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Tuesday 12 November 2019
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Commentary

Migration and the poverty paradox

BRIAN E PLUMMER

ACCORDING TO former US president Franklin D Roosevelt, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much, it is whether we provide enough for those who have little.”

The philosophy of raising everyone’s standard of living is what made the US the most powerful country in the world because the vast majority of the rest of the world saw the US as the land of opportunity, where a person can improve their standard of living and this attracted the most gifted people in all fields of human endeavour.

This is no longer the case. The US has become insular, exemplified by President Donald Trump’s policies of America first and lack of concern for anyone else.

His administration has implemented tough and restrictive student and work visa policies, resulting in applications and enrolment at US institutions declining in 2018 for the second year in a row.

The world has a vacuum because there is no country that wants the poor or the huddled masses as is written on the statue of liberty: “Give me 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!”

Immigration was important because the new nation needed immigrants to work in mines, harvest crops and to build infrastructure.

Reality always has contradiction. As the statue of liberty was being erected in the New York harbour to celebrate the end of slavery and the US’s 100th year of nationhood, Americans were demanding that the Chinese be barred from immigrating to the US and Congress eventually complied with the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act.

There was always hostility towards immigrants but it is increasing.

The total undocumented population in the US dropped from a high of 12.2 million in 2007 to 10.5 million in 2017, according the Pew Research Center. This is mainly due to more Mexicans leaving than entering. Mexicans are no longer the majority of undocumented immigrants (47 per cent).

In 2017, about 4.4 million Caribbean immigrants resided in the US, which is ten per cent of the 44.5 million immigrants. Thousands of TT nationals reside in the US and if the environment becomes more hostile for immigrants, many will return home.

The US ranks 34th among 50 wealthy countries with per capita GDP of over US$20,000 in net immigration. Demographic trends in the US point to a severe labour crunch.

With dropping fertility rates of native-born Americans, the number of working-age Americans with domestic-born parents is expected to fall by eight million between 2015 and 2035. The US Census Bureau in 2017 revised downward by 50 million its population forecast for 2050.

Immigration to Europe is relatively small but Europe has moved from a continent of net emigration in 19th and first half of the 20th centuries to net immigration from the 1950s to present. Data released by the International Organisation on Migration for the third quarter of 2017 recorded 146,287 total arrivals to Europe.

China, a competing hegemony, is obsessively focused on its economic rise. Its president, Xi Jinping, said, “The Chinese people are a great people; they are industrious and brave, and they never pause in the pursuit of progress.”

China does not want the poor or the huddled masses (poor immigrants).

No nation today recognises that it is usually the peasants’ or poor’s burning desire for progress that creates great wealth – as well as crime and mayhem. Poverty is a two-edged sword; it make many desire wealth by any means necessary. This creates good and evil.

Necessity (needing or needy people) is the mother of invention. Immigrants are willing to take risks. Risk-taking is important to progress.

I am not advocating for any country to take in immigrants because that is a decision that should be made by consensus.

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