Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Immigrant.

I am an American born abroad: born from an American parent in a foreign land. I have dual citizenship and lived a large portion of my formative years outside the U.S. in a country close to my heart, Venezuela. I have relatives, friends, dear memories and continued interest and involvement with the country where I was born. Its current situation and of those I have left behind pains me greatly. This is a common affliction shared, with different details, stories and backgrounds, by many in the U.S. born in other countries and living here now; and while I am not technically an immigrant I understand, literally, where they are coming from and have an ear attuned to anti-immigrant rhetoric.

That anti-immigrant rhetoric ignores a basic question: why did 42 million people, a number greater than the whole population of Canada or half the population of Germany, decide to migrate to the U.S.? Contrary to the current Republican candidate’s messaging, no country actually “sends” people to the U.S.

Migrants make the individual hard choice of leaving their home country because they see no other way out of their situation, be it political, economic or personal. They believe that in the U.S. they will have a new opportunity to improve and/or protect themselves and their families. They believe such opportunity is lacking in their country of origin. Many make the trip thinking they will go back once they’ve made it (“if you can make it there, you can make it everywhere”) or conditions “back home” have changed. A great majority eventually remains in the U.S. once they have constructed a new life, under new rules and with a reliable social contract. They sometimes try to return and realize, as Thomas Wolfe wrote, “you can’t go home again” as the home they once knew exists no more.

A portion of U.S. born Americans always says before any election that if the candidate they oppose wins, they will move out of the country. Canada has often been the supposed destination, New Zealand seems to be a popular choice this season. No mass migration has in fact occurred after any U.S. elections, but immigrants in many cases have not only chosen but been forced to leave their own country of birth for political, war strife, hardship or safety reasons. The quipped motivation in the “if he/she wins I’ll move to Canada” retort, is augmented hundreds of times over for many incoming migrants. They have truly voted or been forced to vote with their feet. Most have probably not read or know but would empathize with the lines by Emma Lazarus:

“Give me your tired, your poor, 
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

By definition immigrants believe in the promise of America. Their economic contribution is significant and their social contribution incalculable. Many have mixed marriages and there are 36 million U.S. born children of immigrants. Immigrants by the most part do not want to reject their origins and naturally seek fellow expatriates to socialize and live with, maintain their country of origin customs and enjoy the cuisine they miss. That is not a rejection of U.S. values and customs, it is an addition. When their origin values and customs are anathema to those in the U.S. in most cases they and their children adapt, particularly when they feel socially welcomed by their new country. Conversely, the U.S. adapts elements of immigrant culture and makes it our own. Salsa, pizza slices and Chop Suey come to mind as adaptations now natural to the U.S. culture.

The hard numbers of size, scale and factual contribution are clear:

  • The Migration Policy Institute calculates, derived from Census Bureau statistics, that the immigrant population (defined as “people residing in the United States who were not citizens at birth”) totals 42.4 million people. That is a little over 13% of the country’s population. For perspective, the African American population is 12.2% of the population and the Hispanic American population is 16.3% (2010 Census). The estimated population of undocumented migrants is around 11.2 million which would make approximately 3.5% of people residing in the country “illegals,” a small minority bearing a disproportionate amount of vindictive political venom and upon which countless ills are laid on. The number of undocumented immigrants has decreased from a little above 12MM in 2008 to its present level and counting.

U.S. Foreign Born Population by Region of Origin. 
Europe Region: 4.8MM
Asia Region: 12MM
(East Asia: 3.77MM / So. Central Asia, including India: 3.2MM / West Asia, including Israel: .96MM)
Africa Region: 1.75MM
America Region: 22.3MM
(Central America, including Mexico: 14.8MM / Caribbean: 3.88MM / So. America: 2.8MM)
Migration Policy Institute, U.S. Immigrant Population by State and County (accessed Sept 1, 2016)

  • The Pew Research Center calculates there are 36 million second generation Americans, of which 20MM are adults, i.e. can vote. Added to the approximately 19MM immigrants that are naturalized citizens it makes for a powerful voting bloc. Even with a 50% abstention rate it would mean almost 20 million votes, enough to swing many an election.  Politicians demonize immigrants at their own peril when driving wedges between long timers and newcomers.

Much ink and bytes have been used to counter arguments laid out by the anti-immigrant rhetoric. In a fact-free reality immigrants (coded as “illegal” to slander a population much greater than the actual 3.5%) are accused of stealing jobs at best and being harbingers of terrorists and criminals at worst.

  • Fact is, as has been pointed out, the low end jobs “stolen” usually do not involve language skills (typically crops, dishwashing, abattoirs, gardening, clean up, etc.) and higher end jobs are filled by companies skirting laws and ethics in pursuit of self-interest through legal corporate sponsorships. In 2012, there were nearly 420,000 “removals” by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), of which 228,000 were by border capture (they never made it in) and 190,000 where “interior apprehensions.” During 2012 there were 1.8 million jobs created by the private sector, that is, nearly the same number of jobs were created every month than all “interior apprehensions” for the whole year. Of the total removals, 55% were of convicted criminals--not everyday workers.
  • Facts are, as has been repeatedly demonstrated, neighborhoods and cities with increasing immigrant populations have seen decreasing crime over the years. While absorbing a portion of immigrants, members of the Muslim community aid in uncovering terrorist plots, and members of Hispanic communities work with police to better control gangs. This does not mean that there are no bad apples, but the rhetoric paints broad strokes with a wide brush, smearing minorities to reinforce stereotypes.
  • The Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy has calculated that undocumented alien residents (“illegals”) currently living in the United States collectively paid $11.64 billion in state, local taxes, sales taxes and government fees in 2015. These do not include their tax withholds which will not be returned.
  • GDP is the sum of all transactions in products and services. The contribution of 78 million immigrants and children of immigrants to the market of transactions make for a sizable chunk of America’s GDP.

There comes a morning when the immigrant looks in the mirror and realizes that an American is staring back; an American accepting of differences, striving in the pursuit of happiness, created equal; and troubled by the whipping up of anti-immigrant sentiment. Many have seen and lived such persecution of minorities for electoral purposes in their country of origin and know what it has led to. Thus, when asked, “Is America headed in the wrong direction?” their answer is “yes” because of the celebration of obstructionism, racism, extremism and sheer stupidity in political discourse, its lackadaisical treatment by the so-called mainstream media and the rising influence of fringestream media feeding populist frenzy. The wrong direction. Something I have lived, outside of the American Democracy bubble. I personally know that democracy is not the end of history: we can regress.

There will always be a special place in the immigrant heart for his or her roots. This is human, understandable and not a reason to marginalize. I know of the pain they feel when there is pain in the country they grew up in. Immigrants will support in humanitarian ways and with patriotic fervor the causes they believe in and, in so doing, defend and spread true American values throughout the world. They are the newest Americans. Welcome.


Links and References

Pew Research Center: Second Generation Americans (PDF)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Words and facts that all immigrants, US candidates for president and citizens of US should read. Let´s never forget history and the words were engraved on the Statue of Liberty.

-Natalia Bravo


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