Dr. Peggy Levitt, Chair of Sociology at Wellesley College and Senior Research Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, talked to UA Magazine about welfare policies for migrants.
“We have to stop pretending we live in closed spaces; people move and cross borders”, Dr. Peggy Levitt tells UA Magazine. “Problems become transnational; we need transnational solutions”, she adds. Dr. Levitt, Chair and Professor of Sociology at Wellesley College and co-director of the Politics and Social Change Workshop at Harvard, studies global citizenship and investigates social protection solutions for migrants.
“Families and communities cross borders but the legal, pension, healthcare, and education systems that serve them do not”, she wrote in the article “Why We Need Transnational Social Protection for Migrants”, published in April 2017 in Sapiens, and republished in UA Magazine. But not everything is lost at the borders: migrants bring with them a rich cultural patrimony. Dr. Levitt says embracing this cultural diversity enriches the literary and artistic heritage of receiving-nations.
“We need to start to feel a sense of responsibility for others beyond our own communities”, she says. Increasingly, we are seeing the opposite; “Social welfare policies are being used as immigration control policies”; cutting welfare benefits for immigrants is a way of saying “you don’t belong here” and, thereby, pushing them to return home. Take, for instance, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a policy established by President Obama. DACA allowed children who entered the US without documents as minors to apply for work and study permits. The Trump administration has disbanded the program, threatening to end legal and welfare protection for thousands of young people who only recently came out of the shadows.
“I fear for the rise of nationalism and hate speech. But I don’t want to believe it’s a permanent condition. In the end, we have to keep working to find solutions”.
But, if some nations fail to provide welfare protection to migrants, others are working on positive strategies. Dr. Levitt applauds the health care provided at Mexican consular offices to immigrants living in California. She also points out the Ecuadorian welfare plan for citizens living abroad that affords access to basic health insurance. In parts of the United States and Spain, state and provincial governments have stepped in when the national government fails to provide.
The European Union, Dr. Levitt says, is a clear example of a coordinated effort at transnational cooperation. But it is not infallible, she warns; “no one was expecting Brexit, but it happened.” Borders are closing, xenophobia and populism are rising. “I fear for the rise of nationalism and hate speech. But I don’t want to believe it’s a permanent condition. In the end, we have to keep working to find solutions”.