By Candice L. Daquin
I have been an immigrant to a new country three times: from France to England, England to Canada and then, Canada to America. Being an immigrant is often a highly positive experience. We may have greater opportunities, we seek our dreams, we grow them. On the other hand, immigration for those of us who have gone through the process, is not easy. It is expensive, time-consuming, nail-biting and often lonely. It is said that those who immigrate ‘successfully’ do so because of familial support and/or because their children reap the benefits of their sacrifice.
Whilst there are too many stories to condense any one feature of immigration, we can only talk of our own experiences and somehow in understanding that, perhaps stay open enough to understand others. We can come together through that collective understanding.
As a psychotherapist, I work with many immigrants. I see clients daily who were born elsewhere and sometimes struggle to acculturate in their new-found country. Where I live, near the border between Mexico and America, we have a multitude of immigrants from Mexico, central and south America as well as from around the world, coming through the borders, seeing asylum and a better life.
Consequently, there can be a high degree of racism in rebuke for the startling numbers of immigrants passing through our city. I can drive down a road and see people lined on the street much as you would see in other countries, begging and homeless. Our resources are stretched and one option chosen by the Governor of Texas was to bus immigrants and asylum seekers to other states in the US. Initially this was considered a racist, insensitive act that treated people like cattle. When you look at it closer, you can see it was perhaps these things but also a desperate plea for other states to understand the overwhelming nature of immigration for border states and share in the expense.
It is easy for a non-border state to believe the border should be effectively kept open and all immigrants allowed in. but when it’s on your door step it can be challenging. Most people in Texas care about immigrants but also experience some of the downsides of too many immigrants at once. In El Paso, people froze to death sleeping on the streets, houses were broken into, the situation was dire and extreme and locals didn’t have enough resources to manage. Shipping immigrants who wish to go to other states, to those states, might appear cruel, but also makes sense, if it’s consensual. Whilst many of the Texan Governors decisions have been quite possibly racist and prejudicial, this choice was in part to show other states how dire the situation is.
Why are there so many asylum seekers right now? As President Biden announced the lifting of closed borders to asylum seekers, the numbers attempting to come into America increased exponentially. Under the Trump administration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) called the “Remain in Mexico” policy (officially, the Migrant Protection Protocols) caused immigration to be somewhat halted. The original reason countries like America accepted asylum seekers goes back to WW II where the Jews who survived ethnic cleansing had nowhere to live and were essentially stateless. The right to seek asylum was incorporated into international law following the atrocities of World War II. Congress adopted key provisions of the Geneva Refugee Convention (including the international definition of a refugee) into U.S. immigration law when it passed the Refugee Act of 1980.
The laws that exist now were enacted to protect them and ensure stateless people were never again turned away in droves. The creation of Israel was in part the consequence of WW2 and the abuse against the Jews. It could be argued any issues with Israel are directly linked to the ethnic cleansing the Jews experienced and their subsequent statelessness. Laws endeavoring to protect future people from such experiences are what we now use in our handling of asylum seekers. “When Congress finally eliminated the racial provisions in U.S. immigration and nationality law in the 1940s and 1950s, generations of federal practice and procedure did not instantly disappear without a trace. Over the years, other government agencies had developed their own racial classification systems, often partially borrowed from INS experience, and such systems could take on lives of their own.”
The downside to this is, the world has dramatically changed since the 1940s (2,307M versus over 7 million today). the population is growing at a heady rate and thus, even if a small percent of people seek asylum from any one country, it is huge in comparison to previous numbers. Department of Homeland Security statistics show that from Biden’s Inauguration Day through May 2022—just 16 months and change—about 1.05 million migrants were apprehended on the southwestern border and then released into the US. With every year, the worlds population swells and with it, a strain on resources. ‘Affluent’ countries such as America, may literally speaking have the resources to help asylum seekers but the reality for many asylum seekers is quite different once they are in-country. According to Census Bureau statistics, immigrants’ share of the U.S. population rose more from 1990 to 2010 than during any other 20-year period since these figures were first recorded in 1850—from 7.9 percent to 12.9 percent
What constituted poverty in their country of origin may be considerably lower than what money they can earn in America, if indeed such earnings can be made at all. The social welfare system protects asylum seekers by giving them somewhere to live and a stipend until they are able to find work but what of those who do not possess the necessary skills? Not to mention the dearth of certain jobs. Immigrants wishing to live in the cities, may find work is only available in the agricultural parts of America and not earn enough to live on without language and education in a city. Likewise, they must contend with crime, safety issues and making the meager money they receive, stretch to pay for themselves and their families. What might seem initially like a lot of money, in comparison to their home-countries, is quickly devoured by the more expensive living expenses of America.
Immigrants who move to America or other developed countries, on a visa rather than asylum, may fare better. But note how many PhD’s are driving cabs or serving in restaurants. Underemployment is a phenomenon whereby those who are educated, are working at a lower level than that education would typically warrant. For their children there may be greater opportunities but for many first-generation immigrants, the adjustment and opportunities are restricted. Doctors in their own countries, they find American prohibitions on accepting foreign transcripts and learning, despite the low quality of American education in comparison to many other countries. It’s almost if you were being subjective about it, like having to pay the price for immigration.
When I immigrated to Canada, I found many who possessed PhDs and advanced education were unable to find work. There was some push back from locals who resented skilled workers and felt all immigrants should ‘know their place’ and take the dregs work. This is something you really don’t believe will happen to you when you are very educated, and get a skilled worker visa, but it’s a reality, perhaps less spoken about because it makes the host country look unkind. But go beyond the shiny posters about immigration and speak to the people and you will find it’s not uncommon.
Immigration is necessary for many reasons, not least the Western world ageing and requiring new blood because of declining birth rates. But the Western world wants immigrants to do the work they don’t want to do just as much as they may appear to want immigrants to ‘succeed’ and for every Doctor and PhD who was an immigrant, there are plenty who find themselves no better off through immigration. That’s a sacrifice worth making when you have no other choices or you hope your children will inherit the American Dream but if you have no children and you’re sold a false dream, then it can be disheartening if not crushing. There are 11 million recent immigrants in transition, best estimates predict, who labour in American fields, construction and kitchens, as well as American classrooms, detention centers and immigration courts.
What we hear less about, is how many immigrants leave. And how many suffer silently, having fallen between the gaps, into anything but the American Dream. What can be done about this? Should we impose immigration restrictions not out of cruelty but an understanding that a host country is ill equipped to deal with mass influxes and that the original reasons for the laws have evolved/changed as our population has grown? Should we insist other states take some responsibility for asylum seekers? As well as demand other countries pitch in more? And understand that what may look racist, is in fact a more realistic approach than flinging open the border and allowing everyone to come in at once?
It is an interesting dilemma and one that won’t be decided any time soon. The racists and extreme economic conservatives will battle against the diametric opposite liberals who believe all should inherit the opportunity a country like America holds. Both sides are too extreme in that they don’t consider the reality. The reality is racism should not and cannot endure in a country like America where soon ‘brown skin’ will be the majority and old racist ways are being challenged. But equally, being so ‘woke’ that you don’t see the fall out of idealistic policies, isn’t the answer either. In tandem with an identity politics that emphasises the subnational, a too progressive project may place global concerns above national interests. Hence, the oft repeated slogan “global problems require global solutions.”
Speak to the people. Many times, people criticise me for living in Texas. They assume I’m one of the ‘bad guys’ without understanding Texas is made up of a huge diverse population. Within that diversity are many Latinos who don’t want mass unchecked immigration any more than the racists, but for radically different reasons. Things aren’t as simple as they seem in a Twitter comment. There are many complex considerations that must be taken into account to ensure the best outcome not only for asylum seekers but those who already live in-country. There are answers, but they won’t come from knee jerk reactions or entrenched thinking on either side.
What we do know today, is people are literally dying to come into America and with them, perhaps some unchecked terrorists sneak in, just as they did before 9/11. In order to protect everyone and ensure things are done legally and safely, immigration must have some controls and should be funded accordingly, without any one state taking the majority of the strain. Many Texans are quite the reverse from what you’d imagine, if you subscribe to stereotypes. Maybe the problem is we should really get rid of stereotypes and try knowing who people really are before we judge en mass. Houston has one of the highest Indian communities in the world. All cities within Texas have absorbed huge numbers of immigrants from around the world. Let’s think less of ‘them and us’ and more about truly doing what will be best for those seeking to come into a country and begin a new life. Immigration is a conundrum, but if we work together, instead of apart, we can find answers.
Candice Louisa Daquin is a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com
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