Conference Proposal

In January, declaring the U.S. immigration system "broken," President Bush proposed repairing the system through a new temporary worker program that would create "an immigration system that serves the American economy, and reflects the American Dream."[1] Bush explained that, "if an American employer is offering a job that American citizens are not willing to take, we ought to welcome into our country a person who will fill that job."[2] Although immigration reform had surprisingly broad support prior to September 11, 2001, the Bush proposals were opposed by some on both the left and right. Citing fears that the influx of temporary workers would undercut the U.S. labor market by taking away "American" jobs,[3] critics developed alternative immigration reform proposals.[4] The immigration reform debate became one of degree. How much should we restrict the free movement of labor, and how should we design programs to facilitate inward movement of needed foreign workers without threatening "American" jobs?

Meanwhile, concern was growing about jobs lost when capital moves abroad. At first, this concern was not bipartisan. A month after announcing its immigration reform proposal, Gregory Mankiw, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisors, characterized the supposed movement of U.S. jobs abroad as "good thing" and "just a new way of doing international trade."[5] Democratic presidential contender John Kerry replied: "They've [the Bush Administration has] delivered a double blow to America's workers, 3 million jobs destroyed on their watch, and now they want to export more of our jobs overseas."[6] Soon that response was echoed on the other side of the aisle, when Dennis Hastert, speaker of the House of Representatives, argued that foreign workers posed a threat to local jobs, explaining that "outsourcing can be a problem for American workers and the American economy."[7] Members of both parties and houses developed proposals designed to discourage U.S. businesses from outsourcing or "offshoring" U.S. jobs to other countries.[8] Just like the various proposals to regulate the influx of foreign workers, legislative plans to regulate the outflow of "American" jobs differ only by a matter of degree, and still perceive the global movement of jobs as a zero-sum game.

This conference will explicitly link these two debates. What is the relationship between the movement of labor ("insourcing") and the movement of capital ("outsourcing")? What are the effects of various immigration reforms on outsourcing and vice versa? Could or should the movement of capital be targeted to reflect economic needs of the United States in the same way that some parts of immigration law are meant to accomplish national economic goals? Is it easier or more appropriate to restrict the movement of labor than the movement of capital? Why is the discouragement of capital flight seen to pose more of a threat to the "free market" than restrictions on labor mobility?

Outsourcing – like the globalization of production and investment more broadly – has changed our sense of what it means to "Buy American." What does it mean, today, for a car to be American? That it was assembled in Detroit by American citizens? Designed by American designers? Produced by companies owned by American investors? Made with components manufactured in the United States? We might equally well wonder whether and in what way strawberries picked by migrant Mexican workers in California are "American."

Debates about immigration reform and outsourcing each implicate America's place in a global economy, as well as the potential and appropriate reach for national and international regulatory responses to global flows of goods, capital and labor. They also implicate ideas about America's identity and about its attitudes toward poverty at home and abroad.

This conference will bring together academics from a variety of disciplines to consider the underlying concerns that animate today's insourcing and outsourcing proposals, and their implications for citizenship, race relations, and the global political economy. Can we broaden the range of policy alternatives in each debate by linking and comparing them?

We will also place these debates in historical context. To what extent and in what ways has the United States economy always relied upon decisions about comparative advantage that have manifested themselves in cross-border movement of labor and capital? Is outsourcing simply a perpetuation of free trade? Might some contemporary attempts to regulate outsourcing and insourcing represent the replay of xenophobic or nativistic worries, or has recent economic globalization raised altogether new difficulties and/or opportunities for policy-makers? Does the global movement of labor or capital now operate in a new way?

The conference will approach these questions through a series of three plenary panels. The first panel will consider current legislative proposals for and debates around immigration reform, while the second panel will consider "outsourcing" proposals and debates. Panelists will comment critically on specific legislative proposals through their own methodological lens so that each panel will provide historical, political, cultural and economic analyses of the contemporary debates. The conference will culminate in a final roundtable conversation that asks participants from the "insourcing" and "outsourcing" panels to relate the two debates.

We hope to share the insights gained from the conference through publication of the proceedings.


1 "President Bush Proposes New Temporary Worker Program," January 7, 2004, available at

2 Id.

3 See "Statement by AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney on President Bush's Principles for Immigration Reform," January 8, 2004, available at

4 The American Friends Service Committee provides a summary of immigration reform proposals at

5 Jonathan Weisman, "Bush, Adviser Assailed for Stance on 'Offshoring' Jobs, Washington Post, February 11, 2004, p. A6, available at

6 Id.

7 Daniel W. Drezner, "The Outsourcing Bogeyman," Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004, available at

8 The National Foundation for American Policy tracks the legislative status of state and federal outsourcing proposals at