Immigration–Is My Child More Important than the 99?


November 17, 2015

Immigration is a white hot topic in the aftermath of terrorist killings in Paris last week.

There is a massive surge of people from war torn and impoverished countries. Economists call this the migration from the Global South to the Global North. It has been happening for centuries, but it’s growing. It’s inexorable. If we don’t find ways to rapidly improve our screening, and also to accept some risk and expand our capacity, we are simply inviting more illegal pressure at the borders of developed countries, and more outrage by those rejected. More terrorism.

The UN Refugee Agency reports that at the end of 2014, the number of people forcibly displaced had reached 59.5 Million.  4.3 Million of those are registered Syrian refugees, according to the UN. Following the horrendous attacks on civilians in Paris this week, Donald Trump and Ben Carson said they would take none of the refugees. Hilary Clinton says she would take 65,000 and President Obama says he would take 100,000 in 2016. 25 Republican Governors say they will take none. Other European countries will likely join in resisting. One exception–Germany will not refuse Syrian refugees and may take up to 1 million.

And refugees are only a fraction of the entire immigration challenge. Gallup estimates that there are 640 Million adults who want to emigrate. Adding their dependent elders and children, the number of those who want to change countries exceeds 1 Billion globally. It’s not only the refugees who come from horrible circumstances. Many of the remainder desiring emigration live in absolute poverty, where there is almost no opportunity.

We need to ask ourselves a few questions about immigration, but let’s first simplify the considerations, with three exclusions: Let’s exclude the matter of illegal immigrants, and talk only here about legal applicants. Let’s agree all countries should be allowed to use a universally agreed method of screening out criminals and dangerous people, such as terrorists and drug dealers. Finally, let’s agree that citizens of a country have a right to control the volume of immigrants year to year such as to be able to accommodate the needs of the new citizens without overwhelming local and federal governments. People at either extreme will agree on these three needs.

These assumptions help to eliminate the peripheral noise which allows some of us to hide behind excuses, or for our politicians to take politically expedient positions. These assumptions reflect legitimate concerns which must be addressed, but many people hide fundamental negative biases behind these assumptions. For example, some find it easy to say we can’t allow immigrants because they bring danger to us, when underneath that excuse is a deeper resistance to immigrants.

Among the negative biases are these:

  • A belief that immigrants are only a cost to our economy.
  • A belief that immigrants only steal jobs we need and drive US wages down.
  • A belief that people of certain ethnicities or regions will bring culture that will damage our way of life.
  • A desire to just keep things the way they are.

But in fact, Brookings analysis finds that in most cases immigrants to the US at first take jobs most Americans do not want and they ultimately cause the wages of American workers to rise. Brookings finds that taxes paid by immigrants exceed the cost of government services they use. Fewer immigrants are put in jail or prison than American citizens, in percentage terms. They start more businesses and file more patents than do Americans. And, as to culture, who doesn’t enjoy dining at the variety of ethnic restaurants they bring to our neighborhoods?

Yet, many Republicans want to pull up the ladder, seemingly because one Syrian terrorist got past the screening to become part of last week’s massacre in Paris.

To my thinking, ALL of the US offers are woefully short of our obligation and our capacity. Note that in my assumptions above regarding capacity, I said, “such as to be able to accommodate the needs of the new citizens.” I did not say, “such as to avoid any possible risk or any inconvenience or discomfort of host country citizens.” If we are to hide behind the risk that out of 100 immigrants, even one terrorist might get in, we are choosing to turn our back on the 99. And some of the 99 denied asylum will certainly die, and others are suffering lives more desperate than we can imagine.

We accept some risk in all other aspects of our lives–even driving or flying. Republicans risk our health with greenhouse gas pollution and they risk our lives in foreign wars, but zero risk tolerance is taken with immigrants? We cannot justify zero tolerance in this global crisis.

In other words, may I hold that the safety of my child is more important than the safety of the child of one of the 99? Even worse, may I hold that the safety of my child is more important than all the children of all the 99?

If so, we are saying that the protection of Americans is more important than any amount of pain, suffering, and death among those of other countries. And, we are saying there is no consideration we must make about immigration, other than our own internal safety. We are saying we don’t care about the lives of those who live outside our borders.

I ask whether the immigration disagreement is only about how to deal with illegals, how to screen for dangerous applicants, and how to determine how many people we can serve. Or, is it perhaps also about resistance to helping others, fear of the unknown (people who are different), and unwillingness to share and to help? Are we just plain selfish?

What do we need to do?

There are critical core convictions we must come to before we can move forward.:

1-That we are not just citizens of our own country. We are citizens of the world, and we must strive to have equal concern for those in other countries who suffer.  Let’s remember that many of the first immigrants to the US were bringing religious preferences unacceptable in England, and others were carrying criminal records resulting from poverty. And yet, these became the foundation of the world’s greatest nation.

2-That we cannot be oblivious to the poverty, inequality, and lack of opportunity which exists in  many parts of the world, and which motivates terrorism. If we find ways to share our opportunity and extend it to other parts of the globe, many of those 1 Billion will prefer to stay in the countries of their birth culture.

If we could only agree on such core convictions, we would be in a position to begin to work out the methodology to satisfy the assumptions above.

We have an opportunity to respond to this advancing global development and determine the nature of the world in which our children will live. Or, we can do nothing and leave this huge problem to its own evolution. And that looks ominous for all.

Which do you feel:

A. Citizens of democratic governments have an inalienable right to decide who can come to live in their country, how many, and even that no-one new can be admitted.

B. Citizens of the world have an inalienable right to move to where they want to live, and the receiving country has an obligation to try receive as many as they can, so long as they come legally and are reasonably screened to prevent dangerous entrants.

I vote for B. I’ll be happy to see Syrians and others living in my neighborhood! I will be happy to have some of my tax dollars go to help to resettle these good people, and I feel confident they will return the investment by their gratitude, hard work, and taxes paid in our country.  I cannot understand how Presidential candidates professing deep religious convictions can say we will accept none (e.g., Carson, Cruz, and others). Where did Jesus or any of the prophets of great religions say we should only care for our  own?

I love my children and I want them kept safe, but I cannot say that the perfect safety of my children is more important than the safety of the children of millions of good fathers who live elsewhere. I’m willing to stretch myself to understand others’ cultures. It will be good for me–it has been good for Americans across time since our first immigrants, and will be in the future, if we embrace the opportunity.

What’s happened to us?

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!


4 thoughts on “Immigration–Is My Child More Important than the 99?

  1. Hartmut Fischer says:

    Dale, I like your comment and your basic approach. Unfortunately the refugee crisis in Europe is overwhelming the ability of countries to orderly absorb the incoming masses. What would we do if suddenly a million desperate people would appear on our border and would cross it and would keep on going? Would we shoot? Once they would be on US soil they could ask for asylum. What would we do then? Remember these are asylum seekers fleeing war zones.


    • Hartmut, thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading my blog. I so highly respect your views. I completely agree that we have capacity limits year to year and we need to effectively screen for dangerous people. I’m only making the case that we do have more capacity than 10,000 this year and 100,000 next year, and that we should not take a zero risk tolerance approach to our screening. If we do, we’ll let no-one in, because there is no way to be 100% sure of what may be in someone’s mind. There are millions suffering and dying. Thanks again!


  2. Fawad Khan says:

    Dale, I vote for option B as well. I agree with your point completely that we have to think as World citizens and go beyond our borders. Yes, it does sound too hippie-ish but given the state of the world we can no longer afford to have tribal thinking. Thanks for writing this and sharing your thoughts on this matter.



    • Fawad,

      Great to hear from you! Yes, it’s perplexing and disappointing to see the Right turn to refusal, when several of them are sons of immigrants, and claim to understand and value how our country provided safety and opportunity to their fathers and their families. Thanks! Dale


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