The export of an immigration problem

As I leave the office where I work on May first close to the crossing of Broadway and Houston, on the west side of Broadway, I cross the street toward my subway stop at Lafayette. As the door pulls slowly to close behind me, I encounter a scattered and slow stream of people, mostly Hispanics – I actually don’t specifically remember seeing any one of another ethnic signature – marches in the direction of City Hall. As I obliquely cross over I form part of this mass demonstration, swelling its ranks to a factor x plus one.

“U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”

The success of America’s immigration policy is that many if not most immigrants feel an intimate devotion to the country, even if they remain in their heart nationals of their country of birth. How often did I not listen, admittedly with a certain aloofness and appal, to the immigrant, be it Chinese, Georgian, Russian, Indian, Algerian, Muslim, Jew, Christian or Atheist, expressing their gratitude for the chances and opportunity to build a free and better life here in America. How sharp is the contrast of the Dutch Moroccan who feels only bitterness toward his life in the Netherlands (without expressing any desire to emigrate permanently!).

I turn the corner at the Adidas store, pass the fruit cart on which the Bangladeshi seller continuously rearranges his fruits from early day till evening, and already smell the rancid odour of the three African homeless men who build their shelter between the railing and bushes. I descend hurrying homeward.

Alas, how shameful we live in our comfort and remain thoughtless about our presence. Almost fourty percent of New Yorkers officially were born outside of the US (not counting the illegal Russians and Hispanics probably which are to be heard and seen throughout the city). Yet, the xenofobe, nationalist lobby in the US profited without moral restraint from the 911 attacks and successfully linked immigration to the security debate, disconnecting it from globalization and post-industrialist trends, let alone from the American identity.

The mass media, even the public media, hit little but the shallow surface of the debate. Who talks about the fact that for twenty years progressives have been protesting a growing income gap between the southern and western hemispheres. The continuing rise of our western incomes and the empverishment of the Third World now have caused migration of people from poor to rich areas, and a migration of labor intensive production from costly to cheap areas. You would think that the intellectuals of America would include these hindlying causalities, but you would think wrongly. Does America think there is no reciprocal relationship between the export of labor intensive production to those very areas that immigration originates from? The truth is that the average American blames the foreign countries for the very same events! Without recognizing that it is all caused by the American hyper-wealth. Then do away with it! Away with it, I tell you and rid yourself of the root of your agony!

You would also think that the intellectuals of America (I cynically use the term to refer to those who have the strongest impact on the formation of popular thought as opinion makers) would discuss the balance between immigration and emigration, but also here you would be mistaken. Migration in the US is naturally part of its history. From the great trek and colonization of the west in the 19th century, the mass immigration waves of the late 19th and first half of the 20th century, or the latest wave of Hispanic or continental American migration. Alas, how many Americans live abroad? I don’t want to know, and so thinks with me the statistical bureau of the United States government, because there are no trustworthy data on emigration from the US. Nor are there numbers of the old American aristocracy that lives in London, Paris, Rome, the Riviera, the Provence, nor that of the new American class of retirees that live on the resorts in Mexico, nor that of Americans that own a second house in sex resorts like Thailand, Phillipines, Africa or Eastern Europe. Do we count American miltary personel? Maybe not. Maybe not. No, better not. Smitty, can you dispose of those numbers actually, I think rough estimates will do, better not to ask.

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