I have been sharing links to a wonderful series by Bread For the World: Development Works! This week I am sharing the sixth essay–Development Assistance: A Key Part of the Immigration Puzzle. Please click on the link above and read the whole essay. Here are the highlights as I see them:
The editors immediately note that “At first glance, immigration may seem like a completely unrelated topic, since people tend to think of it mainly in terms of its impact inside the United States. For most of us, immigration is less about international policy than about hot-button national, state, and local political questions. The reality is that it is both a domestic and an international issue. To make the best decisions as a nation on the complex questions of immigration policy, we need to see both dimensions. The crux of the missing international half is “Why do immigrants leave their home country and come to the United States?”
U.S. immigration has both domestic and international dimensions. To make the best decisions on immigration policies,we need to consider how the U.S. assistance going to immigrants’ home countries can best contribute to lasting improvements in rural economies and living conditions. Development agencies are beginning to incorporate into their Latin American projects the easing of pressures to migrate.
Undocumented immigrants frequently leave their families behind, go into debt to pay for difficult journeys, risk being victimized by organized gangs or dying of dehydration in the desert while attempting to cross the U.S. border, and are confined to low paying work because they do not have the legal right to work here. Unauthorized immigrants, arriving from rural communities in Mexico and Central America, are primarily healthy people in their teens, twenties, or thirties. Yet poverty combined with lack of economic opportunity at home lead them to see migration to the United States as their best option.
(The description of an immigrant’s life and transition in America is excellent.)
Myth: Immigrants are taking jobs away from U.S. citizens.
Reality: It seems like a good bet that“subtracting immigrants”from the workforce would lower America’s stubbornly high unemployment rates. After all, then there would be job openings. But only about 2 percent of Americans work on farms. The reality is that there have been numerous attempts to recruit citizens to do fieldwork—even at jobs that pay more than minimum wage—but none of them have been successful on a large scale. In our abandonment of farm labor as a common occupation, Americans are not alone. Other developed countries—and developing countries that are a bit wealthier than their neighbors—also have agricultural work forces dominated by immigrants. El Salvador, while the source of many workers on U.S. farms, is itself home to about 200,000 unauthorized immigrants who work on its own farms.
Myth: The United States doesn’t need to worry about immigration issues beyond just deporting the unauthorized immigrants themselves.
Reality: Immigration enforcement is expensive—for example, in 2010 it cost the Department of Homeland Security an estimated $1 billion to detain and deport 76,000 Central Americans. Yet if conditions in their home communities have not improved, peoplewho have been deported don’t “stay deported.”In recent surveys, for example, 43 percent of those deported to Central America say they plan to return to the United States within a year. The figure is even higher among those who left family members behind in the United States. When workers are deported, the money they are saving from their U.S. jobs and sending home stops—worsening the situation in impoverished migrant-sending communities. This is not a minor concern—for example, in 2011 the money sent home (called “remittances”) comprised 17 percent and 16 percent, respectively, of Honduras’ and El Salvador’s total economic outputs. In reality,we can only ease our concerns about unauthorized immigration by helping to stop what is causing it: hunger and poverty in the communities of those willing to risk illegal border crossings.
As an example, in 2009, 96 percent of U.S. assistance to Mexico was spent on military and drug enforcement assistance. Assistance that could be directed toward job-creation projects totaled $11.2 million, or .01 percent of total U.S. assistance. Yet because the cause of most unauthorized migration is poverty and lack of jobs in Mexico’s rural areas, projects that create more opportunities in poor communities can help ease the pressures to migrate.
I am thankful to Bread for the World for publishing the educational information that they share with us and with policy-makers on a regular basis. It is an organization that I feel happy to support.
I encourage you to read all the essays at the compilation.
Next week, it will be my pleasure to share the material on: Development Assistance: Where Does It Lead?
- Essay 6 from Bread 4 the World: Assistance Can’t wait (tbolto.wordpress.com)
- Americans Reaching Out (tbolto.wordpress.com)
- Bread For the World on the Farm Bill (tbolto.wordpress.com)