Some Truths About Immigration

It seems to me….

America was indebted to immigration for her settlement and prosperity. That part of America which had encouraged them most had advanced most rapidly in population, agriculture and the arts.” ~ James Madison[1].

A U.S. core competitive advantage over the past half-century is that it has handled immigration better than most other countries[2] which will prove extremely beneficial if that policy is allowed to continue. It has taken people in from all over the world, assimilated them better, integrated them into the fabric of society, and has been able to maintain an environment in which new immigrants feel as invested as in their home country.

The 1967 U.N. protocol on refugees, signed by the U.S., defines a refugee as someone outside their country of origin who is afraid to return because of persecution “for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or public opinion”. Congress passed the Refugee Act in 1979 committing the U.S. by law to grant asylum to anyone meeting that criteria. Originally primarily applicable to Cold War refugees, the definition fails to consider migrants fleeing rape, corrupt police harassment, violence, severe hunger, or climate-related conditions. The U.N. General Assembly in 2018 adopted two compacts addressing migration, one of which, the Global Compact for Migration (currently not supported by the U.S.) created a comprehensive global approach to international migration.

The total number of international migrants – defined as people living outside their country of birth – is now estimated to be 258 million. Many left their homes in search of medical care, better jobs, or education. Many left to escape the depredations of war and violence. Others have been displaced by climate change induced catastrophic weather.

The U.S. has been the world’s humanitarian for most of the past 75 years providing the largest amount of foreign aid and accepting the most refugees[3] taking in about 50 percent of the total number of those who were resettled from foreign lands. But not any longer. U.S. aid in the Syrian crisis has been matched by the European Union though neither has been doing enough.

What the U.S. is now doing to assist refugees has become an embarrassment. It had pledged to take in 10,000 Syrians but in 2015 accepted only 2,192 and has struggled to take in more even though, thanks to its distance from the conflict, it could be selective. Canada, meanwhile, with a population about one-tenth of the U.S., already resettled more than 25,000 Syrians. For its part, Germany registered nearly half a million applicants for asylum just in 2015 according to the New York Times.

The world’s richest nations are being put to shame by some of the poorest. Lebanon now has more than 1 million registered refugees, making up a quarter of the country’s population. Jordan is not far behind with more than 650,000. And Turkey houses nearly 3 million. These countries need aid on an entirely different scale than they are receiving.

In addition, Washington has traditionally taken the lead in setting the agenda for humanitarian action, corralling other countries to make donations, accept refugees, and provide forces for peacekeeping operations. The administration is now acting on some of these fronts, but it is still not commensurate with the enormity of the suffering.

More than 159,000 migrants filed for asylum in the U.S. in fiscal year 2018, a 274 percent increase over 2008 though the total number of apprehensions along the southern border has decreased by 70 percent since fiscal year 2000[4], their lowest level since 1971. Most immigrants arriving between 2010 and 2017 came from Asia (41 percent) rather than Latin America. Contrary to conservative rhetoric, there are fewer undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. today than in 2007.

While there currently are over 5,000 migrants waiting in inexcusable conditions to apply for asylum in the U.S., border authorities are processing only 40 to 100 requests a day. In June 2018, less than 15 percent of asylum applicants were permitted to proceed, down from 33 percent a year earlier.

The U.S. was originally founded primarily by Europeans fleeing persecution but decades of asylum law and immigration policy are now being subverted. Political leaders use migrants for self-serving purposes claiming miles-long caravans moving through Central America or arriving in boats on Mediterranean shores to persuade native-born citizens of an eminent threat and to lock down borders, lower social safety nets, and jettison long-standing humanitarian commitments to those in need. Those most opposed to immigration tend to be older, right-wing, non-college educated, low-skilled, and working in immigration-intensive sectors. Contrary to conservative claims, immigrants are less likely than U.S. native-born to commit crimes.

Current politically motivated reactions fail to accept that migration is nearly always beneficial to a host country. The Congressional Budget Office has determined that migration, as a whole, raises the nation’s total economic output. By increasing the number of workers in the labor force, immigrants drive demand for goods and services making the U.S. more productive and contribute financially, both nationally and to individual states, an amount estimated to be about $2 trillion in 2016, about 10 percent of annual GDP.

Majorities of those surveyed in top migrant destination countries say immigrants strengthen their countries. In the U.S., the nation with the world’s largest number of immigrants, six-in-ten adults (59 percent) say immigrants make the country stronger because of their work and talents, while one-third (34 percent) say immigrants are a burden because they take jobs and social benefits[5].

On average, migrants are more productive than native born citizens. Though migrants comprise only about 3 percent of the population, they generated about 9 percent of the global GDP in 2015. 45 percent of immigrants have college degrees compared to only about 35 percent of non-Hispanic white Americans. They frequently are entrepreneurs and innovators, provide inexpensive labor, and they overwhelmingly repay any economic contribution accepted in short-term social service.

Earth has more people over the age of 65 than under the age of five for the first time in history and that ratio is growing. Migrants however, in general, are younger than the native population. In 2017, 75 percent of all migrants were of working age compared to only 57 percent of the global population. The U.S. has both an aging population and a fertility rate well below that necessary for replacement, both important for economic growth. Migrants often act as an economic boon to aging nations helping the very people who most fear them. This has definitely proven true in the U.S.

Regardless of political rhetoric, increased immigration is beneficial not only morally but economically. Immigrants increase our nation’s cultural diversity and standard of living. They provide younger workers in an aging population. They are a source of skilled workers in employment sectors unable to locate sufficiently qualified applicants. The list goes on….

Rather than rejecting a resource which we desperately need, we should be grateful they are willing to come. Let’s reopen the entryways to our nation and welcome them as we have welcomed others throughout all of our history.

That’s what I think, what about you?


[1] James Madison Jr. was a U.S. statesman, lawyer, diplomat, philosopher, and Founding Father who served as the fourth U.S. President. He is hailed as the “Father of the Constitution” for his pivotal role in drafting and promoting the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. Bill of Rights. He also co-wrote The Federalist Papers, co-founded the Democratic-Republican Party, and served as the fifth U.S. Secretary of State.

[2] Zakaria, Fareed. If Trump’s New Immigration Stance Is Here To Stay, It Could Lead To Powerful Compromise, Washington Post, https://www.washingtonpost.com/people/fareed-zakaria/?utm_term=.68d07c0f54b7, 5 April 2019.

[3] Zakaria, Fareed. How Long Will We Ignore Syria’s Suffering?, Washington Post, https://fareedzakaria.com/2016/06/03/how-long-will-we-ignore-syrias-suffering/, 2 June 2016.

[4] Edwards, Haley Sweetland. The Stories Of Migrants Risking Everything For A Better Life, Time, http://time.com/longform/migrants/, 24 January 2019, pp22-43.

[5] Gonzalez-Barrera, Ana, and Phillip Connor. Around The World, More Say Immigrants Are A Strength Than A Burden, Pew Research Center, http://www.pewglobal.org/2019/03/14/around-the-world-more-say-immigrants-are-a-strength-than-a-burden/?utm_source=Pew+Research+Center&utm_campaign=6f16f12a53-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2019_03_15_01_18&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_3e953b9b70-6f16f12a53-400092341, 14 March 2019.

About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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