This month we focused on the immigration crisis that is facing the United States and European democracies.
One concern is how to create a compassionate policy that recognizes the personal and political dilemmas facing those who are forced to leave their countries due to poverty or persecution. Another concern is how to be consistent and fair to those who uproot themselves in the hope of a better life without overwhelming our human and financial resources. Our policies currently result in children being torn from their parents, while some individuals who have lived in the US for most of their lives are being deported. The number of those trying to cross the southern border is down from its high.
We all are immigrants or the descendents of immigrants. Just as our ancestors sought new opportunities, we must extend a welcome to as many of those who seek refuge as possible. Framing immigration as “us” versus “them” makes no sense because at one time our ancestors were “them,” but they were allowed into our country to begin their lives anew. The vast majority of our ancestors were not criminals, rapists or drug pushers, nor are the vast majority of those who now seek a new home, many with their families.
Why People Flee Their Homes
People rarely leave their traditional homes and countries willingly. They and their families often have lived for generations in their communities and are comfortable with their lifestyles and traditions. But dire financial situations, food shortages, extreme ethnic or religious persecution, or physical threats force many to flee with hope of a better life.
In both the Eastern and Western hemispheres the goal of those who migrate is the freedom promised by democracies that offer economic opportunities lacking in autocracies. Although inequality often is an issue in democratic countries, the inequalities suffered by the majority who live under many autocracies is extreme, and in many cases life-threatening. The level of poverty experienced by millions is intolerable to the point where they are forced to flee.
Deterioration in the lifestyles of large populations in countries that once seemed on their way to democracy is increasing throughout Africa and the Americas. In Asia the picture is mixed. China, which calls itself a “Peoples’ Republic,” has moved further from a legitimate claim to democracy since its 1949 revolution. India, the world’s largest democracy, still is torn by ethnic strife and inequality, but life for many has improved since it became independent in 1947.
Despite pockets of progress in South and Central America, as well as in Africa, recent events, often spurred by the election of “populist” leaders who become autocratic, have moved the economic and political condition of the majority backward rather that forward. Democratic freedoms — and the economic opportunities they promise — have been curtailed recently in many countries including Egypt, Libya, Poland, Hungary, Sudan, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Serbia, South Africa, Syria, Tunisia, and Venezuela.
→What We Can Do
Countries that abandon their democratic origins often fail to meet the needs of their population while threatening the stability of their neighbors. Millions have crossed the border of Venezuela, which once was much more prosperous, into neighboring countries due to extreme poverty and near starvation. Immigration surges into England from poverty-stricken African and Middle-Eastern countries have resulted in the 2016 Brexit vote, which now threatens the economic stability of the British government.
The reality though, is that well-regulated integration of immigrants actually makes economies stronger. Immigrants take jobs that others don’t want, often in the service industries, and they pay taxes. They also increase the waning population of European communities and the US, and spend their earnings, which contributes to the economy. Criminal and conviction rates for immigrants are below those of native-born Americans.
It is up to us to educate our legislators, those with whom we interact, and ourselves to understand that immigration can be a boon for the economy and communities where migrants settle.
Removing the Reasons for People to Emigrate
Most people are reluctant to leave their countries of origin if they have a choice. Extreme poverty or persecution can make emigration the only possible choice. But what if we could contribute toward the improvement of the lives of those caught in extreme poverty and/or persecution so that they no longer felt compelled to flee?
Our group discussed an article about the successful cross-border economic arrangement between San Diego and its neighbor, Tijuana. The Republican mayor of San Diego, Kevin Faulconer, has written articles and appeared on radio and television to make the public aware of the trade arrangement between those two cities that has resulted in a prosperous partnership. Other cross-border mayors, a total of 25, met in September 2018 to affirm their commitment to working together to encourage trade and to “strengthen social and economic development for our region.”
The US pledged $10.6 billion aid in December to encourage economic development in Southern Mexico and Central America. This type of funding — a combination of private and public efforts — does not require congressional approval as does a border wall. Although not a quick solution, these funds can create opportunities that brighten the lives of those in these regions as programs are developed to enhance skills via a tourism industry or manufacturing products for internal or international trade. Of course this grant money needs to be carefully monitored to ensure that its focus remains on the needs of those it is intended to help, rather than being drained into the coffers of politicians and cartels. The new president of Mexico, Lopez Obrador, has pledged to use the funds to develop tourism to help individuals in this extremely poor region.
→What We Can Do
We can encourage legislators to support solutions to our immigration crisis that honors the lives of those forced to leave their homelands, while at the same time providing new infrastructures that remove the need to immigrate whenever possible. We can support organizations that improve the lives of those who live in poverty due to deteriorating conditions in their homelands.
For Further Reading
After losing DACA and facing deportation, he returned to Mexico. He was killed weeks later, Samantha Schmidt, Washington Post, June 11, 2018
Family Separation May Have Hit Thousands More Migrant Children Than Reported, Miriam Jordan, NY Times, Jan. 17, 2019
Fortress Europe, Matthew Carr, The New Press, 2012, 2016
Fleeing for their lives, migrants trek for the US, Benjamín Alfaro, AFP, June 29, 2018
Four myths about how immigrants affect the U.S. economy, Gretchen Frazee, PBS News Hour, Nov. 2, 2018
Freedom in the World 2017, Report by Freedom House
Leaked photo reveals ‘mass trial’ of immigrants in Texas, Fernando Ramirez, Houston Chronicle, June 3, 2018
National emergency: Is there a crisis on the US-Mexico border? Micah Luxen, Jessica Lussenhop and Rajini Vaidyanathan, BBC News, 15 February 2019
Poll: Most Texas voters oppose border wall, Jeremy Wallace, Houston Chronicle, April 19, 2018
These countries are losing their freedoms fastest, World Economic Forum, November, 2017
US pledges $10.6B aid for Central America, Southern Mexico, Mark Stevenson, Associated Press, December 18, 2018
US-Mexico Border Mayors Sign Resolutions in Support of Trade and Infrastructure Funding, Kevin Faulconer, September 21, 2018
What 7 statistics tell us about immigration and crime, Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN, January 8, 2019
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and several related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Master’s in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.