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Commentary: On second thoughts, keep your tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free
Published on July 18, 2014 Email To Friend    Print Version

By Anthony L Hall

Hispanics and Haitians migrating to America

Give me your tired, 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!

It’s arguable that these final lines of Emma Lazarus’s sonnet, “The New Colossus,” is as much a guarantee of an immigrant’s right of entry to the United States as the US Constitution is of a citizen’s Bill of Rights.

What’s more, since this poem was engraved on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in 1903, every president has reinforced its clarion call to oppressed people everywhere by proudly proclaiming America “a nation of immigrants.” In fact, President Obama did just that on Friday, when he presided over this year’s July 4th naturalization ceremony at the White House for 25 immigrants from 15 different countries.

Recently published figures from the United Nations support this view. More than 45 million immigrants live in the US, according to UN figures, more than four times as many living in any other nation in the world.

(USA Today, September 28, 2013)

This is why it seemed un-American, perhaps even inhumane, when Obama declared recently that America will no longer welcome the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

He went further, warning that, if they make it to America, their only refuge will be temporary housing in a detention center before being sent right back where they came from:

President Obama says tens of thousands of Central American children flooding into the United States along the southern border have created a ‘humanitarian crisis,’ and he appealed directly to parents to stop sending kids north.

‘Do not send your children to the borders,’ he said. ‘If they do make it, they’ll get sent back.’

(ABC News, June 26, 2014)

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that – manifesting the most virulent strain of nimbyism – “Anglos” from California to Texas have been forming posses comitatus to prevent federal agents from even processing illegal immigrants in their border towns, let alone allowing those immigrants to settle there.

The problem, of course, is that poverty, oppression, and violence are so suffocating in most Central American countries these days that despairing parents are just making the rational choice to give their children (and, in many cases, themselves) a chance to breathe free.

And it’s worth noting that these immigrants from Central America are not the first to challenge America’s open-door policy and find it woefully discriminating:

Ironically enough, it was another Democratic president, Bill Clinton, who initiated the inherently unfair, if not racist, ‘wet foot, dry foot’ immigration policy during his presidency, which stipulates that seafaring Cuban refugees who make it to US shores must be assimilated, unconditionally; whereas seafaring Haitian refugees (fleeing even greater persecution and privations) who make it must be repatriated, summarily.

(“Compassion Fatigue for Haitian Migrants,” The iPINIONS Journal, July 31, 2009)

Yet still they come. Never mind that the welcoming “lamp beside the golden door” nowadays is invariably a searchlight from a guard tower beaming through barbed-wire fence erected to keep them out; or, in the case of Haitians, the klieg light of a Coast Guard boat patrolling offshore to keep them at bay.

And so, with apologies to Shakespeare:

Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore…
In sequent toil all forwards do contend….

To be fair, I should clarify here that this commentary pertains only to illegal immigrants. I should also note, however, that if you are a rested, rich European breathing perfectly free, you will find America’s door for legal immigration as open to you today as it was to your ancestors in 1903. But if you are in fact a tired, poor, non-European yearning to breathe free, you will find this door almost as unwelcoming as that barbed-wire fence on its southern border.

Africans migrating to Europe

I would be remiss not to comment on the tens of thousands of Africans washing up on the shores of Europe, rivaling the tens of thousands of Hispanics flooding across the borders of the United States.

The deaths of 30 boat migrants sparked anger and frustration in Italy on Monday, as critics accused the government of failing to deal with an immigration crisis which has seen over 5,000 people rescued in the last 24 hours…

It is not the first time Italian rescuers have found migrants dead on the overcrowded boats but never before was there such a large number…

They are journeys of hope, but increasingly end up as journeys of death,’ the archbishop of Agrigento in Sicily, Francesco Montenegro, told Radio Vatican.

(Agence France-Presse, June 30, 2014)

Except that no European country has enshrined its commitment to welcoming immigrants from around the world – as the United States has, and no European leader has proudly proclaimed his country a nation of (non EU) immigrants – as American presidents have. On the contrary:

Italy, for example, has an immigration policy [towards African migrants] that aims at mass expulsion of illegal immigrants. Indeed, Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi even proposed an immigration bill that would authorize border patrol to open fire on boats carrying would-be illegal immigrants.

(“Plague of Haitian Migrants in Caribbean,” The iPINIONS Journal, March 31, 2005)

The problem, of course, is that Africans will continue migrating to Europe for the same reasons Hispanics (and Haitians) will continue migrating to the United States:

The BBC reports that 194 drowned and over 200 remain unaccounted for … and are presumed dead. As with the Haitians, though, one is compelled to wonder how many African migrants perish along the way, every day, without being able to even send out an SOS…

Nonetheless, as tragic as this event was, political dysfunction, economic stagnation, and civil strife on the Dark Continent are such that Africans will continue to risk life and limb to seek a better life in Europe. For just as no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Caribbean Sea has stemmed the tide of Haitians setting off for the United States, no legal barrier or risk of drowning in the Mediterranean Sea will stem the tide of Africans setting off for Europe.

(“Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 7, 2013)

What to do

hall.jpg
Anthony L. Hall is a Bahamian who descends from the Turks and Caicos Islands. He is an international lawyer and political consultant - headquartered in Washington DC - who also publishes a current events weblog, The iPINIONS Journal, at http://ipjn.com
Despite America’s apparent betrayal of its immigration ethos and Europe’s unvarnished aversion to African migrants, I sympathize with their efforts to stem these unebbing tides or, failing that, to do more to repatriate than assimilate illegal immigrants. I mean, just imagine the chaos, to say nothing of the backlash, if all of the tired, poor, huddled masses of the Americas and Africa felt entitled to just show up at the U.S. and European border, respectively, and be welcomed in to breathe free?

The United States cannot police violence throughout the Americas, and Europe cannot do so throughout Africa. And they cannot provide refuge to all those affected by violence; especially given that this violence is often perpetrated by local governments against their own people or enabled by government corruption, incompetence, and/or salutary neglect.

More to the point, if Obama is duly worried about the unsustainable burdens rolling tides of tens of thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America would place on public services in the United States, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has just cause to be ten times more worried about that which similar tides of illegal immigrants from Africa would place on public services in Italy.

Since political strife exploded with the 2011 Arab Spring, Italian deals with North African dictators to halt the flow of migrants have fallen apart and thousands of economic migrants have been joined by those fleeing war zones.

Italy has repeatedly asked the EU for more help in dealing with the influx. But the Italian news agency Ansa reported that reciprocity on asylum seekers and migrants, a point strongly pushed by Italy, was scratched from last week’s EU summit after pressure from northern European countries.

(The Independent, June 30, 2014)

This is easily one of the most heart-rending and insoluble problems in world affairs today. In fact, apropos of dealing with the influx in both cases, the United States has already demonstrated that no amount of financial resources and manpower can stem the tide of illegal immigrants yearning to breathe free.

Which is why it might be better to direct those resources and manpower, coupled with political influence, towards changing conditions in countries in Central America and Africa that are causing immigrants to migrate in sequent droves. This should include everything from funding poverty alleviation programs to helping implement political reform and establish the rule of law.

In the meantime, instead of sending direct aid to the corrupt and incompetent governments of countries these desperate souls are fleeing from, the United States and Europe should use those funds to establish safe havens in each of those countries. This would not only spare them treacherous migration journeys – often at the mercy of predatory human smugglers, but also spare the US and European governments the humanitarian dilemma of herding them in detention centers, only to eventually repatriate them back to the same living nightmare that caused them to flee in the first place.

Granted, this might seem like a form of neo-colonial paternalism. Indeed, Central American and Haitian leaders might argue that this migration is just the legacy of America’s old interventionist policies coming home to roost; and African leaders might argue that it’s just the legacy of Europe’s old colonial policies coming home to roost.

I just hope the damning irony is not lost on any proud African that, 50 years after decolonization, hundreds of Africans (men, women, and children) are risking their lives, practically every day, to subjugate themselves to the paternal mercies of their former colonial masters in Europe.

(“Lampedusa Tragedy Highlights Europe’s ‘Haitian’ Problem,” The iPINIONS Journal, October 7, 2013)

Whatever the case, there’s no denying that American and European leaders combating illegal immigration by trying to stop migrants from crossing their borders is rather like firemen fighting a house fire by trying to stop the smoke from crossing into the neighboring yard.

Related commentaries:
Compassion fatigue
Haitian migrants
Plague of Haitian migrants

* This commentary was originally published at The iPINIONS Journal on July 6, 2014 at 1:01 pm

 
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