In his song Coming to America, Neil Diamond sings:
Everywhere around the world
They’re coming to America …
Got a dream they’ve come to share
They’re coming to America
Willie Nelson shares a similar sentiment in his song Living in the Promised Land, while Leonard Cohen shared similar feelings in his song Democracy is Coming to the USA. All of these songs share a sense of America as a place of refuge, a place true to its creed as laid out at the foot of the Statue of Liberty: 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!
Today, seven thousand or more migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and probably elsewhere, are marching towards the United States through Mexico. Their claim is that they are fleeing poverty and violence. They hope to cure this by arriving in the United States and finding good jobs and a better life. No doubt at least some are motivated by sentiments like those in the songs mentioned, but some may have other motives. For example, it appears the migration also includes individuals who have been deported previously from America.
Meanwhile, President Trump has declared their march to be a national emergency. He has said he will send troops to defend the border, and that he will cut off aid to the aforementioned countries as punishment for not stemming the flow of human traffic.
Some food for thought:
1) America has the right to decide who comes into the country and who does not.
Despite the sentiments expressed in songs and at the foot of the Statue of Liberty, America simply can’t open the door to anyone who wants to come in. While many people do not agree with much of President Trump’s rhetoric on immigration, he is right about one thing: the United States, like all countries, has the right to control its borders and its immigration system. The impact on American culture and the economy needs to be controlled.2) Every human being has the right to be treated with dignity and respect.This is where the benevolent philosophy of immigration meets harsh practicalities. There are roughly 65 million displaced people in the world. All of them would like a better place to live, but no one country can accept them all. That said, you may be surprised to learn that since 1980, the U.S. has accepted more refugees than the rest of the world combined. According to the Pew Research Center, of the 4 million refugees resettled since that time, the U.S. took in about 3 million of them. The average annual number the US accepts has now dropped because of Trump – down to around 33,000 in 2017 – but that still puts it ahead of several countries, including Canada, Australia and the UK.Still, even at 3 million accepted, it’s nothing compared to the 65 million who want a better, safer life. It is a practical impossibility that a country will take them all, yet there they are, day after day, living in harsh conditions.3) Life back home for the marchers is intolerable.Take Honduras, which has the one of the highest murder rates per capita in the world, combined with over 60% of the population living in poverty. Who wouldn’t want to leave such a place and find a better opportunity? The trouble is, Honduras is surrounded by countries with similar problems, like El Salvador, where the murder rate is the highest on the planet, and Mexico, where 31,000 murders were reported in 2017 alone. The key problem is an ever growing number of violent drug cartels that murder their rivals and bystanders with reckless abandon.
But with all of that said, the conditions of these countries do not necessarily mean that the people there meet the definition of a refugee. A person can only qualify for refugee status when outside they are outside their home country, and they must show a reasonable fear of persecution due to their race, religion, creed, or membership in a social group. Sexual orientation is also a consideration. However, poverty or “looking for a better life” does not make one a refugee according to the UN definition. Therefore, the vast majority of the people heading to the United States are migrants, not refugees, and many of their asylum claims will likely meet with failure.4) Waves of immigrants seeking new lives will be more prevalent in the future.
The experience from other parts of the world suggests that the future is likely to include more caravans like the Honduran one, involving refugees seeking asylum in America and elsewhere. When the exodus of refugees reaches massive proportions, the humanitarian crisis becomes so overwhelming that neighboring states simply can’t prevent a spillover of migrants into their countries. The migration of the Rohingya into Bangladesh is the most recent example. Previously, it was the Sudanese into Kenya. In the absence of enlightened policies, this is a likely future for America, as states in Latin America fail and as global warming increasingly uproots populations to seek safety elsewhere.
5) America has not given Central America enough economic aid so people can live a decent life there.
Even though Trump wants to cut aid to Central America to prevent people from marching to the U.S., a more enlightened approach would be a full court press from the United States as well as other countries, to create a plan along the lines of the Marshall Plan that helped Europe after WWII. More aid is needed in Central America, not less, whether that aid comes in the form of cash, education, law enforcement assistance or all three. Frankly, if the home countries are made safe and people are given better opportunities, their people will not want to run away from those countries.6) What is needed now?More generally, however, what is needed is a new international accord to deal with matters related to migration and resettlement. Such an accord needs to reintroduce the post-World War II concept of displaced persons as candidates for immigration and address the needs of refugees in refugee camps as well as look at how global migration patterns can be better managed. Finally, such an accord needs to address the matter of coordinating foreign aid to address the problems of failing states and migration as a result of global warming. As for America, once the beacon of hope for millions of migrants lost in the world, if it simply cannot accommodate everyone, at least now it can take up this challenge by leading the world in a new direction through an enlightened approach to refugee and migration policy.
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