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Views from the Center


Last night, ABC's "What Would You Do?" featured an intriguing hidden camera experiment on attitudes towards migrant workers. The set up was simple: in a New Jersey deli, actors portrayed a cashier hurling insults and refusing to serve a pair of Latino day laborers because they did not speak English and carried "illegal alien money." The point was to capture the responses of unknowing customers who were asked for help.

How did the experiment unfold? While some stood up in defense of the immigrants, most acted indifferently, walking away. Others joined the insults. "If you want me to make you leave, I'll make you leave," a man said. "We don't want you here." Later to the cameras, he continued with no apologies. "You know what I think? I think they're taking our jobs because there ain't no jobs."

As a Filipino-born immigrant myself, I was reminded that emotionally-charged anti-immigration sentiment is a huge obstacle to development-friendly U.S. migration policy. These attitudes are likely to strengthen now, with high and rising unemployment. But are foreign-born workers an economic problem for Americans? CGD Research Fellow, Michael Clemens, argues otherwise in his latest Op Ed, Immigrants are an Engine of Prosperity.

How will the next administration reconcile the increasing pressure for greater labor mobility given such strong objections to immigration? Michael's essay in the White House and the World offers proposals on how to make immigration policy work for the next administration.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.