On Immigration

“Monday Musings” for Monday Nov 16, 2015

Volume V.  No. 47/255


Immigration: Some Reflections

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DSc (Hon), DLFAPA*


(Editor’s Note: With the gut wrenching images of tens of thousands of immigrants leaving the Middle East for Europe, we are reminded of the immigrants walking in huge masses through the corridor from Syria to Jordan, Greece, Croatia, Hungary, Austria and final destination Germany, a familiar piece of geography to us. Here are some reflections:

Immigrant problem is not new. In 680 When Arabs conquered Persia and forcefully brought Islam to the Zoroastrian Persians, they quickly mounted a campaign to bring about mass conversion of the population to Islam. The Islamic invaders offered three choices, convert to Islam, get beheaded or pay a huge tax (jezyeh or Jizya).  Many chose to flee. A huge number fled to India—the Parsis—to whom Zubin Mehta’s ancestry belongs. Many fled to Europe with high concentration to France, England, Italy, etc. Renowned musicologist, the late Joseph Kerman was a descendant of Jewish Persians who came from my hometown of Kerman, Iran. In 1347 a vast number from central Europe, including the Pope, Pope Clement V!, fled to Avignon and stayed there for many decades. Immigration to United States and passage through Ellis Island is well known to all of us. In more recent years I recall the Hungarian mass migration in 1956, sanctioned by President Eisenhower, to flee communist atrocities, coming to mind. The Hungarian immigrants settled in various parts of America, and are now solid citizens of this country. Reviewing the history of migration ancient times repeatedly proves that ultimately, it is the host country that benefits by allowing migrants to come in. There clowns disguising as presidential candidates who want to build 14 feet high walls around US.)

Illegal immigration is a daunting issue that does not go away. If anything it gets bigger and more complex as time goes by. As an American by choice and not by birth, I have the privilege of seeing both sides of the picture. The public perception of a stereotyped immigrant enhanced by media is a fellow who is here earning good wages, not paying taxes and being a burden on our schools and health care. Granted, many Hispanic immigrants have no papers, no insurance, do not speak the language and use already incredibly stressed emergency rooms throughout the country as their port of entry to our health care system. The recent influx of unaccompanied children by the thousands has compounded the problem. What is legal? What is humane, and what we, as sought after host nation ought to do? Some reflections:

The purpose of this essay is not to defend or impugn immigration and immigrants. The purpose is to examine the issue dispassionately, with sobriety and tempered judgment. America bears the distinction of being an immigrant nation. Every one of the 300 million Americans is descendant from an immigrant. The facts published by many top notch business schools, including the  University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and Harvard’s  School of Management and Economics, have  declared ”Immigration has been a boon to the American economy. Immigrants are ambitious. Their children are successful in schools, for the most part, and they have added flavor to American Culture.”

Let us not forget that the vast majority of Nobel Prize winners in the 113 year history of the Prize are immigrants to this country. America has greatly benefited by the constant infusion of brilliant, motivated and idealistic immigrants who chose to come to its shores. Many immigrants who come here do not come for a job, or a proverbial brick house with two car garage and a beach place. We come to America because this county remains the last haven for the lovers of liberty and seekers of freedom. We come to America because of the supremacy of the rule of law and not rules made by Kings, Shahs, Ayatollahs and dictators.

Opinion on what to do with the flood of immigrants is diverse. One group advocates that illegal immigrants ought to be caught, treated like criminals and deported. Another group, sounding humane, recognizes the sacrifice, risk taking and inspirational motivation of the desperate people who want to improve their lives and the lives of their families. This group recognizes that these immigrants are good, honest family men and women. They assert that illegal immigrants are dedicated people here to work hard, take jobs that Americans born in this country would not, and send their earnings home to support their families. And there is a third group, the realists, that knows the value of illegal immigrants in our economy.

Since the dawn of Neolithic man, people have immigrated to improve their lot. In his last report,  Kofi Annan, Emeritus UN Secretary General, submits that immigrants not only benefit themselves and their families, they also benefit the economy of their host country as well as the economy of the country they leave behind. Moneys sent back to their country are spent to improve their families’ standard of living. The report cites immigrants’ contribution to the economy of their native countries was 167 billion dollars in 2004 and 225 billion dollars in 2005. It further documents that the families of the immigrants spend more on education and health care at home than do natives. Also, an invisible and intangible benefit not easily quantified is that the families of immigrants left at home are more motivated and inspired to lift themselves from poverty by educating their children and instilling hope in the future of the younger generation. Lastly, this group of economic pragmatists sees that successful immigrants, such as financier George Sorros, the hedge fund mogul, benefit their native countries by investing and transferring skill, knowledge and entrepreneurship back home. The burgeoning software industry in India which emerged as the result of intensive interaction between immigrants from India and the universities and industries in America is an eloquent testimony to the positive and global impact of immigration.

The United States Senate has passed a comprehensive immigration bill, but it is stuck in the House of Representatives. The House needs to engage in a dispassionate, reflective and altruistic debate on this critical issue and after examining all arguments agree to either pass the Senate version of the bill, or write new laws that are fair, just and generous. What is counterintuitive, sad and confusing about the handling of immigration issues by US Congress is the fact that the ugly cancer of politics has overtaken the needed reasonable and humane policies. We need to de-politicize immigration and develop policies that are beneficial to America and to those who wish to join us.


*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association, and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012).


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