The United States were built by immigrants and up to this very day, The Economist has argued, “The greatest strength of America is that people want to live there.” So why is the country turning so many people away?
The immigration debate flared up again last April when the state of Arizona passed a controversial law that enables racial profiling in an effort to find and extradite illegal aliens.
Although the situation along the Mexican border is worsening, President Barack Obama was quick to join in criticism of Arizona’s law. His Justice Department is reportedly considering taking legal action against the state.
The difficulty with the border issue is that drug and human trafficking go hand in hand. The violence these criminal activities produce is mostly to blame on America’s futile war on drugs rather than an inability to secure the border. Indeed, border patrols have quadrupled in recent decades and it hasn’t stopped the problem.
Speaking at the American University’s School of International Service in Washington DC on Thursday, President Barack Obama recognized this fact when he reminded his audience that today, the United States have “more boots on the ground near the southwest border than at any time in [its] history.”
Many of the eleven million estimated illegals currently residing in the country didn’t cross the Mexican border under cover of darkness but came in legally and subsequently overstayed their visas.
“The overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children,” said the president.
What’s more, immigrants are of enormous value to the country. The president described immigration as a “steady stream of hard-working and talented people” which has made America “the engine of the global economy and a beacon of hope around the world.” To this day, he said, “America reaps incredible economic rewards because we remain a magnet for the best and brightest from across the globe.”
So why is America denying itself this enormous growth potential?
That’s what John Stossel wondered earlier this week when he noted that often overlooked in the debate about the Mexican border issue is that “every year,” the United States “turn away millions of smart, hard-working foreigners for no good reason.”
Based on State Department waiting lists, Stossel pointed out that it would take a computer programmer from India so much as 35 years to get a green card that allows him to work in the United States. A thirty-year-old Mexican with little more than a high-school degree would be so far down on the list, he couldn’t get in for over a hundred years. “If he wants to work in America, why would he even bother to get on the legal list?”
Many fear that immigrants “steal” jobs and many lawmakers are only too eager to perpetuate that illusion. But it’s simply not true. According to Philippe Legrain of Forbes magazines, “Just as working women haven’t deprived men of jobs, immigrants create jobs as well as filling them — both when they spend their wages and in complementary lines of work.”
“Allowing people to move freely is not just a matter of economic self-interest,” according to Legrain. “It is also a moral imperative.” Freedom of movement is a basic human right that should not be denied to people who had the bad fortunate of being born in a Third World country.
People will always crave freedom and opportunity. America prospered when it admitted foreigners who were willing to work for a living and contributed to the economic and intellectual growth and development of the country. In times of economic hardship, the need for free immigration is all the greater.