World issues that affect our local communities
While each week the media floods our newspapers, television and radio with hundreds of interesting and important items, in the field of international affairs the dominant theme this past week was immigration: both legal and illegal. While most of you are aware of the topic, today we will look at the scale and implications for our own country.
Of course, as each of us learned in grade school, America is a nation of immigrants. As Europeans began sailing across the Atlantic to this new land, followed later by Asians seeking prosperity by crossing the Pacific, the once empty country became a “land of immigrants” and began to fill. The native Americans (Indians) shrank to a small minority.
In more recent years our national policy shifted from welcoming the flood of migrants to a series of policies to shape and control the surge of those seeking to make America their home. As we are seeing today, this brings both opportunities and challenges.
Let’s look at some numbers for the United States. Figures here show that as late as the 1990s, the United States was processing some 1 million immigrants annually, changes in U.S. policies and security at our borders reduced that to 500,000 annually in recent years. 50,000 immigrants a month entered in March, April and May of this year. This is believed to include legal immigrants who have attained proper documents declare themselves at border crossings.
Last month, most Americans were embarrassed by the policy of separating children from the parents who sought to enter illegally passing to the United States through Mexico.
On the other hand, was popular support for measures that would preclude a flood of people who chose to ignore U.S. border laws and in some cases came without screening with criminal backgrounds and other problems.
This is not a new issue for the United States or many other developed nations, both the volume of immigration, both legal and illegal, have brought it to the forefront.
Countries which report that they are currently dealing with immigration crises include Italy with large numbers of people seeking refuge from poverty and military conflict in the Middle East and Africa.
The civil war in Syria has produced hundreds of thousands fleeing the country to seek refuge. Currently, one-quarter of the people living in Lebanon have fled there from the conflicts in Syria.
Economic and security challenges in Africa have caused large numbers of people to flee across the Mediterranean. Because of its geography protruding into the Mediterranean, Italy has become a popular destination. The problem for Europe is further complicated by the creation of the Eurozone, which allows free travel within the member states.
At the same time, we should acknowledge the huge risks for the migrants, many of whom die of drowning or starvation fleeing their homes.
What are some of the primary challenges faced by immigrants in the United States? Obviously, the first may be the English language. Most immigrants, particularly from poorer developing countries, don’t speak English. At least at the outset of their stay here, it is difficult to find employment without a functioning knowledge of English. Of course, in border areas of the Southwest, Spanish is widely spoken, but that can severely limit mobility.
A second major challenge is that many are not by American standards prosperous. Acquiring housing and food for families can be challenging. These same challenges exist for many who move from less developed areas of the Middle East and Africa to Europe.
Despite these challenges the relocation of immigrants from their home countries continues and increases. The obvious attraction of developed nations in America, Europe, and Asia is the quality of life and relative individual security (and often medical care) in the more prosperous developed world.
A recent program to offer assistance in transition has been recently suspended and is under review. This program offered new immigrants the opportunity to serve in the U.S. Army, where their talents, including fluency in a desired foreign language, could be employed and upon completion of their military service they would receive citizenship.
The Army announced this month that they could see the benefit in recruiting native linguists from foreign areas, but the challenges in conducting mandatory background checks necessary to obtain security clearances exceeded their capacities.
We can be certain that the immigration issue for the United States will not disappear and that improved global transportation and communication systems will only make it more urgent.
(John Reppert is an Anna native and former editor of The Gazette-Democrat. He served in the U.S. Army, rising from the rank of private to brigadier general. He earned a PhD in international relations and taught at the University of Maryland. He also served as the executive director of research at Harvard University’s Belfer Center. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com.)