Immigration is a hot-button issue in the U.S. — especially considering the Arizona case before the Supreme Court and a presidential race involving plenty of rancor on the topic. But immigration is a cause of significant concern in other countries as well. Thailand, for one, is being inundated by migrants, both legal and illegal.
Thousands of Cambodians cross over into Thailand each year, going against the Cambodian government’s assurances that there are plenty of jobs at home.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, in fact, has led an effort to encourage Cambodians to stay put and take jobs in the agriculture and construction sectors — the country also has a shortage of skilled workers. But people instead continue to line up for passports so they can apply for jobs in neighboring Thailand, reports the Phnom Penh Post. This despite having to stand under the scorching sun, and paying about $160 for a passport. The average monthly salary of a garment is $61.
Meanwhile, thousands more each year cross illegally, risking exploitation in the sex trade or other illicit businesses and at poorly regulated factories. They’re drawn by higher wages in Thailand (approximately $200 a month), and lack of opportunities at home. A village chief in a district close to Thailand says half of the families in his village lose at least two members each year to work illegally in Thailand.
The Cambodian government, in fact, out of concern over the treatment of its citizens early this year asked the Thai government to legalize about 160,000 Cambodians living there. Hor Namhong, the Cambodian foreign minister, estimated that there are about 250,000 Cambodians working illegally in Thailand, according to a report in Voice of America/Khmer.
The Thai government has tried to crack down on the number of illegal workers in the country, which has an estimated 2 million migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos, according to AseanAffairs.com, an advocacy group for Southeast Asians. In a country with a population of about 70 million people, the ramifications are far-reaching. The new legislation requires migrants to register with the government and pay a fee of about $130 for health coverage and work papers — or face deportation.
That’ s just what has happened in the case of about 100 Cambodian workers in a seafood processing plant in Thailand, who are facing deportation because of entering the country illegally.
A Burmese human rights group, Grassroots Human Rights Education and Development, however, believes such crackdowns on illegal immigrants in Thailand will only exacerbate the problem, leading more people to stay hidden, and to be potential victims of abuse.
The reality migrant workers face across the border is anything but ideal, says Dave Welsh, an official with the American Center for International Labor Solidarity. “Wages in Thailand, strictly speaking, will be better, but the cost of living will also be much higher,” Welsh told the Phnom Phen Post. They have no protections. The workers at the seafood plant, for instance, were effectively unpaid slaves.
Mexicans reverse course
Here in the U.S., the subject of immigration has long stirred controversy — especially related to the flow of aliens into the country. The Tea Party, in particular, has turned immigration into a political hot potato.
A new study by the Pew Research Center, however, has found that there has been a reversal of fortune, so to speak. More Mexicans are leaving the United States rather than entering it, especially due to the economic crisis here. (Not that the Tea Party might reconsider its stand, based on data such as this. )
A report in VN.com, which calls itself a source of unfiltered news by independent contributors, 12 million Mexican immigrants live in the United States (about 51% of them illegally), more than any other immigrant population in another country. In the upcoming presidential election, the report observes, winning key states like California, Arizona, Nevada and Colorado will depend on the Hispanic vote. The immigration debate is a central one in 2012, and this new Pew Center data puts a fresh spin on the topic.
Many factors aligned to end the trend of Mexican immigration, Pew says: America’s slow economic recovery, a Mexican economy healthier than it has been in decades, huge decreases in the Mexican birth rate, expanded State Department efforts towards approving Mexican immigration, and vastly increased border protection.
It seems, though, that Thailand will continue to have problems for some time to come. Human Rights Watch last summer presented a report to the UN about conditions in Thailand, as detailed by the Mekong Migration Network, a group that monitors worker conditions in the region. The report said in part:
“In every region we visited, from the remote provinces on Thailand’s borders to major industrial zones near Bangkok, abuses of migrants were systematic and those filing grievances faced immediate, violent retaliation from a nexus of local police, officials and employers.”
For more on issue, especially from the Cambodian perspective, read the following: