By David Jones and Frank T. Scruggs ; Presently debate over immigration continues in many parts of North America in the U.S., Canada and Mexico in the government and the private sectors. In many cases misinformation and sound-bites skew the actual information which clouds (the discussion regarding who is illegal and who rightfully is entitled to the rights of being called an American. The issue for policymakers and constituents (voters) alike is to determine criteria by which we decide this debate on immigration. A major consideration policy makers in every country should review is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in December 1948 which specifically addresses immigration and migration. Articles 13 states that:
• (1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.
• (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
and Article 14 states:
• (1) Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
• (2) This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
There are also those people determined to use the immigration issue for political favor, or as a vehicle for public office. There politicians stir up fear and controversy over immigrants and people seeking employment opportunity. There are only but a few of the reasons that are actually beneficial to their cause but still will continuously provide the public hype. Typically, fear revolves around losing jobs; increased taxes, etc. are often designed to fuel resentment and backlash against new immigrants, especially from Latin American countries.
In regards to legal immigration, Asia has the largest number of legal immigrants; Vietnam, Thailand, China, Japan, India, Pakistan, etc. are all Asia countries. Approximately 34.9% of all legal immigrants come from Asia (Refer to Figure 1) as shown in Table 1.
Table 1: Source of Immigrants to the U.S.
Country/Geographic Percentage of Legal Immigrants (%) Africa
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006
North America has an immigrant heritage which consists of 35 Million people of 12% of the American population is foreign born. Africans first came to the America in 1620 (the first twenty were indentured servants). During the slave trade era Africans were imported or forced immigration as chattel slaves until January 1, 1808 as restricted by U.S. legislation; after 1808 all African slaves were either American born or illegally smuggled into the U.S. In the U.S., immigration policy is the responsibility of the federal government.
Table 2 shows the present and projected composition of the U.S. population:
Table 2: : U.S. Population Projected Ethnic Changes
Race/Ethnic Group Percentage Year 2000 Percentage – Year 2050 (projected)
Source: U.S. Census Bureau, 2006
Congress passed the first restrictions on immigration in 1882 (1808 for Africans) and restricted all persons alleged “undesirables” and virtually all Asians. In 1921, a Comprehensive Immigration Act was passed establishing the maximum number of immigrants each year and set a quota for each foreign country at 3% later changed to 2%.
Restrictions of the Immigration Act of 1921 were in response to the wave of Southern and eastern Europeans, Catholic and Jewish immigrants (Poland, Russia, Hungary, Italy, Greece) that entered the U.S. prior to World War I. Quotas were not abolished until the Immigration & Nationality Act of 1965—Replace with categories for relatives, family members and those with professional and skilled trades.
Approximately 1 million people are legally admitted to the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. An additional 32 million people are awarded visa annually to enter the U.S. for study, pleasure or business. There are five categories of noncitizens admitted into the U.S. These five categories include the following:
1. Legal Immigrants (Lawful Permanent residents, Permanent Resident aliens)
2. Refugees and Asylees
3. Parolees (Persons enjoying Temporary Protected Status) – Humanitarian or medical reasons, etc.
4. Legalized Aliens (Amnesty Aliens)
5. Non-Immigrants (Nonresident Legal Aliens)
The U.S. Coast Guard may even intercept boats at sea and return people to their country of origin. Aliens do not have a constitutional right to enter the United States however once someone is in the U.S., whether or not they’ve entered legally or illegally, each and every one of them is entitled to due process of law and the equal protection of the laws. Therefore once an immigrant set foot into America (specifically on U.S. soil) they’re entitled to a fair hearing prior to any attempt by the government to deport them. Provided that the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights really matter, aliens should be entitled to apply for asylum and present evidence at their hearing of well-founded fear of persecution if returned to their country of origin.
Unfortunately this happens in the cases where political will exists as is the case with Cuba for example. The political climate allowed for years the acceptance of certain high profile Cuba athletes to flee. The same often held true for Chinese and/or Russian scientists whom the West wanted in order to embarrass their country of origin by taking in potential exiles ( obviously for political gain).
Presently, economic status often determines who will get into America; especially the U.S. Many Western Europeans have access to resources necessary gain access either through legal or either extra legal methods such as marriages of convenience. Education is another access route as witnessed by the computer engineers from Asia who proliferate the Silicone Valley of California. One other thing to consider is the role of race/color. Africans tend to have to lowest immigration and asylum rate than any other group. Although the continent is known for war, genocide and AIDS as factors deserving humanitarian concern; clearly European immigrants are favored over black and Latin immigrants.
The language one speaks also becomes an issue when looking at current policy of who is in the U.S., while the majority language is English; Spanish has become necessary for North Americans due to the high number of people whom speak only Spanish. This is clearly a problem in employment, education, legal and health care settings making blending more difficult for Africans, Haitian and Latin immigrants than for European immigrants. English as Second language classes required often burden cash-strapped school districts seeking to make cuts rather than incur additional expenses. What has being dubbed the Spanglish dialect is really a true dialect in many places. Still despite many Americans resistance to immigration of Mexicans, many Americans go south to get a good deal on a vacation in Mexico at upscale resorts yet barely understanding the culture or the people.
Mexicans and Latin Americans in general come north of the border into Canada and the U.S. to make money and improve their standard of living. This has created these parallel worlds of two competing interest. One for economic bargains and relative deals of cheap fun in the sun, and the one of needing to make dollars and improve ones quality of life, and find decent housing while Both are legitimate needs and can be met, but only at the expense of acting as if somehow there has to b control on one side of the border. Americans are free to enter Mexico, but Mexicans are not so free to do like wise. The irony being one class of people is poor and the other is relatively well off, if not rich. Herein lies the problem; money allows for some Mexicans to come and go, but they often go to Europe instead of America, because they don’t want to be humiliated by coming to the U.S. and being seen as just another poor Spanish speaking immigrant
The U.S. has 5,000 miles of border and share a 2,000 mile border with Mexico (hundreds of international air and seaports). The U.S. government estimates about 400,000 illegal immigrants enter the U.S. annual while unofficial estimates go as high as about 4 million per year. The U.S. government estimates about 4 million illegal aliens reside in the U.S. and unofficial estimates claim as many as 12 million or higher. As a free society the U.S. is not prepared to undertake the massive roundups and summary deportation of illegal residents. The 5th and 14th amendments require that every person (not just citizens) be afforded due process of law however; the INS may turn back people at the border or even hold them in detention camps raising questions about whether or not America really is that free country standing as a shining beacon on the hill for the poor and the oppressed.
David Jones, an international conflict specialist is also co-founder of Siloam International, a Portland Oregon-based organization that provides culturally based programs for international projects in Europe, India, Africa, Latin America and North America.