US has right to restrict immigration, but…

Sunday, May 26, 2019

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Every country, including the United States, has the sovereign right to restrict and regulate the number and type of migrants that it allows to enter its borders. The ways of limiting the number of migrants vary, but no country allows unlimited migration.

Today's world is awash with illegal immigrants and refugees fleeing starvation, violence, persecution, and unemployment. The people of the receiving nations feel, with justification, that they and their governments are simply overwhelmed by the large numbers.

In addition, they are uncomfortable with receiving people who are very different in culture, language, ethnicity and religion. These strong feelings of resentment are not always about xenophobia or mean spiritedness.

On immigration, US President Donald Trump likely has the support of most Americans, including many who will not publicly admit it because his position that America is full goes against the long-standing creed etched on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free...”

This was appropriate when the United States was a vast, underpopulated and undeveloped country. The people who were coming to the promised land of America wanted to become citizens, not just to live and work in America.

The motive of desperation is not an entitlement to go to the United States. Nobody can complain if they are not allowed to enter the US, even as an asylum seeker. It is unfortunate that both Republican and Democratic parties cannot negotiate a reasoned position in immigration.

Building a wall may be more symbolic than effective, but the Democratic Party would do well to understand the psyche of the American people and to be careful not to misjudge the mood of the average American, if it is not to be seen as being soft on migration.

A new US approach to migration needs to be developed on a bipartisan basis. It has to give priority to legal means of applying to migrate to the US. The policy needs to recognise that the future growth of the US depends on young migrants, because the American population is ageing and is in danger of not reproducing a labour force of adequate size .

The policy has to balance the number of unskilled workers with the number of high-skilled, university-educated professionals. In addition, there needs to be a route to citizenship for those already in the US, especially the children.

The US Administration is leaning towards merit-based immigration. Naturally, Jamaicans would not wish to see an end to families being able to file for other family members (chain migration), as that has been our main route to migration to the US.

That certainly would hurt the long, deep, and mutually beneficial ties between our two countries. A more desirable alternative would be a combination of chain and merit-based migration.

If a bipartisan consensus could be accomplished around immigration, it would auger well for further collaboration on a range of urgent issues. Governance and policy have been bogged down by a breakdown in bipartisanship, and if some breakthrough is not forged soon there will, in all likelihood, not be an opportunity until after the next presidential inauguration.

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