came from the Americas and 28.3 percent from Asia.
Table 1 on the page following gives a decade-by-decade breakdown of
immigration to the U.S.
What is "new" are the apparently record numbers of undocu-
mented migrants from the Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean and Central
America [defined broadly to include Mexico and Colombia], most of
whom have entered the U.S. since 1965 when a quota was for the
first time imposed on Western Hemisphere immigration. The issue
of non-documented persons, in itself, is certainly not new; in one
of the few temperate press pronouncements to counter the consistent
hostility toward the migrants, a recent Wall Street Journal edi-
torial observes that since the first decade of the century the 17
meetings between Presidents of the U.S. and Ilexico have been domina-
ted by or have touched upon the question of illegal Mexican migrants.1
As Charles Keely recently noted, in every era of economic decline
the illegal alien is discovered all over again.
What has been Colombia's contribution to the over 11.1
million persons of Spanish origin in the United States (this total,
taken from the latest Current Population Reports LU.S. Bureau of the
Census 1977] presumably would not include the perhaps 4 to 8 million
illegal Hispanic aliens since the 11.1 figure is based on a 5 percent
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 2
TABLE 1: IMMIGRATION TO THE UNITED STATES, 1783-1975
SData relate to fiscal periods ending June 30, except
1871 when the period ended either on September 30 or
SEstimated by William J. Bromwell, History of Immigration to the
United States, 1856
-SS Includes areas not specified.
-***T- he 1965 Immigration Act went into full effect June 30, 1968.
x Less than .05 percent
Note: Data prior to 1906 relate to country of origin; thereafter,
to country of last permanent residence. Figures for the
Americas also include Canada, and not only the Caribbean,
Central and South America.
Source: Based on Annual Reports of the U.S. Immigration and
Naturalization Service, bI'etropolitan Insurance Company,
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 3
sample of the 1970 Census, and most experts believe that non-
documented persons by and large evade Census enumeration in the
It is not possible to disaggregate the total numbers of
Western Hemisphere immigrants from the earlier years; all South
Americans were lumped together by the Immigration and Naturaliza-
tion Service in its reports, and the old handwritten records from
which the reports were constructed no longer exist.3 In 1926,
country breakdowns were initiated, and these show Colombia has
consistently contributed a large share of South Americans admitted
to the U.S. Indeed, Colombia has been in the lead for the past 25
years (except for two years when Argentina sent slightly more immi-
grants), with Colombians legally admitted to the U.S. accounting
for 35 percent of the total South Americans during the period 1951-
1976 (Cruz and Castafio 1976: 93-98).
Colombians also are on the move to other parts of the
Americas, notably to Venezuela, Ecuador and Panama; many of these
persons also are without proper immigration documents. Thus, Colom-
bia makes an interesting case study for our discussion here today:
to examine the policy implications of these migrations not only for
the United States, but also for the sending societies and for the
inter-American system. The new migrations pose a complex set of
economic, political and legal problems similar to issues which sur-
faced earlier in Europe's industrialized metropolitan centers which
are receiving their former colonials and/or other Third World na-
tionals to undertake the menial tasks which persons born in the
host societies no longer wish to do. Among the most crucial prob-
lems are the following:
1. Development predicated on the adoption of capital-
intensive productive technologies and the resultant
high .rates of un and underemployment in many countries,
pushing persons into migrant streams which no longer stop
at national boundaries;
2. The politically volatile issue posed by the growth
of large proletarian diasporas, "underclasses" of
foreigners (many without proper documents), living and
working within the borders of more prosperous Western
3. The implications of the new migrants' presence for
the continued growth of the host economies, and the
relation of the host country's labor force to the imported
4. The loss to the sending region of so many of their
citizens, a significant proportion of whom have been
trained at the expense of the sending society, balanced
to some degree by the remittances sent to the home coun-
tries and the possibility that many migrants may return
with new skills and material resources.
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 4
The above resume grossly simplifies and abridges what are
complex and controversial issues. What I propose to do in this
paper is to fill out and shade in these contentions through in-
formation from an investigation recently carried out on the Colom-
bian migrant group. Many of the assertions in the following expo-
sition are tentative; they are based in large part on the results
of a collaborative project carried out by a Fordham University
team, working with a counterpart research team headed by Ramiro
Cardona of the Corporaci6n Centro Regional de Poblaci6n in Bogota
(1976a and 1976b). [A methodological note: for the CCRP, the
project provided opportunity for a pilot study which was part of
a larger research design to study the out-migration of Colombians
to neighboring countries in South and Central America (this study
is underway, funded by a United Nations grant). For our team, the
project represented a unique opportunity for host country social
scientists to collaborate with colleagues of the sending society
and thus to view the migration process from both perspectives.
While the U.S. team's emphasis centered on the problems of Colom-
bians in the United States, we did not believe we could understand
their situation unless we took into account the fundamental mechan-
isms generating the migration in the sending society. It is inter-
esting to us that our Colombian colleagues have, in turn, sought
the collaboration of Venezuelan counterparts for their own work on
Colombian migration to Venezuela. For a discussion of the situation
of Colombians in New York City, see Chaney 1976a and 1976b, and
Background: the Dimensions
of Colombian Viigration
In order to understand the policy implications of Colombian
migration, it is important to sketch its total dimensions as well
as we can; as noted above, the results of the further study initia-
ted by the CCRP are not yet available. In Colombia, there is possi-
bly more concern about migration to the U.S. because, as Cruz and
Castafo suggest (1976: 77), while it is not the largest, it is be-
lieved to be by far the most selective. Representing far greater
numbers is the over-the-border migration of Colombian agricultural
workers into Venezuela, by now adding perhaps a million persons to --
and accounting for about one-tenth of -- the population of the
neighboring republic. This migration apparently follows the classic
step or fill-in pattern; as Venezuelan campesinos depart for the
booming centers of their own country, Colombians move in to take
over their jobs in the agricultural sector on the other side of the
long, permeable border. Many highly-skilled persons also go to
Venezuela; most lately, large display ads in the Bogota newspapers
invite, among others, technicians from Colombia's highly-developed
textile industry to emigrate.
It is logical that steady, if not spectacular numbers of
Colombians have been going to their former territory of Panama since
the end of the 1920's (Cruz and Castafo 1976, quoting Villegas
[1974:75]). riore recently, perhaps 60,000 Colombians -- with or
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 5
without papers -- have arrived in Ecuador because of the jobs
created by the new petroleum enterprises.
The panel of experts4 created for our own study of the
Jackson Heights Colombian colony in Queens, New York, tell us
that Colombian immigrants in significant numbers began arriving
there in the 1940's; however, the oldest inhabitants came to Jack-
son Heights just after World War I. We have exact figures on the
numbers before 1965, since obtaining a permanent resident visa was
as easy as getting a tourist document for Latin Americans before
the Immigration Act of that year went into effect (see Cruz and
Castano 1976: 99 for a discussion of the minimum restrictions im-
posed). Massive numbers of Colombians, totalling perhaps 150,000-
250,000 in the greater New York City metropolitan area, and smaller
colonies in Chicago (Walton: 1973), Miami, El Paso and Los Angeles,
have come since around 1960 -- with total numbers reaching as many
as 250,000-350,000 [?] in the United States.
Not only have Colombians been on the move beyond their
country's borders, but this movement was preceded by a great deal
of internal migration which continues to the present day. In look-
ing at both aspects, the Colombian and North American team members
participating in our recent collaborative project concluded that
the distinctions often made between internal and international mi-
migration are artificial, as Singer (1974a: 128) has suggested.
Because of the (relatively) short journey and cheap airfare -- and
the large "beachhead" of Colombians clustered in Jackson Heights,
Elmhurst, Corona and Woodside -- there is little reason now for
migrants to hesitate to cross international borders. I have likened
the Colombian colony with its center at 82nd Street and Roosevelt
Avenue in Jackson Heights -- "Chapinerito," named after a middle-
class suburb of Bogota -- to a distant province of Colombia (Chaney:
1976a: 59-60), and believe the migratory processes probably are more
similar than different, whether the destination is inside or outside
Colombians on the move:
At the level of personal motivation (where most migration
studies have concentrated) people almost always can "explain" why
they leave their home place. Not surprisingly, the cause most often
is perceived to be lack of economic opportunity in the place of
origin and/or greater opportunity in the place of destination, ra-
ther than the unintended outcome of political and economic decisions
about development, taken in the developed countries. An analysis of
the policy issues posed for the inter-American system by movements
of skilled and unskilled Afro-Caribbean and Latin American persons
towards the richer countries of the region must, however, center on
these mechanisms which create the "push/pull" factors in the first
During the 1960's, capital-intensive development strategies
in both agriculture and industry promoted throughout much of the
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 6
Third World by the industrialized metropolitan countries failed
to generate sufficient employment opportunity for millions who to-
day survive by crowding into the low-productivity, low-paid service
sector. In advanced countries, such persons would remain unem-
ployed and draw unemployment or welfare benefits; in developing
countries they swell the ranks of veritable new armies of the un-
employed or "self-employed" (who may, however, on many days have
no work to do at all) (Morse 1970: 4-5; Thiesenhusen 1971).
In the Third World, as is well documented by now, most ru-
ral populations move directly from agriculture to the service sec-
tor. Not all tertiary sector employment is marginal, but as Amin
observes (1974:61), only in developed countries does the service
sector resemble the secondary (in terms of wages, working condi-
tions, benefits, productivity). In countries of the periphery, the
tertiary sector has undergone a process of "hypertrophy," becoming
swollen and distorted so that the proportion of the work force
occupied in tertiary activity is much greater than in the secondary.
On the periphery, the tertiary sector contains a much greater pro-
portion of marginal occupations than in the center countries.
Growing numbers of "surplus" people in the Third World must invent
service jobs in the interstices of the economy to stay alive. They
shine shoes; wash and watch automobiles [while their owners shop or
eat in a restaurant]; sell cheap consumer items, magazines, lottery
tickets; cook and sell finger foods on the street and, in general,
duplicate services already offered by the formal, organized labor
In Colombia, the introduction of modern agricultural methods
and machinery tended to exclude from the market all those who could
not afford the new technology, contributing to an ever-accelerating
movement of people towards the cities. The agrarian reform program
of the 1960's (much less radical than its public image) affected
relatively few of Colombia's peasants; moreover, most analysts now
agree that even if it had succeeded, the effort would have had
little effect in stemming cityward migration because there simply
was not enough land to give sufficient numbers of peasants plots
of viable size. An added ingredient was the high rate of popula-
tion increase (3.6 to 3.2 percent annually) during the preceding
two decades. As a consequence, some 25-30 percent of the work force
in Colombia is un or underemployed.'
Rapid population growth coupled to incomplete and/or aborted
land reforms thus compound the problem and accelerate the rhythm of
rural-to-urban migration within countries. But many people do not
stop at their own frontiers;o as noted above, there probably is
little reason to go on making distinctions between internal and in-
ternational migration except for those who must concern themselves
with sorting out the legal consequences. The same "push/pull" fac-
tors created by events in the international political/economc sys-
tem impel millions of such people across their own borders; they
are leaving the less-developed countries in the southern halves of
the two hemispheres to seek work in the industrialized nations to
the North. Thus, commodity agreements, balance of payments problems
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE PAGE 7
and world monetary policies form only one set of issues.in the
current North/South negotiations; in the long run, the exportation
and importation of cheap laboring hands -- like some new raw
material -- may lead to far more volatile international political
confrontations between the rich and the poor nations, if not to
the "nuclear blackmail" predicted by Heilbroner (1975: 42-43).
Between countries equally poor in resources in the Americas,
over-the-border migrant invasions may lead to local confrontations
such as the "soccer war" in 1969 between Honduras and El Salvador,
not fought over futbol but over the 300,000 Salvadoreans living in
Honduras; population densities in the latter country were only 57
per square mile, but 380 in El Salvador (NACLA Report 1973: 14).
Between Venezuela and Colombia, the long dispute over the Gulf of
Venezuela oil fields has taken precedence in recent diplomatic
discussions between the two countries; the migrant issue, while in
the background, remains an extremely sensitive one. The recent
Carter Administration proposals on the non-documented alien ques-
tion have, apparently, raised serious problems in discussions be-
tween U.S. and Mexican government officials, after a period of
reluctance on the part of both to put the issue on the agenda.9
Colombia is another "friendly, democratic government" which the
U.S. has no wish to offend, and it will be interesting to note
reactions there to the proposed new legislation.
To be acceptable, such new legislation will have in some
fashion to treat the issue not as strictly an internal problem,
but to recognize that the U.S. helped -- through exportation of
capital-intensive development technologies throughout the 1960's --
to create the problem. The only long range, viable solution may
be the advanced nations' acknowledgment that the time has come
finally to allow the Third World a truly autonomous development
through the inauguration of a new world economic order of just
prices for raw materials, generous transfer of technology (parti-
cularly small and intermediate scale) and political/material support
for those societies which are attempting to attain a more equitable
distribution of income and a better standard of living for their
poor. "Cutting off the alien problem at its sources," as some have
suggested, may indeed the the only viable, long range solution --
but this involves generous assistance in helping create employment-
generating agricultural and industrial enterprises, not erecting
Berlin-type electric fences (or their equivalent) between rich and
Proletarian Diasporas: Their Func-
tions in the International System
The movement of poor persons towards the more prosperous
world areas is by no means new: as Davis (1974:56) points out, by
the 16th and 17th centuries "the world as a whole began to be one
migratory network dominated by a single group of technologically-
advanced states." As a result, he says, the latter countries even-
tually were able to start the industrial revolution and "enormously
enhance their world dominance." Today world migration has not
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 8
diminished as had been predicted, but has shifted direction: in-
stead of flowing from the crowded, industrial European countries,
it is flowing towards developed countries everywhere.
Thus, Armstrong (1976: 393) observes, "proletarian" and
other types of diasporas -- distinctive collectivities or even
separate societies with strong links to their own homelands --
are not anomalies, slated to disappear. A deeper historical per-
spective, he suggests, leads to the conclusion that "multiethnic
societies are the norm rather than the exception." He quotes Brau-
del's generalization that historically "a standard stable partner-
ship" grew up between a poor region with regular emigration and an
active town; as the supply of those who were nearby (and ethnically
and linguistically similar) was exhausted, recruits were drawn from
further and further away:
The origins of the new citizens in a lively town like iIetz
or Constance for example (the latter from 1367 to 1517)...
would disclose a wide area associated with the life of the
town [which] left the lowly tasks to new arrivals....Like
our over-pressured economies today, it needed North Africans
or Puerto Ricans at its service, a proletariat which it quick-
ly used up and had quickly to renew. The existence of this
wretched and lowly proletariat is a feature of any large town
(Braudel 1973: 24, quoted in Armstrong 1976: 406).
Armstrong is not alone in characterizing the succession of
ethnically distinct proletarian diasporas in successfully moderni-
zing polities as crucial to the maintenance of international equi-
librium (and international capitalist accumulation, although Arm-
strong does not mention this). What is particularly significant
for policymakers is his contention that since 1945 the movement of
persons from the Third to the First World has been largely unplanned
(and perhaps designedly so?):
From the standpoint of internal politics, the progression Lof
labor recruits from regions further and further distant] has
been largely the result of nondecisions. Certain Western Euro-
pean governments have facilitated migration and in a few in-
stances (Franco-Algerian agreements) have actively promoted it.
In general, however, it has been undirected market forces which
have shaped the nature of labor migration. In spheres where
politics have the capacity to initiate policies, failure to
act may be just as political as positive action (1976: 407; the
emphasis is Armstrong's).
Certainly the fact that we are suddenly "waking up" to find
hundreds of thousands of Hispanic and Afro-Caribbean peoples living
among us -- many of whom apparently have been here for many years
and/or who have made multiple visits -- would appear to support
Armstrong's contention that no planning was involved (except, per-
haps, the decision until recently not to recognize the problem be-
cause it was politically expedient to provide friendly Latin Ameri-
can governments a safety-valve to relieve their population/unemploy-
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 9
So far as Afro-Caribbean and Latin American migration to
the U.S. is concerned, we face today a near vacuum of information
on the implications for the host society of these large, apparently
increasing, proletarian diasporas. What are the consequences of
the presence of so many different groups, many of which appear de-
termined not to shed their ethnic identity nor their links to
their homelands, but to remain with their "feet in two societies,"
as North and Houstoun (1976: 83) express it?) Other Western Hemi-
sphere countries face similar problems.
Unlike the immigrants of former times who were separated
from the old country by a long and arduous sea journey, thousands
of the new immigrants from the Afro-Caribbean and Latin America --
even if they are as far away as Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru -- arrive
in three-five hours on jet airplanes, and most are only a [compara-
tively] cheap excursion fare away from repeated visits "home." It
is possible, indeed, as Cornelius (1977: 7-8) and Fitzpatrick (1971:
196) have speculated in relation to Mexicans and Puerto Ricans
that persons who arrive from nearby countries are noT mi-
grating, but "commuting." Even if pending legislation would cut
back on the absolute numbers making up present-day migrant diasporas
(and there is no indication of how this would be accomplished),
the groups may continue to be replenished by a constant circulation
of new persons arriving to take the place of those who have made
their stake and returned to their homeland. Some theorists hold
that a population constantly reenforced by new waves of immigration
tends to conserve its ethnic identity much more tenaciously than one
in which the bulk of the immigrants arrived in an earlier period.
Not only do we need to know much more about the situation of the
proletarian diasporas presently in our midst, but we also must
study the strategies involved in such migration variations as "com-
muting," "trial" migration and "visiting," and what implications
these apparently wide practices have for the receiving societies.10
So far as Colombians in Queens are concerned, most apparently
do plan to return some day to Colombia; my own interviewees say
that the great majority of their compatriots would not be in the
U.S. at all if they could find satisfactory employment in Colombia.
If they are professionals -- as many of the earlier migrants in the
years following World War II tended to be -- they come not only for
the higher wages, but also because they want to work in hospitals,
laboratories or indutries with the latest equipment and techniques.
If they are less-educated -- and our data show that Colombian mi-
gration probably has become less selective since 1965 -- they come
to earn good wages for several years so that they may (in order of
priority) educate their children, buy a house in Colombia, accumu-
late certain consumer goods and save for a stake to take back -- for
example, to buy a truck and start a hauling or moving business; to
open a restaurant, grocery store or boutique. Many also send back
substantial remittances to their relatives in Colombia, and some
are buying homes there. The fact that circumstances often cause re-
patriation to be postponed again and again -- until the return some-
times takes on an almost "mythic" quality -- does not alter the fact
that the desire to go back to Colombia remains very much in the
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 10
immigrants' thoughts and calculations with many implications for
their adjustment and accommodation to U.S. society.
The same air carriers what bring the new immigrants from
Colombia to New York City also bring a constant supply of newspapers
and magazines; politicos of the Liberal and Conservative parties in
Colombia; Colombian beauty queens, soccer stars and musical/dance
conjuntos [bands] -- as well as grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts
and uncles, brothers and sisters, and friends of various degrees of
intimacy who come to visit and often to look over the situation with
a view to their own possible future migration. They also inform
their "Chapinerito" friends and relations of the latest happenings
in the capital and/or their provincial city or town.
As a result, most Colombians -- even if they have resided
in the U.S. for many years -- appear to be much better informed
about the politics, sports, latest music and dances, and gossip of
Colombia than the affairs of the host society in general, or even
of New York City and their immediate community. As one of my ex-
perts' panel remarked, Colombians live "pagados" -- glued to
happenings in the homeland. What is not yet clear, since the bulk
of the Colombian migrants have arrived since 1960 -- is whether
the second generation now coming to adulthood will remain in suffi-
cient numbers and strive to preserve significant aspects of Colom-
bian culture while making the necessary accommodations to the domi-
nant society. One theme repeated overand over again -- and recently
reiterated by a group of Hispanic teachers well-acquainted with
Colombian children in the public schools -- is the desire of many
Colombians to send their children back to Colombia to be educated.
They wish their children to have a Colombian education not only be-
cause they believe it to be superior (traditional colegios [high
schools] still stress classics, philosophy, languages and religion),
but also because they fear the drug culture and believe that the
New York City schools do not properly socialize their children to
such key Colombian values as deference to authority, obedience and
respect. Now that the City University system of New York has be-
gun to charge tuition, there is less reason not to consider sending
sons and daughters back to Colombia for college.
The search for "roots" -- and the accentuation of Hispanic
and Black cultural values in U.S. urban areas -- may well mean that
the second generation also will remain alienated and will adjust
in quite different, as yet unpredictable ways, to the dominant cul-
ture. As Piore (1973: 25-31) speculates, it may be that the extent
to which metropolitan countries succeed in preventing a second
generation from growing up and being socialized to the host coun-
try's norms (as the second generation Blacks and Puerto Ricans
have been in the Northerncities of the U.S.) will determine whether
they will avoid explosive class/racial clashes such as the U.S.
experienced in the 1960's.
Again, all these questions are on the agenda for future
research; we simply do not know enough about the internal life
of these proletarian diasporas to be able to say very much at all
COLOIBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 11
about their present or future behaviors, or even whether we are
dealing with a migrant labor stock or a labor flow. As Piore
further notes (p. 25):
The flow-like character is an outgrowth of a labor force with
little permanent attachment to the destination, engaging in
a continual movement back and forth between the origin and the
destination, and when at the destination always planning to
return home shortly. It is the flow-like character which
makes the jobs acceptable: the temporary nature of their stay
renders the labor force indifferent to the lack of security
and advancement and the periodic visits home reinforce the
perspective of the home labor market, in which the jobs have
much higher relative status....It is basically the fact that the
the second generation is a fall-out from this flow, with a
permanent attachment to the destination, that distinguishes it
from its progenitor, making its size unresponsive to economic
opportunities and creating the possibility of tension and con-
flict between opportunities and aspirations.
Imported Laboring Hands: Relation
to the Host Country Labor Force
A third major policy issue posed for host societies by the
movement of Caribbean and Latin American peoples is in some re-
spects the mirror opposite to that in the countries they leave be-
hind. Turning from the periphery to the center, we find (as Piore
[1973: 25 and 1976] among others has noted) a paradoxical shortage
of workers for low level jobs. Industrial society, as Piore sug-
gests, has always tended to generate a set of jobs unacceptable to
the native born; these have been filled in the U.S. first by immi-
grants, then by black labor from the South, and more lately, by
rural Puerto Ricans (and in the Southwest by Mexicans). Many de-
veloped countries solve this problem by importing contract labor
or by tolerating illegal immigration. Persons who have become "sur-
plus" in their ow economic systems join a flexible international
labor pool, to be transferred like some kind of new raw material
from the hinterlands of the international economic system to the
Even in the case of those relatively privileged migrant workers
who do factory work, migrant labor is much more economic at times
than the other option: opening a branch of a multi-national concern
(or locating an agri-business) within the borders of a Third World
economy. In using migrants, the metropolitan center can take up
slack capacity al eady in place, rather than risk building and equip-
ping new plants.
But only a few of the new immigrants find work in factories;
typically they take on the residue of low-skilled, low-salaried
jobs that defy automation (or simply are not worth automating be-
cause cheap laboring hands are available) -- a s restaurant workers,
day laborers, construction workers, street cleaners, janitors and
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 12
custodians, parking lot attendants, baggage handlers, truck and
gypsy cab drivers and, particularly for women, domestic service.
This is true regardless of qualifications; as the North and Hous-
toun study cited above notes (1976: 152-53), occupations of both
the legals and illegals differ significantly from what they did
in their homelands; the percentage doing white-collar work drops
sharply, the percentage in skilled blue-collar increases slightly,
but those in semi-skilled operative jobs increase significantly.
In other words,
Respondents' concentration at the bottom of the U.S. labor
market, with more than three-quarters employed in unskilled
or semi-skilled jobs, contravened the heterogeneity of the
study group....Hence the American labor market apparently
tends to homogenize at a low level an otherwise more hetero-
geneous but still predominantly low-skilled work force
(North and Houstoun 1976: 153).
Recent independent studies confirm that Hispanic migrants generally
are grouped near the bottom of the prestige and earnings scale
(.see Gray 1975; Hendricks 1975).
So far as the Colombians are concerned, whatever their
qualifications (and there is the same phenomenon of downward mo-
bility already noted) the majority apparently go to work in "fac-
torlas" or desire to do so. Not only are the salaries better, but
factory work is viewed as "un poco mas decent" -- a bit more decent
than washing dishes in a restaurant. Others work in a great variety
of jobs -- for example, there appear to be many mechanics, and the
Colombian universally is considered to be highly skilled in this
trade. Of course, some migrants prosper, and there are cases of
successful entrepreneurs and professionals -- some of them women --
in the colony. (Interestingly, Colombian married women show higher
indices of employment outside the home in the greater New York City
metropolitan region than either married women in the general popula-
tion or Puerto Rican women [Powers and Macisco 1976, Table 5]. This
poses interesting questions on the changing role of Colombian women,
probed in greater depth in Chaney 1976: 40-43). The travel agent and
the real estate broker (mostly persons, again including women, who
came in the years before the large influx of colombians in the 1960's)
are perhaps the best examples of the business and leadership Plite;
the few Colombians of any prominence in cultural, community and
political (mostly related to Colombian politics) affairs come prin-
cipally from their ranks.
1Mainly, however, the Colombians as all the new immigrants do,
perform needed and useful services which, however, bring low re-
wards and little prestige or recognition. Despite the fact that
they often are viewed as competitors, it appears that relatively few
"take jobs away" from North American workers. Admittedly, at a time
when U.S. unemployment rates are high, resident workers might gladly
take on some of these tasks temporarily. But it is the long-run
trends, working themselves out since the mid-1950's if we take the
European experience into consideration, that we are considering here.
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 13
Just as immigrant groups have always done, the vast majority are
hardworking people who have taken on the necessary, but disagree-
able and low-paid tasks that the citizens do not want to do,
except as Piore notes (1973: 25) in periods of dire unemployment.
Moreover, as Cornelius and others have pointed out, we may well
face within the next six to ten years another period of labor
scarcity; thus, any proposals to shut off the migrations perman-
ently (even presuming that such measures could be enforced) might
be highly detrimental to the host society economy, in the long
run. Even in the short run, as many of those who cry out the
loudest against the immigrants for political reasons must know
very well, if the Hispanics who have come to New York City in the
past 15 years sudden ly were to depart tomorrow, the city would
cease to function.
Nor are the migrant groups always the "drain" on the wel-
fare and unemployment systems that they so often are claimed to
be. As the North and Houstoun study already cited several times
above confirms, the largest majority of the illegals do not appear
to depend on resources outside their own networks for assistance;
nor do they always even claim those benefits which they have earned.
(Part of the reason for this is the fact that many illegals, par-
ticularly in the Southwest, are single, male, seasonal laborers.)
The survey North and Houstoun did for the U.S. Labor Department
demonstrates the following (1976: 118; 66):
51% earned less than $2.50 per hour.
Between 20 and 25% appear to have been paid below the
77% had social security taxes withheld.
73% had Federal income taxes withheld.
44% paid hospitalization insurance.
31.5% filed U.S. income tax forms.
27.4/ used U.S. hospitals or clinics.
7.6% had their children in U.S. schools.
3.9% collected one or more weeks of unemployment
1.3% secured food stamps.
.5% received welfare payments
(See Note 12 for a description of the survey group.)
Our observations and interviews among the Colombians confirm
that they fit the above profile -- rather high on their contribu-
tions to the system, low in their claims upon it. For every person
who avoids the withholding tax (either through working "off the
books" or through claiming an excess of dependents), there are
probably two others who do not file for their tax refunds because
of their irregular status; the national, as well as the state and
local governments, are net gainers. As well, a large proportion
of social security taxes never will be collected in the form of pen-
sions by those who work in the U.S. for a few years, then return
to their home countries. Finally, the influx of Colombians and other
into Jackson Heights has not changed the low indices of persons on
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 14
welfare; in Jackson Heights, welfare dependency remains minimal.
It is higher in North Corona and East Elmhurst.
During the next few months we will be engaged in a great
debate as Congress considers the various aspects of the Carter
proposals on the immigration question. In order to assess the rela-
tive merits of amnesty (and the effective dates of entry in order
to be eligible), work permits, contracts, penalties on the employer,
etc., we need to know much more about the real effect of the pre-
sence of the new migrant groups on this country's labor market.
As the Wall Street Journal editorial cited above remarks, most of
the outcry raised against the illegal aliens -- based, as it is,
on unreliable data,
is nonsense, inspired by organized labor and by people who
erroneously believe there are only a given number of jobs
and a limited amount of work to be done. And so they have
resorted to disseminating fairy tales about a problem whose
effect cannot really be measured.
It would appear that the academic community has an obligation
precisely here, to assist in filling the information vacuum so
that policy decisions which will be taken in the coming months --
and which may "fix" the question of immigration for aliens,
legals and illegals alike, for a long time to come -- may be made
in the light of realistic evidence and accurate data.
Policy Implications for the Sending Society
In the beginning, among the policy issues I suggested as par-
ticularly crucial, was a fourth consideration: the cost/benefit to
the sending society of the out-migration of its citizens. Again,
we know little about this question because very little research has
been done from the sending country perspective. One of the current
aspects of the CCRP's present investigations concerns this issue,
and so I do not intend here to deal with this question at any
length, but merely to raise some final considerations.
So far as the migration of professionals is concerned, this
has been the aspect of the problem which has been highlighted most,
both in research and in the press. In the case of Colombia, the
majority of earlier Colombian migrants admitted to the U.S. under
paid employment categories fell overwhelmingly into professional,
technical or kindred occupations. Many still do, although if the
undocumented are taken into account, there is some evidence that
Colombian migration has become less selective. How can we get
behind the cliche of "brain drain" to see what the migration of
professionals really implies for both the sending and receiving so-
cities? Cruz and Castafio (1976: 146 52) make a strong case that,
at least for Colombian medical doctors, "brain drain" may be a
spurious issue; their evidence showsthat most Colombian doctors
return to their homeland and, indeed, the years they spend in the
U.S. have come to be regarded almost as a normal pattern -- a kind
of unofficial, advanced "residency" which gives them added prestige
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 15
on their return to Colombia, additional training and a stake for
setting up their consultorios.
Do other professionals also return with new technical competence?
Should immigration policy take more into account the desire of
health, scientific, engineering and other professionals to work
outside their countries for a time and, indeed, where the U.S.
has shortages, regularize the practice with (for example) three-
five year professional visas which would be non-renewable and which
would preclude applying for a permanent resident visa at least
until several years had elapsed after the return to the home coun-
try? Would such a plan have some positive aspects for both the
sending and receiving countries?
So far as Colombia is concerned, it would seem that the authori-
ties there need to concern themselves not only with the long
range issues of economic development which will, of course, affect
the high rates of out-migration, but also in the short run with
the current problems of the emigrants. An Institute of Emigration
as outlined by Colombian President L6pez Michelsen on several
occasions, or some other mechanism designed to deal with emigration
are urgent necessities -- and this proposal has the advantage of
being the one suggested by leaders of the President's own party in
Queens. Those who plan to emigrate from Colombia need orientation
and some manner or regularizing their status by work contracts or
other legal arrangements which will assure them just wages for their
years of labor abroad and relieve many of the necessity to emigrate
without proper documents. Those already abroad need some entity
to defend their interests. Finally, those who wish to return to
their home country need assistance in making their arrangements and
in reorientation to life in the home land. The migration of cer-
tain professional persons -- and of the less highly trained as well --
if it can be regularized, need not always be negative for the send-
ing country, the host country and the migrant him/herself.
We have considered, however briefly, four of the major poli-
cy issues involved in the increasing movements of Afro-Caribbean
and Latin American peoples to the U.S. and to other countries of
the.region, with Colombians as the case study. What becomes clear
in this discussion is the fact that we are suffering not only from
an information vacuum, but from a diplomatic vacuum as well. Un-
less the issues raised here -- and others as urgent -- can be worked
out in careful, sensitive negotiations between and among the coun-
tries concerned, the inter-American system will suffer not only
severe tensions (they are present already), but perhaps irreparable
damage. For our own country, these questions cannot be unilateral
matters, to be decided exclusively on the basis of what is most
advantageous for us in the short run. If we go forward to frame
new immigration laws without the necessary consultation, we will
in the long run reap a harvest of great bitterness and perhaps even
of open confrontation in the Americas.
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 16
1. As the editorial further notes, "The entire illegal alien ques-
tion suffers from lack of reliable figures. For example, no
one really know if there are 4 million or 20 million illegals
in the U.S. But we know their presence is a handy excuse for
politicians who blame them for every imaginable community short-
coming. Certain New York politicians even claim their city
would be economically prosperous but for all the illegals drain-
ing off the jobs and social services." Wall Street Journal,
"Illegal Aliens and Scapegoats," May 2, 1977.
2. Remark at the Workshop on U.S. Immigration: Research Perspec-
tives, National Institute of Child Health and Human Develop-
ment, National Institutes of Health, Belmont Conference Center,
Elkridge, Maryland, May 16-18, 1977.
3. Interview with Mr. Robert Prosek, Immigration and Naturaliza-
tion Service, U.S. Department of Justice.
4. The information for my study of Jackson Heights, Queens, is
based upon interviews with men and women active in professions
or roles which bring them into close daily contact with the
Colombian community in Jackson Heights -- as educators; priests,
entrepreneurs in ethnic enterprises such as restaurants, real
estate and travel agencies and other small businesses; politi-
cians; journalists, and persons active in the sports club net-
5. No one can say with any certainty what the total numbers may be
of any of the new migrant groups. I compromise by giving the
smallest and largest estimates of the experts involved in our
6. Third World un- and underemployment are most difficult to esti-
mate; methods to define and measure the dimensions of this
problem would head any list of research priorities related to
international migration. One study in Peru projected that in
the 1970's, for every 10 new jobs created there would be 55
new workers entering the labor force (Thiesenhusen 1971: 1).
The official rate of unemployment in Colombia is 11 percent;
the true rate probably is between 20 and 25 percent (Jungita
1976: 577-78; Slighton 1974: 111). Current Mexican rates are
estimated at 50 percent -- 15 percent of the workforce unemployed,
and another 35 percent getting by with only occasional jobs
(New York Times, January 17, 1977). These statistics are not
strictly comparable since they depend upon many inconsistencies
of definition within and among countries.
7. Many of the panel of experts in Queens share the common concep-
tion that "La Violencia" was the principal cause of the
arrival of Colombians in the 1950's and 1960's. During a
period of about 10-12 years, this phenomenon of the Violence,
widespread armed insurrection and guerrilla activity in the
COLOMBIANS ON THE MOVE Page 17
rural areas stemming from complex political and social roots
(see Fals Borda  for the best account of the period),
precipitated large-scale movements of people within Colombia.
Studies of internal migration, however, indicate that the
rural population took refuge in the nearby towns (not only
from the Violence, but from the poverty and misery of the
countryside), while the residents of these smaller urban places
headed for the cities and the capital. Thus, while it seems
improbable that the Violence had any direct effect on Colom-
bian migration to the U.S., there is strong evidence that the
resultant uncertainty and malaise indirectly spurred migration
during this period.
8. In the CCRP survey (Cruz and Castarfo 1976: 199-203), 65 per-
cent of those migrating to the U.S. had migrated internally
at least once.
9. Conversation in June, 1977, with U.S. Department of State
official involved in the talks.
10. Historically, it is true that "trial" migration. is not com-
pletely unknown; for example, single male Italians who came
to work in the U.S. or in Argentina in the last century -- they
were called "golondrinas" or "swallows" -- often travelled
several times between the continents before deciding where to
settle down with their families.
11. Just how complicated this can get is illustrated by Piore (1973:
18 and 35), who notes that in the Boston area, the employment
of Puerto Rican immigrants, especially in the shoe, textile and
garment industries, indeed was seen by some of the employers he
interviewed as the alternative to moving abroad. At the same
time, agricultural interests in Puerto Rico were lobbying for
the importation of Colombian coffee workers to take the place
of the rural Puerto Ricans who no longer wanted to do this kind
of work and had gone to Boston (and elsewhere) to work in fac-
12. The North and Houstoun study is based on data gathered in
1975 in interviews with 793 apprehended alien persons at 19
different sites; the interviewers were bilingual. Since the
dimensions of the population are unknown, the interviewees
cannot be considered a representative sample; still, as the
report makes clear, there is nothing to suggest that the charac-
teristics and labor-market experiences of the respondents are
radically different from other persons without documents in
the U.S. labor force.
COLOMBIANS ON THE IOVE Page 18
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