US immigration debate: Going beyond the surface

January 21, 2019 10:27
In pursuing hardline immigration policies, Donald Trump seems to forget the immense contributions that millions of foreign workers are bringing to the US labor force and the economy, critics say. Photo: AFP

Ever since he took office two years ago, US President Donald Trump has been vigorously promoting the "America First" policy theme.

A key element in that political agenda is tightening the relatively loose immigration policies adopted by the previous administrations.

One must admit that a number of the existing US immigration measures such as birthright citizenship, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, recipients of which are referred to by a common nickname "Dreamers", as well as the so-called “Green Card Lottery”, would sound pretty unreasonable if America was a conventional country like Hungary or Malaysia.

However, the point is, like the mainstream US liberals have always stressed, the contributions of immigrants from all walks of life, and of different nationalities, over the decades have proven instrumental in making America the way it is today.

In other words, to a certain extent, the US is no longer a conventional country or nation state, but rather, a “non-state entity” that is operated in a way more like a multinational corporation.

According to Trump’s supporters, they are actually not against immigrants as long as those people are high-end new settlers.

As for “low-end” immigrants, Trump’s supporters argue that they should be rejected because all these people do is compete for jobs with grassroots workers in the US and abuse the welfare system.

The problem is that, even if high-end immigrants are willing to seek a new life in another country, the prerequisite is that this destination country must have an inclusive and pluralistic environment that is conducive to their integration into local society.

Meanwhile, the existence of thriving foreign immigrant communities in the destination country, like the many “Little Italys”, “Little Jamaicas” and “Little Ethiopias” scattered across the US, may often turn out to be a “pull factor” for high-end immigrants and their families and friends.

The way the US is drawing foreign elites is more like a long-term investment, such as pouring immense amount of resources into the country’s university education so as to turn the American college into a world-renowned brand, so much so students from across the globe are all eagerly looking forward to seeking higher education in the US.

In fact many high-fliers in American colleges are descendants of either illegal immigrants or refugees, who would probably never have made it to the US if Washington was doing it 100 percent by the book when it comes to immigration policies.

As a matter of fact, the US has been systematically nurturing foreign talent, regardless of their backgrounds and origins, in the country’s universities through a proportional differentiation admission mechanism over the last several decades.

By enforcing a seemingly unreasonable immigration policy, the US has successfully built a vast “foreign talent pool” on its soil that it can constantly tap into.

These talented people can form a pro-US, or at least a “US-familiar” elite class in their own countries of origin, and serve as important intermediaries through which America can extend its international influence.

Even as far as “low-end” immigrants are concerned, they can also contribute a lot to American society by rejuvenating the labor force so as to sustain the nation's continued economic growth.

While many localists in the US are strictly against the idea of “multicultures”, what they might have overlooked is that the US itself is in fact the most successful experiment of a cultural melting pot ever, in which different cultures, be they African, Latino, Indian or Japanese, have all integrated into the American establishment.

Having been absorbed into the American melting pot, these foreign cultures have all become a tool through which the US can promote and facilitate “Pax-Americana globalization” on the world scene, something which would never have been achieved by relying on the American white culture alone.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 10

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Associate professor and director of Global Studies Programme, Faculty of Social Science, at the Chinese University of Hong Kong; Lead Writer (Global) at the Hong Kong Economic Journal