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On Illegal Immigrants and Ethics

Monday Musings for Monday April 01, 2013

Volume III, No. 13/117


(Editor’s Note:  Our inbox is full of requests for a ‘Musings’ about immigration.  Here are a few thoughts.)

 Some Thoughts on Illegal Immigrants and the Moral Dimensions of Ethics

By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA*

The illegal immigration is a daunting issue that does not go away. If anything it gets bigger and more complex as time goes by. We are told that the President and US congress are finally trying to offer a solution.

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 stereotype 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.

Let us not forget that nearly 80% of all the Nobel Laureates in the twentieth Century were immigrants who chose to come to America and become US citizens. The vast majority of Nobelers in the past 113 year history of the Prize have come to America as immigrants. America has greatly benefited by the constant infusion of brilliant, motivated and idealistic immigrants to its shores. Many immigrants who come here do not come for the search of a job, 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 freedom and seekers of liberty. We come to America because of the attraction of the supremacy of rule of law and not rule by whims of kings, Shahs, Ayatollahs and dictators.

The opinion on the subject 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 immigrants. These are good honest family men and women. They assert that illegal immigrants are dedicated people here to work hard, take jobs that native Americans would not, and support their families back home. And there is a third group, the realists that know the value of illegal immigrants in our economy.

Since the dawn of Neolithic man, people have immigrated to improve their lot. Remember America itself is an immigrant nation. A recent report available online, prepared by Kofi Annan, the former United Nations (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 the immigrants’ contribution to the economy of their native countries was 225 billion dollars in 2005 and 167 billion dollars in 2004. It further documents that the families of the immigrants spend more on education and health care at home than do others.

Also, there is an invisible and intangible benefit not easily quantified 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 their younger generations. Lastly, this group of economic pragmatists sees that successful immigrants, such as financier George Soros, 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 cover story of the current issue of The Economist magazine, March 30th which I just received is about “India becoming a Great Global Power”.

I hope the US Congress and the President engage in a dispassionate, reflective and altruistic debate on this critical issue to examine all arguments and produce laws that are fair, just and generous to all immigrants.


*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). He serves as a Visiting Scholar and lecturer on Medicine, the Arts and Humanities at his alma mater the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health.

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