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A Crisis of Immigration, or a Nation’s Identity?

By: Carlos Sabino - @Sabino2324 - Aug 14, 2014, 3:10 pm
USA authorities have turned their back against inmigrants, that were part of the struckture of the country. (Flickr)
US authorities have turned their backs on immigrants, who historically have always contributed to the character of the country. (Flickr)

EspañolAround 12 million people are living in the United States without having resolved their legal status. They are the “illegals” who entered the country without permission or stayed after their visas had expired. Furthermore, in recent months, thousands of Central American children and teens have entered the country causing a humanitarian crisis that offers no easy solution.

Over the last few years, there have been various bills debated in the US Congress aimed at formalizing the status of millions of people who live and work in the United States, many of whom emigrated several decades ago. There has no been success, however, and while the debate continues, deportations rise and hundreds of thousands of people are being sent back to their countries of origin after facing severe hardships in order to reach a new home.

This is a serious problem, but US citizens, dare I say, have taken an ambivalent attitude. The history of their country is one of immigrants, yet the fear of losing their cultural identity, their jobs, and many of the social benefits provided by the state have made them distrustful and even aggressive.

History demonstrates that this is not a new phenomenon. Between 1892 and 1954, at least 12 million people emigrated to the United States, most of them uneducated and without many personal belongings, but with a strong desire to build a future for themselves.

In 1965, after certain policy changes, the number of immigrants who were legally allowed to stay in the country became increasingly limited, and the visa application process became more restrictive.

In doing so, immigrants who arrived to the country during the first half of the century — mostly Europeans — were able to integrate themselves and form part of the United States. Those who arrived later, however, the vast majority of them Mexicans or from other parts of Latin America, were not afforded this opportunity.

The United States changed its official policy and thus created the basis for its current illegal immigration problem: legalize them, deport them, or leave them in state of legal limbo?

None of these options are easy, nor particularly attractive. Even if the government were to decide to deport thousands more per year, they can’t throw 12 million people out of the country, many of whom have become firmly established in the economy and in society.

Deporting them in mass would cause a disaster for production and a humanitarian crisis of inconceivable proportion. However, it does not seem possible to legalize them all at once either, the way it’s been done in the past with other immigrants from other continents. A large part of the US electorate would not allow this, citing procedural reasons that perhaps hide racist fears over the mass of immigrants who — whether they like or not — now contribute to the character of the United States.

The problem has become unmanageable and may soon reach a breaking point, as more and more people flee to the United States every day in search of the “American dream.”

It does us no good to point to the necessity of developing the economies of the countries of origin when the wage difference is 10 times greater in the United States, and it will be decades before that gap can be closed.

There are, of course, some potential solutions, but they require changes that very few are actually willing to undertake: soften bureaucratic restrictions on migration; reduce — not broaden — social welfare programs to relieve some of the burden that illegal immigrants produce; and make the job market more accessible and able to adapt to an economy that has not been able to come out of prolonged recession.

In short, the United States must accept that it needs the contributions of those millions of illegal immigrants who take on the most tedious and demanding tasks in its diverse economy to maintain its status as a global power.

However, there are mental barriers that prevent this from happening: the Republicans cling to nationalist laws that block any possible solutions, and the Democrats insist on keeping social entitlements that weaken the economy and prevent the inclusion of migrants who simply want to work.

The country is paralyzed on the issue and, unfortunately, little can be done to quickly resolve a situation that is only getting worse.

The United States, which has always been a land of liberty and opportunity, is now torn by contradictions that can only be resolved with a return to the principles of its founders for a solution.

Translated by Adriana Peralta.

Carlos Sabino Carlos Sabino

Sociologist, writer, and university professor, Sabino is director of the masters and doctoral programs in history at the University of Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala. Follow him @Sabino2324