A land of Immigrants

Ken Burns’ latest documentary (with his co-directors Lynn Novick and Sarah Botstein), “The U.S. and the Holocaust” is a well-timed reminder of Americans mixed views on immigration. As we all know, aside from the native Americans living here when Europeans began arriving, all of us, or our ancestors, are immigrants. But once here, many Americans decided that was enough and further immigration should be significantly curtailed.

The Burns’ documentary also reminds us of immigration seen from the perspective of those wanting to come.  Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, some of us will remember cheering as East Germans escaped from East Berlin in the German Democratic Republic (DDR). We were happy to see them escape their communist oppressors, but some were less happy to see them arrive in their own countries. But logically, if someone leaves one country, they must enter another. “Emigration and Immigration”

Immigrants fall into two broad categories: those fleeing persecution or mistreatment and those seeking better opportunities in new countries (America’s promised land). Some combine both motives. Not all asylum seekers desire to move to wealthier lands. Many Jews fleeing Germany hoped to return to their homeland after the era of Hitler. They chose to move temporarily to nearby countries such as the Netherlands, France, Poland, and Belgium. Otto Frank of the “Diary of Ann Frank” fame moved his family to Amsterdam.

“The U.S. foreign-born population reached a record 44.8 million in 2018.  Since 1965, when U.S. immigration laws replaced a national quota system, the number of immigrants living in the U.S. has more than quadrupled. Today those born abroad account for 13.7% of the U.S. population, nearly triple the share (4.8%) in 1970. However, today’s immigrant share remains below the record 14.8% share in 1890, when 9.2 million immigrants lived in the U.S…. More than 1 million immigrants now arrive in the U.S. each year….  New immigrant arrivals have fallen, mainly due to a decrease in the number of unauthorized immigrants coming to the U.S. The drop in the unauthorized immigrant population can primarily be attributed to more Mexican immigrants leaving the U.S. than coming in.” “Key findings about U.S. immigrants”

The American economy and the standard of living of the average household have benefited enormously from immigration. Those seeking better opportunities are disproportionately the best and the brightest from their home countries. The founders and heads of some of our best fintec companies were born abroad.  In fact, surprisingly, population growth in general in countries with free markets, property rights and rule of law has increased the standard of living enormously for almost everyone. From the emergence of humans individual living standards barely changed. The advent of agriculture 10,000 years ago created a small improvement. That changed with discovery of the “new world” and related expansion of trade 530 years ago and accelerated with the Enlightenment and the industrial revolution just 350 years ago. In the last 60 years per capita real incomes increased 2,414% in Ireland and 232% in Mexico (the least growth of those countries for which there was data). Over the last 40 years alone per capita real income in China doubled every 7.1 years. Between 1900 – 2018 the average real income of unskilled workers in the U.S. increased 1,473%. These and other amazing data can be found in “Superabundance” and extraordinary collection of very interesting income and resource data.

Accepting refugees has a different purpose and motivation. We accept immigrants for our benefit and we accept refugees for their benefit. Countries have an obligation to provide asylum to anyone who arrives at their territory with reason to fear persecution under the convention’s criteria. Ken Burns Holocaust documentary confronts us graphically with why this is necessary.   “Asylum in the United States”

Asylum seekers are a small fraction of total immigration each year. In FY 2019, the most recent pre-pandemic year with available data, 46,508 individuals were granted asylum.  Most immigrants entering the U.S. each year are joining family already here or looking for better opportunities (better lives).  As noted above they invariably contribute to raising incomes of those of us already here.  

There are many problems with our immigration rules and their administration. Congress has tried for decades to address them without success. But the recent political stunts by the governors of Texas and Florida reflect America at its ugliest.

“The group of 50 migrants flown to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) last week had nearly all recently arrived from Venezuela. Another group of 100 dropped outside the vice president’s Washington, D.C., residence this weekend also included those fleeing the country. And buses sent to Chicago by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) largely included Venezuelans. 

“The U.S. in recent weeks has seen an even greater shift in migration from Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.”  “GOP stunts with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce”

Governor DeSantis and Abbott where not helping these refugees await their court hearings in greater comfort. They did not alert the authorities in Martha’s Vineyard, Chicago, or DC to prepare for their arrival. Their purpose was to share the burden with (and punish) “sanctuary cities”. Their purpose was to make a political statement using the refugees as innocent pawns.

A “suit was filed in federal court in Massachusetts. It takes aim at DeSantis, Florida Secretary of Transportation Jared Perdue and the state of Florida.

“The core of the case is the allegation that the migrants were coaxed onto the flights by false promises — “fraudulent inducement” in legal terms — and that this means DeSantis and his allies infringed those migrants’ rights and committed fraud.

“It asserts that migrants were approached outside a shelter in San Antonio by mysterious people who won their trust by supplying them with minimal benefits such as McDonald’s vouchers.”   “What you need to know about the complex legal challenges to DeSantis’s migrant flights”

Nunca from Texas provides important information on who these refugees are and understanding those facts is important: 

“I volunteer as a translator with asylees coming through the Texas border and I wanted to make a thread on who these migrants are, what help is actually needed and why what DeSantis and Abbott are doing is so needlessly cruel….

“The first and most important thing you should understand, these are LEGAL asylum seekers. They are not illegals. They are not undocumented.

“They have been given permission by our government to enter the US pending their official court date. The law ONLY requires that asylum seekers be present on US soil and that they present themselves to officials to request asylum.  That is it.

“Anyone who calls them illegal immigrants is really telling on themselves and deliberately trying to confuse the issue. 

“Once they present themselves to border officials, they are processed and then given a court date to officially plead their case.  This court date is almost always a year away and in a major city far from the border, like Boston, NY, Miami, Chicago, etc. 

“You can always spot the asylum seekers coming out of detention facilities because they don’t have shoelaces (story for another day) and they have court papers in one hand.

“Another thing I would note, the Biden admin is STILL immediately deporting the vast majority of asylees. The folks that make it through come from the most harrowing conditions you can imagine. I have met whole families who had to flee El Salvador on foot because gangs threatened to kill them if their son did not join.

“I met a man who was attacked by police for leading a protest. In almost every case, these are smart, hard working CHRISTIAN refugees. Their ability to assimilate into America and thrive is limitless. They love America. They just want a chance to live and thrive in peace. 

“WHAT HELP DO THEY NEED?

“Because these groups already have court dates and in almost every case, they have family they can stay with, they only really need two things: short term food and shelter and transportation. And I mean short term. Usually less than 12 hours. 

“In most cases, these asylees only need help getting to the bus station and maybe a bite to eat while they wait. Sometimes they need to stay overnight until the next bus leaves and sometimes they need help buying a ticket, though family usually buys the ticket for them. 

Border towns and local non profits have been dealing with this for 4 years. This did not start with Biden. It was actually worse under Trump.

“But these areas already know what to do with these transient asylees and they already have the resource networks in place to manage them. In most cases, an asylee will leave detention and organizations like Catholic Charities are right there to greet them and figure out if they can go straight to the bus station or if they need temporary shelter. Local municipalities & non profits here have gotten real good at it 

“WHY IS “BUSSING” ASYLEES AROUND THE COUNTRY SO BAD?

“Initially, I didn’t complain too much about Abbott’s decision to bus immigrants because it actually helped them. It gave them a free ticket to get closer to family. And they weren’t being forced to go.

“But…. The problem with Abbott’s approach is that they are often lying to the migrants about where they are going and what will be waiting for them. And even worse, when they get to NY or DC, Abbott is deliberately choosing to drop them off far away from the resources they need.  Abbott could easily notify DC that they are coming and then he could drop the migrants off right at the doorstep of the bus station or non-profit ready to greet them. It would cost him nothing.

“But he is choosing to dump them where it harms the City and migrants the most. 

By dumping them in front of the VPs house, like he did this week, now local officials have to figure out, without any notice, how to get 50 people in the heart of the City out to where the resources are ready to receive them. 

“And what DeSantis did yesterday takes it up another notch. He deliberately lied to immigrants in Texas who were already being managed by non-profits and shipped them into MV where no one was ready to help them. It was deliberately cruel and created to maximize pain. 

“Credit to the people of Martha’s Vineyard who stepped up in a huge way and responded. They did exactly what they were supposed to: they took care of their immediate needs and helped them get on their way. What folks here in Texas have been doing for years. 

“If Abbott and DeSantis actually cared about helping relieve the burden created by asylum seekers, they could just as easily and far more cost-effectively funnel the millions they are spending on their cynical stunt and give it to the non profits already doing the job. 

“Do asylees create a burden on border communities? Sure. But it is a burden we have already learned how to manage and the only thing we really need is more resources. It would be far more effective to just buy migrants a sandwich and a bus ticket than a private plane to MV. This is the kind of deliberate misinformation Conservatives are being fed.

“These migrants SHOULDN’T stay in MV because they have family and court dates in other places. They were TRICKED into being there.”

***********  

In an interview with the Washington Post about his new documentary, Ken Burns said:  I made a comment about the [Florida Gov. Ron] DeSantis play in Martha’s Vineyard as being a kind of an authoritarian response, just as it was when Disney says we don’t agree with you, he punishes them. When a state employee doesn’t do what he says, he fires them. That’s the authoritarian thing. It’s not the democratic way that you handle it. But the right-wing media has said that I’ve equated what DeSantis did with the Holocaust, which is obscene. I mean, literally obscene to do that. But it is also classic authoritarian playbook to sort of lie about what somebody just said in order to make it so outrageous that then you can deny the complexity of what’s being presented.”  “Ken Burns holocaust documentary”

What DeSantis and Abbott are guilty of is fraud. They lied to those sent to Martha’s Vineyard and Washington DC about where they were being sent and what they would receive when they got there. Fortunately, most of us still believe in the rule of law where fraud is punished.

“’The Republicans are so quick to bash the Venezuelan government and to say, ‘But we love the Venezuelans.’ And then the minute that vulnerable populations from Venezuela arrive in our country, they then use them as political pawns. It’s really beyond reprehensible. It’s a really repugnant motivation,’ Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) told The Hill.”   “GOP stunts with migrants sweep up those fleeing regimes they denounce”

“Lawyers for Civil Rights (LCR), a Boston-based legal advocacy group, filed the lawsuit on Tuesday challenging what it called the “fraudulent and discriminatory” scheme to charter private planes to transport almost 50 vulnerable people, including children as young as two, from San Antonio, Texas, via Florida, to Martha’s Vineyard last week without liaising to arrange shelter and other resources.

“The two charter flights cost about $615,000 – $12,300 per person – of taxpayers’ money, according to the legal filing….

“’This cowardly political stunt has placed our clients in peril. Numerous laws were brazenly violated to secure media headlines,’ said Oren Sellstrom, litigation director for LRC.” “Martha’s Vineyard immigration lawsuit”

Immigration is a very complicated and fluid issue and what I have pointed out above is just one part of many parts of the problem. Racial and religious discrimination is another avenue of contention in the immigration debate. One wonders whether deSantis (or anyone opposed to immigration in general) would behave differently if these asylum seekers where of a different color and from a different country. My Afghan friends unable to escape from Kabul look enviously at the Western welcome of Ukrainian refugees. But that’s a discussion for another article.

May justice be done.  “Immigrants from hell”

Author: Warren Coats

I specialize in advising central banks on monetary policy and the development of the capacity to formulate and implement monetary policy.  I joined the International Monetary Fund in 1975 from which I retired in 2003 as Assistant Director of the Monetary and Financial Systems Department. While at the IMF I led or participated in missions to the central banks of over twenty countries (including Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgystan, Moldova, Serbia, Turkey, West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Zimbabwe) and was seconded as a visiting economist to the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (1979-80), and to the World Bank's World Development Report team in 1989.  After retirement from the IMF I was a member of the Board of the Cayman Islands Monetary Authority from 2003-10 and of the editorial board of the Cayman Financial Review from 2010-2017.  Prior to joining the IMF I was Assistant Prof of Economics at UVa from 1970-75.  I am currently a fellow of Johns Hopkins Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise.  In March 2019 Central Banking Journal awarded me for my “Outstanding Contribution for Capacity Building.”  My recent books are One Currency for Bosnia: Creating the Central Bank of Bosnia and Herzegovina; My Travels in the Former Soviet Union; My Travels to Afghanistan; My Travels to Jerusalem; and My Travels to Baghdad. I have a BA in Economics from the UC Berkeley and a PhD in Economics from the University of Chicago. My dissertation committee was chaired by Milton Friedman and included Robert J. Gordon.

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