Beacon Press: Illegal People
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Illegal People

How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants

Author: David Bacon

A veteran photojournalist explores the human side of globalization and argues for new ways to think about and legislate around immigration

For two decades veteran photojournalist David Bacon has documented the connections between labor, migration, and the global economy. In Illegal People Bacon explores the human side of globalization, exposing the many ways it uproots people in Latin America and Asia, driving them to migrate. At the same time, U.S. immigration policy makes the labor of those displaced people a crime in the United States. Illegal People explains why our national policy produces even more displacement, more migration, more immigration raids, and a more divided, polarized society.

Through interviews and on-the-spot reporting from both impoverished communities abroad and American immigrant workplaces and neighborhoods, Bacon shows how the United States’ trade and economic policy abroad, in seeking to create a favorable investment climate for large corporations, creates conditions to displace communities and set migration into motion. Trade policy and immigration are intimately linked, Bacon argues, and are, in fact, elements of a single economic system.

In particular, he analyzes NAFTA’s corporate tilt as a cause of displacement and migration from Mexico and shows how criminalizing immigrant labor benefits employers. For example, Bacon explains that, pre-NAFTA, Oaxacan corn farmers received subsidies for their crops. State-owned CONASUPO markets turned the corn into tortillas and sold them, along with milk and other basic foodstuffs, at low, subsidized prices in cities. Post-NAFTA, several things happened: the Mexican government was forced to end its subsidies for corn, which meant that farmers couldn’t afford to produce it; the CONASUPO system was dissolved; and cheap U.S. corn flooded the Mexican market, driving the price of corn sharply down. Because Oaxacan farming families can’t sell enough corn to buy food and supplies, many thousands migrate every year, making the perilous journey over the border into the United States only to be labeled “illegal” and to find that working itself has become, for them, a crime.

Bacon powerfully traces the development of illegal status back to slavery and shows the human cost of treating the indispensable labor of millions of migrants-and the migrants themselves-as illegal. Illegal People argues for a sea change in the way we think, debate, and legislate around issues of migration and globalization, making a compelling case for why we need to consider immigration and migration from a globalized human rights perspective.
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“David Bacon is the conscience of American journalism; an extraordinary social documentarist in the rugged humanist tradition of Dorothea Lange, Carey McWilliams, and Ernesto Galarza.” —Mike Davis, author of No One Is Illegal

Illegal People documents how undocumented workers have become the world’s most exploited workforce-subject to raids and arrests, forced to work at low pay and under miserable conditions, and prevented from organizing on their own behalf. In this richly reported book, David Bacon makes a powerful case for the centrality of ‘illegals’-of all nationalities-in the global struggle for economic justice.” —Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America

“David Bacon’s book brings us the reality of the deplorable conditions under which immigrants live when they get here. David also demonstrates that there is hope, and we can win something better, today, not just for immigrants, but for all working people. We just have to commit ourselves to make the policy changes that create these unacceptable conditions. ¬¨‚àûS“ Se Puede!”
—Dolores Huerta, co-founder of United Farm Workers and president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation

“Read this book to understand why we must stop uprooting people abroad and how we can ensure rights and jobs for all people in this country. Bacon’s book highlights the real value of a comprehensive approach to immigration reform, which America supports!”
—Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee

“In clear and compelling language, Bacon connects the dots between trade, migration and the maldistribution of wealth. A must-read for anyone who wants to understand the cynical politics and human costs of the corporate protection racket we call globalization.” —Jeff Faux, distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute and author of The Global Class War

“This new and urgently needed rethinking of the global economy and migration is a unique roadmap, showing not only how we arrived at our current immigration debate impasse but outlining the possibilities for what lies ahead.” —Raj Jayadev, journalist, organizer, and executive director of Silicon Valley De-Bug

“As he has before with both pen and camera, Bacon reminds us that we’re all in this together-and that organizing to reject divisive racism and nativism both celebrates our common humanity and promotes a twenty-first-century vision of global citizenship.” —John W. Wilhelm, president/Hospitality Industry, UNITE HERE

Illegal People is like a fine Oaxacan tapestry woven ever so carefully with the human face of the main protagonist of the immigration dynamic-the mighty migrant laborer.” —Nativo V. Lopez, national president of Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana and the Mexican American Political Association


Review by: Vanessa Bush, Booklist - September 1, 2008
"Bacon, an award-winning photojournalist, labor organizer, and immigrant-rights activist, follows the lives of undocumented workers at the Westin Suite Hotel in California and a Smithfield meatpacking plant in North Carolina, who travel back and forth from Mexico to the U.S. . . . He ties together interviews, personal histories, and political analysis to provide a vivid image of what life is like for workers with little rights or protections in an increasingly globalized economy."
Review: Publisher's Weekly, starred review - July 1, 2008
"[I]ncisive investigation . . . Bacon’s timely analysis is as cool and competent as his labor advocacy is unapologetic. In mapping the political economy of migration, with an unwavering eye on the rights and dignity of working people, Bacon offers an invaluable corrective to America’s hobbled discourse on immigration and a spur to genuine, creative action."
  • Click here to read an interview with David Bacon featured on
  • Read an article by David Bacon from the San Francisco Chronicle on immigration

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Illegal People

ISBN: 978-080704226-7
Publication Date: 9/1/2008
Pages: 272
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $25.95
Format: Cloth
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