by Ranjit Shaji
January 29, 2005
Opinion polls indicate that overwhelming majority of Americans want to see the immigration system fixed. Why did the Presidential hopefuls gave a silent treatment to the immigration issue ?. The current immigration system is widely recognized to be broken and unjust. Giving freedom to Afghanistan, Iraq is fine but what about the eleven million people at home who have no freedom and live in the shadows.
More than 3,000 people have died illegally crossing the border since the mid-1990s. People are dying at the borders and families endure long separations, many are forced to live underground existences. American businesses cannot find needed workers or determine if their workers are undocumented and the U.S. Government resources are spent targeting people who fill the labor market needs rather than those who wish to do harm.
Long waiting lists and backlogs in family-based immigration encourage immediate family members to remain here undocumented rather than face long separations from their loved ones or risk crossing a dangerous border. The current immigration system hurts U.S. businesses, U.S. families and U.S. security while it benefits unscrupulous employers, traffickers and smugglers who take advantage and profit from this broken system.
Immigrants put food on our tables and roofs over our heads but they are denied the most basic rights. Anti-immigrant forces are stirring up fear and hate towards immigrants of diverse nationalities and workers are not allowed to be reunited with their families. Many of the fundamental human and civil rights of immigrants are under attack. Immigrants have long been the backbone of the U.S. economy and labor force, yet they are forced to live in the shadows, fearful of asserting their rights and often the victims of exploitation in the workplace.
Undocumented immigrants constitute only 1% of the total U.S. population. Contrary to popular belief most of these immigrants do not enter the United States illegally by crossing the border with Canada or Mexico. Instead most immigrants here illegally, 6 out of 10, enter the U.S. legally with a student, tourist, work or business visa and become illegal when they stay in the United States after their visas expire. The issue is not only about Mexicans. Large number of Asian population can also be seen working in Motels, Gas stations, Convenient stores, Dunkin Donuts etc. Most of them have overstayed their visas.
Undocumented immigrants are extremely vulnerable, as they have few labor protections and are often afraid to come forward to assert their rights. It is difficult for them to join a union, object to illegal wages and unsafe working conditions or receive compensation for work-related injuries. Unscrupulous employers often use workers immigration status against them. Such an employer will contact immigration officials when an undocumented worker files a labor violation complaint. This tactic enables such employers to continue their illegal practices. Workers who attempt to assert their rights are punished or intimidated.
The Arizona Border Control initiative uses the $10 billion program which includes the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, helicopters, fixed-wing aircraft and more than 200 additional Border Patrol agents to increase border surveillance. The same enthusiasm could have resulted in Bin Laden's capture.
America is advocating human rights all over the world but what about the ten million here at home who are constantly living under the fear of deportation ? Richard Gere is miles away supporting freedom for Tibet but would really appreciate if he could also support the freedom for the ten million Undocumented People here at home.
A just legalization program will allow hard-working, law-abiding individuals to come out of the shadows to be screened by the Government. It will also make the communities safer because, when immigrant's deportation fears are removed, they are more likely to report crimes and suspicious activity to local law enforcement agencies. This measure enhances the security by bringing immigration under the rule of law, enabling the law enforcement agencies to focus on terrorists and criminals rather than workers and families. But right now the enforcement agencies waste time and resources investigating workers and families instead of tracking terrorists and criminals.
People who are against immigration reforms are nothing but racists. What does America stand for? Freedom and Liberty. They say they eat up their taxes. Most of the Undocumented People are willing to pay taxes but how? On one side Government says they are not eligible for social benefits and on another side they issue drivers licenses in some states. This shows there is complete anarchy regarding this issue.
Advocates against immigration have no Humane approach. America is a land of immigrants. Why are people coming here ? To work hard and make their dreams a reality. Most of the Undocumented People are law abiding people working, more then the usual hours an average resident does. Many citizens who are shouting against immigration reforms received amnesty in 1986.
Anti-immigration groups, in their efforts to further restrict immigration and oppose any positive reforms to the immigration system, often propagate myths to support their agenda. One anti immigration group based in New York calls Undocumented People as terrorists. And pity that noone is objecting to this. Stop treating Undocumented People as criminals. There are more heinius crimes commited by residents than the Undocumented People.
They say immigrants are non educated people. Fact is the median years of schooling for the legal immigrants, 13 years, is a full one year higher than that of the U.S. native-born. Foreign-born scientists and engineers make up 28 percent of all individuals with PhDs in the United States engaged in research and development in science and engineering. Inc. Magazine reported that 12 percent of the Inc. 500 the fastest growing corporations in America were companies started by immigrants.
Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan has stated that Immigration, if we choose to expand it, could prove an even more potent antidote for slowing growth in the working-age population.
The nation needs an efficient, humane way to get people safely to the employers who want to hire them and that takes Congress and the President. They are the ones who have to stop repeating the history of death along the border. U.S. border policies have resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 migrants on the U.S.-México border. This human rights crisis must be addressed in a balanced and serious way.
And finally people who are against immigration reforms should realize one thing. We all are in a way illegal aliens on this planet and all will end up at the grave and there noone is going to ask - Are you an American or Mexican or Indian or Chinese or illegal ? People against immigration reforms will not understand all these concepts since it requires a high calibre quality of mind.
Undocumented People are just the minuscule part of the bigger threat America is facing. In a November 2004 article of the Harvard Business Review says creativity and immigration is under threat and America will no longer be a economic powerhouse. Some of the highlights of the excerpts are given below with permission from Dr Richard Florida.
The United States of America for generations known around the world as the land of opportunity and innovation is on the verge of losing its competitive edge. Great advances have always come from ideas. Ideas do not fall from the sky. They come from people. People write the software . People design the products. People start new businesses. Every new thing that gives us pleasure or productivity or convenience is the result of human ingenuity.
Of critical importance to American success in this last century has been a tremendous influx of talented immigrants. Since the 1930's the U.S. has welcomed a stream of scientific, intellectual, cultural and entrepreneurial talent. This talent has helped make the U.S. university system and the innovative infrastucture second to none. 1990s saw the largest wave of immigration in U.S. history bringing more than 11 million people from all corners of the globe. The foreign born population of the U.S. currently numbers more than 30 million.
Percentage of the population representated by immigrants is higher in Canada and Australia than in the U.S. These countries understand that todays global economy centers on competition from people rather than for goods and services. New Zealnd's minister for research, science and technology says "We no longer think of immigration as a gatekeeping fucntion but as a talent attraction function necessary for economic growth".
The U.S. is allowing its creativity infrastructure to decay. In the global creative class index based on the data of ILO and US Census bureau, the U.S. is not even in the top ten. Accoording to Business Week's 2004 IT 100 only six of the world's most competitive hight tech companies are based in the U.S. while 14 are in Asia. In the areas of patents and publications America's formidable lead has been eroding as well. Add to all this greater security concerns and a highly politicized scientific climate and it is easy to see why the nation is becoming less and less attractive to the world's brightest minds.
Economists have predicted the shortage of skilled and talented workers as all but inevitable. National Association of Manufacturers report concurs, predicting that a skilled woroker gap will start to form in 2005, widening to 5.3 million workers by 2010 and 14 million by 2020. Outsourcing and unemployement are short term issues and the real long term predicament facing the U.S. is the loomimg shortage of creative talent.
Students are the leading indicator of global talent flows. A March 2004 report by the council of graduate schools found that international student applications for fall 2004 admission had dropped sharply at 90% of the graduate schools responding to its survey. The total decline was 32%. Foreign students are not only finding attractive educational opportunities in other countries, they are also facing obstacles to studying in the U.S. The major reason cited was the visa application process.
The war on terror is leading America to abondon its commitment to an open society. Restricting foreign immigration will not open up more places for home grown talent in the top American graduate programs and research facilities. Countries like Canada, Australia, UK etc are taking full advantage of America's fading allure. These countries will have a huge advantage in the coming war for global talent.
For the first time in its history the U.S. is also confronting the possibility of a reverse brain drain. And students are just the tip of the iceberg. Visa delays have cost U.S. businesses roughly $30 billion in 2 years. 6.3 million people applied for U.S. visas between october 2000 and september 2001. But in fiscal 2003 that number dropped more than 40% to 3.7 million. Almost every major American industry from high tech to entertainment is feeling the repercussions of these decisions.
What if Vinod Khosla the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and venture capital luminary who has backed so many blockbluster companies had stayed back in India? Or if An Wang, founder of Wang Laboratories, had gone to university in Europe? Think of high tech luminaries Sergey Brin, the Moscow born cofounder of Google, Hotmail cofounder Sabeer Bhatia who grew up in Bangalore and Tim Berners Lee who discovered the Internet.
These are people whose creative genius has affected the trajectory of entire industries. America's short sightedness is causing some leading scientists and engineers to leave the country. Roger Pedersen, a stem cell researcher, who left the University of California for Cambridge University says "They have not made such a political football out of stem cells". America's short sightedness and this circle-the-wagons mentality will lead to more scientists and engineers to leave America.
America's narrow mindedness is good news from a global perspective. Several major economies - most notably India's and China's- have grown to the point where they can offer great opportunities for people who stay or return home. India and China are sure to become the global powers only because of one reason - they have the greatest asset in huge numbers - People. Peter Drucker said recently that India may already have the greatest engineering and medical schools in the world.
Nearly 45% of the U.S. workforce falls into the service class - janitors, low-end health care workers, food service workers and the like. Employing so many citizens in non creative ways is a terrible waste of talent and potential. If other nations develop better ways to harness their societies creativity, the U.S. economy might be blown away on an inconceivable scale.
It is important for both business and political leadership to recognize the economic costs of overzealousness and to weigh carefully the serious trade-offs between current security and long-run competitiveness. Over time, terrorism is less a threat to the United States than the possibility that creative and talented people will stop wanting to live within its borders. The nation must act in concrete ways to reassure people - both Americans and Global citizens - that it values openness, diversity and tolerance. To that end it must focus on improving the visa process immediately. In the same way it built the canals, railroads and highways to power industrial growth, the United States has to build the creative infrastructure for the future.
America's eroding access to high level foreign talent has not drawn much attention from political leaders or from the media. If political decisions about immigration, visas and scientific research stalls - the whole world will have to live with the repercussions. Creativity is not a tangible asset like mineral deposits, something that can be hoarded or fought over or even bought and sold. The U.S. must begin to think of creativity as a common good like liberty or security.
The United States built the world's most powerful economy by producing and attracting human capital. To stay innovative, America must continue to attract the worlds sharpest minds or else it would decay soon.
Over the years the United States has been called a nation of immigrants. It is a melting pot for so many different cultures, races, and religions which makes it unique in the world. People bring their hopes, their dreams, and in turn contribute, enrich and energize America.
Because this country was founded in large part by those who fled various kinds of political and religious persecution, it has become of historical responsibility to serve as an advocate for human rights. The very foundation of America's greatness has been embodiment of hope, opportunity and the unwavering belief that tomorrow will always be better than today.
Finally who are the immigrants? Immigrants permeate the fabric of America. They are an integral part of our society, its goals and its values. The backbone that helps make this country great, they set us apart from every nation in this world.
Finally the Administration cannot afford to ignore the Undocumented Workers and the contribution they make to the US economy, nor can it afford to ignore the contributions Foreign Labour makes to the U.S. economy. The Bush Administration must look into the matter gravely and quickly with a more Humane approach before its too late and people continue to die at the borders, Undocumented People continue to be harassed and other countries take advantage of America's short sightedness on closing its doors for the biggest resource on this planet - People. The person who discovered America, Colombus, was not born here.
"The function of freedom is to free someone else" - Toni Morrison
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Sitnews.