Myths about immigration
Immigration reform has been a heated issue for the past century, as lawmakers argue over the impact immigration has on American society and the best way to handle it. The myths about immigration that surround the topic have existed for nearly as long. Here are the top myths that seem to follow the discussion of immigration and prevent progress from being made toward positive change.

Myth 1: “Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get benefits.”

It is estimated that in 2010, undocumented immigrants paid $10.6 billion in taxes. Like every American consumer, immigrants pay sales tax and property taxes on any apartment or home bought or rented. More than half pay federal, state, Social Security and Medicare taxes. Despite this, they are not actually eligible to receive any of these benefits. Even legal immigrants often find it difficult to obtain Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare and food stamps.

Myth 2: “Immigrants have a negative impact on the U.S. economy.”

Due to the 77 million Baby Boomers reaching retirement age, a smaller number of workers will have to support an increasing number of retirees. A growing immigrant population will help account for the decrease in the workforce. It is also estimated that undocumented immigrants contribute to economic growth by $36 billion a year.

Myth 3: “Most immigrants are undocumented.”

In reality, roughly two-thirds of immigrants live in the U.S. legally as naturalized citizens or permanent residents. Additionally, about 40 percent of the 10.8 million immigrants currently residing here illegally arrived in the country through legal channels but overstayed their visas.

Myth 4: “Immigrants don’t want to learn English.”

According to Forbes, roughly 40 percent of immigrants speak reasonable English when they enter the country. There is also a clear three-generation pattern, in which the first generation may speak limited English, the second generation is bilingual and the third generation speaks only English.

Myth 5: “It’s easy to enter the U.S. legally.”

Actually, many people trying to enter the U.S. legally have been waiting nearly 20 years to do so. Much of this is due to backlogs and annual limits on immigration that do not match the demand for entry. Often, access to the country is limited to those who are trained in skills that are in short supply, seeking political asylum or joining immediate family.

Myth 6: “Immigrants take jobs from Americans.”

Due to differences in education level, whether in the country they live or which occupations they work in, immigrants and native-born American workers often do not compete for the same jobs. In addition to this, immigrants contribute to job creation as both entrepreneurs and consumers.

Myth 7: “Undocumented immigrants bring crime.”

Randel K. Johnson, Senior Vice President of Labor, Immigration, and Employee Benefits for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce recently cited research that shows quite the opposite: “Between 1990 and 2010, the foreign-born share of the U.S. population grew from 7.9[percent] to 12.9[percent] and the number of unauthorized immigrants tripled from 3.5 million to 11.2 million. During the same period, FBI data indicates that the violent crime rate declined 45[percent] and the property crime rate fell 42[percent].”

America is a nation of immigrants. As clichéd as it is, it’s true. But this fact is often conveniently forgotten in the discussion of positive immigration reform, reform that has the potential to grow the economy and create jobs. Overall, reforming the system to allow for easier legal access to the U.S. has the potential for substantial positive impact across the country.

— Kristen Bezner

Sources: American Civil Liberties Union, American Immigration Council, Forbes, Teaching Tolerance, Upworthy, US Chamber of Commerce, Washington Post 1, Washington Post 2

Photo: AEI

Every day, people make the difficult decision to travel across the globe in search of better opportunities for their families and for themselves. They risk deportation, social stigma and alienation, and work in areas that native-born citizens would scorn.

More than 230 million people live outside of their country of birth, many of whom send part of their income to relatives and friends living in their home countries. Known as remittances, these cash flows accounted for an estimated $404 billion sent to developing countries in 2013, equivalent to more than three times the size of official development assistance.

This process is generally viewed as favorable to all parties involved, including the world economy which benefits from the exchange of ideas and optimization of worker productivity. However, a recent report by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) reveals that not all overseas workers benefit equally from current remittance practices.

African immigrants living in the European Union and United States are typically charged 12 percent for each $200 money wire, nearly twice as much as the global average. Equivalent to $1.8 billion annually, ODI reports the elimination of this super tax could pay for the education of approximately 14 million sub-Saharan African primary school children, improved sanitation for 8 million, or clean water for 21 million.

Furthermore, these remittances account for 2 percent of the region’s GDP, or $32 billion. With international aid to the region expected to stagnate in the coming years, lowering the wire charges down to the G8 and G20’s pledge of 5 percent would increase the overall flow of transfers and a greater proportion of the transfer would reach the intended beneficiaries.

Factors such as Africa’s poor infrastructure are often blamed for the high cost of transfer rates. However, organizations such as the ODI argue that “in an age of mobile banking, internet transfers and rapid technological innovation, no region should be paying charges at the levels reported for Africa.’

In a realm of cryptocurrency, where Bitcoin may be a viable alternative to the vast surcharges accrued by African migrant money wires, having such a large discrepancy between overseas remittances seems more than archaic. Instead of blaming undeveloped aspects of Africa as the reason for these high percentage rates, companies should be investing in innovative techniques to bring African migrants’ remittance rates down to the rest of the global standard.

– Emily Bajet

Sources: ODI, World Bank, Aljazeera
Photo: The World Bank

Thousands of immigrants in the state of Washington are demanding the attention of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) by staging a large hunger strike at the Federal Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. Along with better food and safer work conditions, their campaign is directly aimed at immigration reform and U.S. President Barack Obama.

The strikers want Obama to sign an executive order that would halt all deportations, as well as provide alternatives to detention while immigrants in question await trial. Tacoma’s facility is owned by GEO Group, the largest provider of detention and correctional services in the country, who lobbied against these reforms in Congress last year. At the core of the argument is the economic fate of 11 million workers currently immobilized by investigations into their legality.

ICE reports that the strikes are comprised of 550 detainees. However, there are conflicting statistics from the Latino Advocacy Organization, which claims there are actually 1,200 immigrants involved. This means the majority of the detention facility’s 1,300 total inmates are involved. Additionally, these numbers do not even take into account the hundreds of advocates who have been joining outside every afternoon to display their support.

The Tacoma campaign is not an isolated event, either. Similar protests and strikes have been emerging in various immigrant detention centers across Arizona, Illinois, California and Virginia. It is also linked to a popular advocacy project, called “Not One More Deportation,” started by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network as a way to host events against unlawful deportation across the country. April 5 is expected to be a similar day of action, with sit-ins and strikes in front of the White House.

Immigration reform has become an increasingly contentious dilemma under the Obama Administration, whose efforts have been repeatedly stalled by GOP Congressional members. Lenient new measures are frequently criticized by the Republican Party as unnecessary “amnesty” at the expense of America’s well-being.

In response, Obama notes that the children of undocumented immigrants “study in our schools, play in our neighborhoods, befriend our kids, pledge allegiance to our flag. It makes no sense to expel talented young people who are, for all intents and purposes, Americans.”

In 2012, Obama declared an end to the deportation of young undocumented immigrants who entered the country as children. The order protects anyone under 30 years of age who came to the United States before they were 16, citing the improbability of their posing a security or criminal threat and the benefits they have provided for the military and work force. The same year, the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act was approved, providing similar protections for the children of undocumented immigrants.

Protection over the human rights of immigrant families is increasingly necessary, as recent years prove. In 2011, 396,906 individuals were deported, the largest number in ICE history. This is even more shocking, considering a 2009 study proved that four million immigrants are inaccurately defined “illegal,” having been born here despite their parents’ having entered the country without proper documentation. This means that the majority of “illegal” immigrants are thus wrongfully and systematically denied access to the rights that other American citizens enjoy.

The participants of the hunger strike in Tacoma complain of experiences with this first hand. They allege that GEO Group only compensates them $1 per day for the janitorial and kitchen services they fulfill. Effectually, they are then earning almost no money while they await their trial, causing a severe financial burden for themselves and their families. The status of immigrant detainees is practically that of slave labor.

“Its just ironic that the government is detaining people for working without a social security number; meanwhile, they allow this company to exploit their labor,” states Latino Advocacy founder Maru Moro Villalpando.

The strikes began March 7 and are projected to continue until they receive congressional acknowledgement. Friday was chosen as the start purposefully to honor those who have already been deported, as that is the day of the week prison guards round up all those who will be sent back the following Monday morning.

– Stefanie Doucette

Sources: Al Jazeera, CNN, Huffington Post, Washington Times, Washington Post, Think Progress
Photo: Al Jazeera

repatriation companies
Migrant workers are a common sight among the busy streets of Singapore; they have been essential to the growth of the impressive buildings that paint the skyline. But like many countries that rely on migrant workers, abuse does rear its ugly head.

Many workers who make their way to Singapore seek money that simply is not available in their home country. Typically, they sign a contract, allowing them to reside in the country for a specific period of time.

Workers who do not wish to leave are put in the hands of companies that specialize in corralling migrant workers and forcibly removing them from the country. Many of these companies have been known to use intimidating and sometimes violent tactics.

Bapari Jarkir, a Bangladeshi migrant worker, encountered the employees of a repatriation company at the point of a knife. His employer wanted to expel him off his job as a welder, but he refused due to the high amount of debt he incurred while moving to Singapore.

He was escorted to the office of a repatriation company, where he was forcibly detained for several hours until he agreed to sign a document saying he was responsible for paying his $3,900 bond that each construction firm must give up to the government for each migrant worker. The bond money is usually returned to the company once the migrant worker leaves the country.

Should a migrant worker fail to leave the country once their contract is up, the construction firm is levied with a sizeable fine. The bonds the companies hand over to the government combined with the risk of facing fines has resulted in a profitable market for repatriation companies. Horror stories have also been reported detailing the expulsion of workers from Singapore should any health issues occur.

Construction companies are typically responsible for insuring their workers and paying medical expenses should they arise. A Bangladeshi worker named Shagar faced deportation following a work related injury.

After he hurt his leg while carrying heavy tile, he pursued compensation through his employer. After being summoned to the foreman’s office, he encountered two large men who escorted him to the headquarters of a repatriation company. The company informed him he was being placed on a flight back to Bangladesh. Luckily, he was able to remember a lawyer’s assistant’s number and was provided assistance.

The issue of Singapore’s repatriation companies has even garnered the attention of the United States government. In its 2013 Report on Human Trafficking, it confirms the experience of Bapari and Shagar at the hands of repatriation companies. It notes instances of workers being “seized and confined” against their will and threatened into leaving the country.

While Singapore is a very modern and stable nation, it needs desperate reform of its labor laws concerning migrant workers; specifically the bonds the government requires from every firm employing migrant workers, which has created a market for these repatriation companies to flourish. Singapore experienced its first riot in 40 years involving disgruntled migrant workers; a clear sign that change is needed.

– Zachary Lindberg

Sources: CNN, Bloomberg
Photo: UNHCR

Syria_Immigration_Refugee_United States
The United States currently leads the world in refugee resettlement yet could fall short in the case of the crisis in Syria. With more than two million Syrians fleeing the country and another 6.5 million displaced within Syria’s borders, this is quite possibly the worst refugee crisis since the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

The demand for resettlement is huge.

In a Senate hearing on January 7, State Department Assistant Secretary Anne Richard stated that the United States expected to begin resettling more refugees, increasing referral acceptances to several thousand Syrians in 2014. Additionally, the United Nations a few weeks ago stated that the United States would be accepting around 30,000 vulnerable Syrians referred for resettlement.

Unfortunately, post-9/11 immigration laws may pose some difficulties.

Under U.S. laws, not all of these vulnerable individuals can be legally received. Those people who are considered to have given ‘material support’ in some form or other to rebels are considered to have possibly supported terrorism, even if the ‘material support’ was approved by the United States.

In this manner, Syrians who gave so much as a sandwich or a cigarette to a soldier fighting for the Free Syrian Army will not be accepted, according to Illinois Senator Dick Durbin.

Human Rights First has called for the U.S. to resettle some 15,000 Syrians per year. While this perhaps should be feasible for the world’s leader of refugee resettlement, it is a particularly lofty goal for a country that will have a tough time finding Syrians with no connection to either side of the conflict.

As such, the United States is working on easing the anti-terrorism laws to some degree with respect to Syria in order to support the global effort to take in and support Syrian refugees.

The United Nations calculates that Syria has lost at least 35 years of human development from the multitude of tragedies that have occurred in the past three years. The strongest nation in the world should be doing more to work with the international community in aiding the victims of such devastating circumstance.

Jaclyn Stutz

Sources: Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal
Photo: Think Progress

A rising number of young people, as reported by the New York Times, are leaving Europe and the United States before migrating to Syria to wage jihad against President Bashar al-Assad. Bashar al-Assad‘s dictatorial rule is currently being weighed against the threat that the rebellion, which the Western world seems to support, is creating a new generation of jihadists.

All across Europe, people ranging from teachers to intelligence officials are reporting an increased push by Islamist radicals to recruit young Europeans to fight throughout Syria.

A majority of the people being recruited are men, but even some young women have been drawn to the fight in Syria. The possibility exists that these radicals are fighting in hopes of establishing an Islamic state, according to German officials and experts monitoring the trend.

Both American and European intelligence officials estimate that 1,200 young people have left to join Syria’s rebel group, some even having ties to Al Qaeda. Moreover, French President François Hollande stated that French intelligence has counted 700 French citizens and foreigners who have gone to Syria from France while maintaining that he does not support these recruitments.

According to Al Monitor, Hollande explained that as long as al-Assad is in power, there will be no political solution in Syria. Hollande, in fact, believes al-Assad is using Islamists to pressure the moderate position.

Moreover, Germany’s interior minister, Thomas de Maizière, ranked international terrorism as his No. 1 problem, stating that his main concern involves the return of migrant youth from the Syrian battlefield with knowledge and training in the use of weapons and explosives. He reports that 240 people left Germany for Syria last year, most of them being young men from immigrant families unsuccessful at school or in life in general.

In Germany, the state of Hesse, where Frankfurt is, has been one of the main sources of jihadist recruitment for Syria. The interior minister of Hesse, Boris Rhein, told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper in November that jihadist religious extremism is “the greatest security policy challenge” of the 21st century.

This thought process may be behind the reason why $2.4 billion has been given in aid to Syrian Civilians. Despite this large amount of money, Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general, spoke at a donors conference, saying that $6.5 billion would be needed to provide the Syrian refugees and civilians all that they need for the year, according to the New York Times.

Secretary of State John Kerry expressed his point of view on the deterioration of Syria by explaining that the new aid will not be enough unless al-Assad stops “using starvation as a weapon of war” and allows the aid to reach those in need.

Another issue raising concern is that, historically, not all donor nations have followed through on their pledges. Therefore, despite the fact that $2.4 billion has been pledged it may not all come through. Throughout 2013 only 70% of the funding sought out by the United Nations for Syria was actually provided.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: New York Times: Flow of Westerners, New York Times: More is Needed, Al Monitor

Each year, millions of the world’s poor leave their homelands in search of security. Often, these individuals resort to dangerous methods of transportation in order to obtain freedom and safety.

92 bodies were found in the Sahara desert yesterday, believed to be the result of individuals fleeing lives of extreme poverty in Niger. The group mainly consisted of women and children whose deaths are believed to be the result of extreme dehydration.

Officials have reported that the group originally travelled by truck, which broke down during the trip across the desert to nearby Algeria. The migrants decided to walk the rest of the way. Their bodies were found only 6 miles from their destination.

This is the latest in a string of migrant deaths around the world. On October 12, 27 people drowned off the coasts of Sicily and Tunisia in an attempt to reach Europe from Africa. Earlier that week, another boat carrying migrants capsized in the same area, killing 345 people in an effort to reach Malta. The UN Refugee Agency (UNRA) estimates that over 30,000 individuals have tried to enter Europe through Italy this year alone.

In 2011, the Agency estimated that there were at least 12 million stateless individuals worldwide but the number could be significantly higher. Regions upset by violence and political instability tend to lack proper records and developed nations have struggled over the past several years to achieve an accurate count of illegal immigrants.

In the United States alone, there are an estimated 6 million undocumented Mexican workers as well as an increasing number of illegal immigrants from Central America. The Pew Research Center Hispanic Trends Project has determined that the greatest increase of migrants has occurred in southern states like Georgia and North Carolina.

Border states like Texas, Arizona and New Mexico have seen an increase in illegal immigrant deaths in the last couple of years. Nearly 200 bodies were recovered last year in a single Texas county as migrant paths continue to change in order to avoid Border Patrol sites.

Similar to the migrant deaths in Niger, illegal immigrants find themselves lost in the hot, dry fields of the southwestern United States. Death by dehydration has become a common occurrence for those unfamiliar with the area.

Immigration policy reform remains a highly controversial issue in America and abroad. Asylum advocates continue to campaign for inclusive immigration policies, while other groups support tighter border control. The UNRA argues that the despite legal infractions by migrants, their rights and well-being must be safeguarded at all times.

Jasmine D. Smith

Sources: MSN, UN Refugee Agency, CNN
Photo: Women Travel Blog


Syria Refugees Settle in Australia
Entire towns ransacked to ruins, food and medicine completely run out, schools and hospitals attacked, rape and disappearance of women, and blockades preventing essential flow of goods to the people—these unbelievable conditions are actually happening today in Syria. The conflict in Syria has led to over 100,000 deaths, and over two million people have already fled the nation.

The United Nations Security Council has created plans to address humanitarian action to stop the suffering of the Syrian people. However, the international support networks have not realized the plans to help these people. The international community has been unsuccessful in demanding that agencies assist Syria. The UN has voiced a need for an additional $4.5 million to meet Syria’s needs, but less than 40 percent of this financial target has been met.

Syria’s neighbors are doing their best to take in fleeing refugees. Lebanon, for example, now houses 750,000 refugees. Because an astounding two million refugees have fled Syria, surrounding nations including Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan are facing great population increases. The UNHCR has requested that nations aim to alleviate the burden these neighboring nations are dealing with.

While not a neighboring country, Australia has contributed to Syrian aid as well, providing the nation with nearly $100 million, with $45.5 million allocated to support the neighboring nations taking in refugees. Australia has joined 16 other nations, and made an agreement to take in 500 Syrian refugees.

The UN Security Council’s resolution calls for the urgent and unhindered deliverance of aid toward Syrian civilians caught up in the Syrian civil war. The statement sends an urgent message that Syria must allow the UN to come in and help the innocent citizens. Australia is responding to this call.

Australian Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, Scott Morrison, said the refugee relocation will begin in 2013-2014. The agreement “guarantees more resettlement places for those waiting in desperate circumstances.” Further, Morrison explained priority will be given to refugees who are most vulnerable and need urgent security.

Morrison emphasized, however, that “The Australian people’s support should not be interpreted as an encouragement to those seeking to enter our country illegally.” He said that those arriving unlawfully on boats will not be treated differently than any other illegal immigrants.

– Laura Reinacher

Sources: Business Standard The Guardian ABC Australia
Photo: ABC Australia

Australia has recently decided to take strict measures to deal with the increasing influx of asylum seekers from conflict-ridden countries. This year alone brought 269 boats with 18,888 people—44 boats with 3,057 refugees in the last two months—from places like Iran, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Many worry “the refugees could take jobs or become a drag on social services,” thus affecting stability in Australia. Australia represents “the rich Western world” for these maritime travelers who risk their lives to find basic human rights and freedom of education.

Australia’s residents, however, are concerned that while some come to Australia to escape war in their home countries, others come for better economic opportunity. They suggest that in order to stave off the growing flow of migrants, Australia should just accept the ones fleeing war-torn countries and reject “the economic ones.” Voters in Australia are growing increasingly anxious for an easy solution and are angry with their government for not providing one.

In response to these concerns during Australia’s election year, the Australian government has been working on establishing the Irregular Migration Research Program with four aims: to build a body of knowledge to enable short-term research for immediate issues, to understand the drivers of irregular migration to help develop policy, to foster informed public discussion, and to promote research in the field of irregular migration and to establish the field itself.

To accomplish its goals, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship commissioned the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers to produce recommendations to deal with the irregular migration problem. After close review, the Panel concluded that the new program needs to be, among other things, “hard-headed but not hard-hearted,” and ensures that those who circumvent the regular migration mechanisms do not receive any unfair advantages.

According to the Australian Government, the primary motivation for establishing the program is to eliminate the hundreds of tragic deaths of asylum seekers that occur at sea every year. From 2001 to June 2012, 964 asylum seekers and crew have been lost at sea while on their way to the shores of Australia; 604 people have died since October 2009. The Panel came up with 22 recommendations, many of which advocated for strengthening local, as well as, regional policy and strategy to address the issue:

  1. Manage asylum across the region, while considering Australia’s international obligations
  2. Improve Australia’s Humanitarian Program, specifically allocate places for the refugee component, focused on asylum-seeker flows from source countries into South-East Asia
  3. Expand relevant capacity-building initiatives and increase allocation of resources
  4. Advance bilateral cooperation on asylum-seeker issues, like law enforcement and search and rescue coordination, with Indonesia and Malaysia
  5. Develop strategy to engage with source countries for asylum seekers to Australia
  6. Introduce legislation to support transfer of people to regional processing arrangements into Australian Parliament
  7. Establish capacity in Nauru and Papua New Guinea to process claims of irregular migrants transferred from Australia

Australia’s new Irregular Migration Research Program will support current research, commission new research projects, partnership-based research, and approve small research grants.

– Yuliya Shokh

Sources: The Wall Street Journal
Photo: BSE

UN officials and experts met on September 4, 2013 to discuss the need for human rights to be prioritized by governments when making policies about immigration. Officials agreed that humanity should be the focus of the immigration debate.

Immigrants often lack the official documentation that citizens possess, so they often go without legal protection out of fear of deportation. Yet, if the 215 million migrants living in marginalized pockets all over the world came together to form a country of their own, it would be the fifth most populous country in the world. Imagine a country with the population of Brazil, where none of the people were guaranteed human rights. If that situation seems problematic, then it is time to think about human rights for migrants.

Top UN Human Rights Official, Navi Pillay, suggested that governments should think of immigration as a human issue, rather than an economic or a political issue. Human rights should be the central focus of government immigration policies if they are to be effective.

Pillay stresses that for migrants, their journeys and working conditions are becoming more perilous, making human rights standards for migrants an increasingly important priority. Women should not have to suffer domestic violence, and workers should not have to accept exploitation out of fear that seeking help from the law would lead to deportation. Families should not have to live without healthcare, and children without education, just because they are migrants. Pillay also argues that migrant populations should have a say in drafting the policies that affect them, like public housing provisions and measures to counter racism and hate crimes.

Migration is as much a human rights issue as it is a global one. The UN agency reported that the lack of international discussions about migration leaves a glaring hole in global governance, and that the UN must mandate a multi-stakeholder standing body to protect the human rights of migrants all over the world. In arguing that humanity should be the focus of the immigration debate, the UN has attempted to change the way in which the global community views this ever-present issue.

Jennifer Bills

Sources: UN News, Internet World Stats