Following up on Frank’s excellent post on outward manifestations of the financial crisis, here are a couple of less obvious ways that the meltdown might affect immigrants. First, the counterintuitive: immigrants may end up with more money in their pockets. Second, the ugly: we may see an increase in hate crimes against immigrants.
The obvious answer to the question of how the economy will impact immigration is that it will decrease border crossings –fewer jobs across the board and particularly less disposable income in the hands of those who pay immigrants to work in their homes will mean less demand for labor. Combined with harsh workplace raids and tightening borders, we’d expect the financial crisis to result in a decrease in immigration. While that was the trend at the beginning of the meltdown, the recent strength of the dollar may end up reversing this expected outcome. As AP reports today, remittances to Mexico in October increased by 13% over October 2007, as a strengthened dollar bought more weakened pesos. Dilip Ratha of the World Bank predicts that this phenomenon might actually lead to an increase in immigration to the U.S., especially as inflation and unemployment climb in Mexico.
Particularly with an increase in immigration, the ugly side of the economic crisis may be an increase in hate crimes against immigrants. The FBI reports that hate crimes against Latinos have increased dramatically — by 40 percent — from 2003 to 2007 (while the Latino population grew by only 16 percent). Call it the “Lou Dobbs” effect; as xenophobic vitriol and resulting anti-immigrant sentiment has increased, so has violence against immigrants or those who appear to be immigrants. Add that to an economy in free-fall, and the result may be highly combustible. As we saw in Long Island last month and Pennsylvania earlier this year, horrifying pastimes such as “beaner hopping” may proliferate as hate-mongering politicians and journalists scapegoat immigrants for job losses and other woes. Vigilant enforcement of hate crime statutes may alleviate some of the simmering tensions, but effective change will require more flattering portraits of immigrants in the popular media and public eye.