We’re All Immigrants - So What?

  • by Pete O'Brien
  • 06-13-2021

Years ago there was an abbott in Hingham Mass, Abbott Campbell, who had spent many years - almost three decades - as a missionary in Africa. He was a brilliant guy who had an amazing facility with languages, and had learned 6 or 7 sub-Saharan languages fluently. If there was no one else in the church, he would sometimes say prayers in different languages, to include the click language of the Khoisan people. The Khoi and San peoples are an interesting group for a host of reasons, but for now what is relevant is that they may be the only Homo sapiens who didn’t displace another group of Homo sapiens as they migrated. They were the first.

And except for the Khoisan living in sub-Saharan Africa, everyone is an immigrant; everyone.

So, immigration statistics world-wide are a bit misleading. For example, two countries in the top 10 as destinations for immigration are Saudi Arabia and the UAE. People go to these countries for work. But when the work is finished, they are sent home. Very close control is maintained at all times.

Saudi Arabia has roughly 10 million immigrants, and virtually all of them are on work visas, and they are in the country without their families. The Saudis do not have any sort of normal process to receive citizenship. The UAE has a process, but it requires 30 years of living in the UAE and a squeaky clean record and a job the entire time. And you need to speak Arabic. And revoke any other citizenship.

In fact, no one moves to Saudi Arabia or the UAE to stay there; you go to work. And you’re not allowed in unless you already have a job. Or a skill. For example, if you’re a doctor you can buy a visa and set yourself up and work. The Saudi expert visa is $27,000 per year or $213,000 for an open-ended visa.

Some countries allow virtually no immigration. China, for example, allows only ethnic Chinese to immigrate. In 2016, the last year for which there were complete numbers (that I could find) China issued 1,576 permanent residency documents. China reports a total migrant population of just short of 1 million, again, ethnic Chinese who have moved to China for a number of reasons, such as the 300,000 who left Vietnam in the late 1970s after the two countries fought a short but violent war.

As for the US - which the press tells us is a truly horrible country - folks are literally knocking down the fences to get in. We’ve been the #1 destination for folks on the move for a very long time; we are likely to remain so, even for such a terrible place.

For some recent numbers, DHS provides this (numbers are estimates):130,000 non-citizens obtained lawful permanent resident (LPR) status in the fourth quarter of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 ((July, August, September).

As for countries of nationality, during the last quarter of FY 2020, 41% of LPRs were from: India, Mexico, the People’s Republic of China, the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and Brazil. 

Of these 130,000 people, 41% were here for employment, 36% were as immediate relative of US citizens, 7% were family sponsored. 7% classed as refugees, and 3% were seeking asylum.

Since January, things have picked up. On of March 11, 2021, the Chief of the Tucson sector of the Border Patrol, Josh Modlin, observed: “So right now, we’re about a hundred percent over where we were this time, this last fiscal year. We’ve already surpassed in the first four months of this fiscal year. We’ve already surpassed all of 2018. If the flow continues at the rate it is here, by the end of this fiscal year, we will have surpassed ‘18, ’19, and ‘20, all combined.”

So, the individual who is - supposedly - taking charge of fixing the border situation is Vice President Harris. Harris has yet to go to the border. Some would observe that she isn’t going to learn anything at the border that she can’t learn in her briefings. Technically, that’s probably true. But, isn’t she supposed to be showing some leadership? Leadership means talking to the “troops,” seeing the issues from their perspective, getting your own eyes on the problem.

Harris suggested that the solution lies in addressing the “root problem.” As was discussed in a recent article by John D. Davidson writing in “The Federalist,” the idea that the US can: control illegal immigration by improving conditions in impoverished countries is not a serious argument. It is indistinguishable from the nation-building boondoggles that successive administrations have undertaken in Iraq and Afghanistan…

One might even argue that letting people from Mexico or Guatemala into the US actually makes it less likely that those countries will fix their own problems. After all, the US is acting as the pressure relief valve for the internal problems that are causing people to want to get out.  Simply put, if your potential situation in the USA is clearly better than in Mexico, AND the USA is saying: “come on in,” why would you stay?

If the US really wanted to “fix” Mexico, it would seem the answer would be just the opposite: “Not only are you not allowed into the US, no one will be allowed in until the situation in Mexico improves to the following level.” And then state the conditions. And then, step back and see what happens.

Of course, the other option would be to state quite specifically which people the US will allow in, and very deliberately engage in a “brain drain” from all these nations, taking in the cream of their societies. At some point these nations will - presumably - wake up and cut off the flow.

The point is, going to Mexico City or Guatemala City or San Salvador and discussing with their leadership what we can do to make their countries better is going to end up as nothing more than an agreement to:
1) take in a certain number of immigrants each year in exchange for:
2) some form of largesse flowing from Washington to these various capitals.
To think otherwise is ludicrous.

But the US is neither responsible for nor capable of fixing the problems in Mexico or Guatemala or any place else without a massive and sustained effort. And even then, history has not been kind to those efforts. Look at the US effort to reform Japan, starting in December 1941. We changed Japan - but not a lot - at massive cost. 

So, instead of getting wrapped around an emotional axle on “immigration,” how about we just start by looking out for US interests?