On Immagration, a Wall

“Monday Musings” for Monday September 12, 2016
Volume VI. No. 36/296

great wall
The Great (border) Wall of China

What To Do With 11 Million Illegal Immigrants

by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, ScD (Hon), DLFAPA*

The issue of illegal immigration is daunting and will 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 stereotypical 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 nominee of a major US political party has forged a successful campaign based on the platform of deporting 11 million illegal immigrants the day he is elected the President. Among his many other utterances of xenophobia, he has pledged to build a wall along US Mexican border within the first 100 days of his presidency.

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 argument. America bears the distinction of being an immigrant nation. Every one of the 300 plus million Americans is a descendant from an immigrant, with of course, Native Americans excepted.

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 its 115 year history (the first Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology was awarded in 1901) 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, a proverbial brick house with a two car garage and/or a beach place. We come to America because this county remains the last haven for the lovers of freedom and seekers of liberty. We come to America because of the supremacy of the rule of law and not rule decided 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 and honest family men and women. They assert that illegal immigrants are dedicated people here to work hard, take jobs that Americans would not, and support their families back home. 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, submitted that immigrants not only benefitted themselves and their families, they also benefitted the economy of their new host country as well as the economy of the countries they left behind. Moneys sent back to their country are spent to improve their families’ standard of living. The report cites the immigrants’ contribution to the economy of their native countries at 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.

I hope that the President, Congress and the United States Senate will engage in a dispassionate, reflective and altruistic debate on this critical issue and after examining all arguments, produce laws that are fair, just and generous.

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*The writer is Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine at Chapel Hill, Distinguished Life fellow American Psychiatric Association; Life Member, American Medical Association; Life Member, Southern Medical Association; and Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Wake County Physician Magazine (1995-2012). He is a Raleigh, North Carolina writer and dramaturge, and the 2016 winner of NC Award in Fine Arts.
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