Refugees in US/Maine
Should the U.S. have a policy of open borders for all qualified refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants?
The 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act brought back restrictions that were in the US before 1920, when the US had a high rate of immigration. The amendment restricted visas for immigration, according to the 1920 US population ethnic composition. In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act introduced employer sanctions and granted amnesty to three million illegal immigrants. A repeal in 1990 allowed entry of 150,000 legal immigrants each year. The US in general and Maine in particular, has a very high number of refugees, most of whom are from Sudan and Somalia, and are Christian refugees. In fact, Maine is reputed to have one of the largest concentration of Christian refugees, in the US.
According to Stretch (2003), presence of Somalis refugees can also be significantly felt in Lewiston, Maine. This is due to large immigration of Somalis to this city, which can be attributed to cheap housing, good schools and a safe community. Initially they were welcomed, but as the number kept rising, problems began to show. There were complaints by people who were evicted in order for the refugees to acquire public houses. There were also complaints about the high taxes, which people attributed to the influx of the refugees. In fact, Maine is among the cities that pay the highest taxes in the US. The mayor was among the people who protested about the large influx of Somali refugees. Soon, racist groups began to protest about the presence of these refugees, and the September 11 attacks did not help matters, since Somalis and Sudanese are predominantly Muslim.
Due to the perception that the refugees have been adversely affecting the lives of people in Maine, they have been targets of violent crime. For instance, last month, a Sudanese man who came to Portland, Maine in 1995 was fatally shot, and this led to an outcry by the Sudanese community, which felt threatened living in Maine. His was not the first attack against the refugees in Maine, and generally in the US. This paper seeks to investigate the impacts of immigrants to the US in general, and particularly Maine, so that we may conclude whether they benefit the country or are liabilities to it. Some commonly used terms in this topic are defined below;
Refugees, according to Stretch and Burkemper (2003), are people who flee their country because of fear of being persecuted, in the event that they remain there. The Geneva convention guided the interpretation of the term refugee, in the US law. Refugees may flee their country fearing persecution on basis of religion, race, political affiliation, social group or nationality. They do not wish to go back to their country due to fear that they may be harmed. The US democratic and humanitarian responsibility for admitting refugees is facilitated by international agreements and conventions.
Temporary protected status
This is permission to reside in the US, due to humanitarian reasons. Such reasons may include the occurrence of civil wars, natural disasters such as floods among others. The people who want to apply for this status may prove that the circumstances that warrant the approval of the temporary protected status occurred while they were in the US, and that they have lived continuously in US since the circumstances occurred. People convicted of crimes are however not eligible for this status.
United States asylum program
Asylum is usually granted to individuals in the US, who are unwilling or unable to return to their country of origin due to a genuine fear of being persecuted on basis of religion, race, political affiliation, social group or nationality. Economic hardship is however not considered a valid reason for acquiring an asylum status. The people who acquire asylum are able to work and live in the US, and are eligible for application for permanent residency status, a year after acquiring the asylum. This permanent residency status can also be extended to cover unmarried children aged below 21 and spouses. To be eligible to qualify for the asylum status, one needs to apply for it at the point of entering the US, or within one year of arrival in the US. However, there is an allowance for asking for asylum after a period of more than one year from the point of entry to the US, provided that there is evidence of extraordinary circumstances that prevented one from doing so, and that he or she applied under reasonable period, under the same circumstances. One might also ask for asylum afterward, if during the year circumstances have changed, which affect eligibility for asylum.
The process of acquiring asylum , according to Kallen (1998), is facilitated by an Immigration Judge or Asylum officer. In case a person has been taken to the Immigration Court for deportation proceedings, the Immigration judge hears and decides the case. If a person has not been placed under deportation proceedings, he or she goes to an Asylum Officer, who will interview him or her to decide eligibility for asylum. These officers have the authority to deny asylum, grant asylum, or forward the case to Immigration Judges who make final decisions. In case the Asylum Officer does not grant asylum and one is illegally in the country, he or she forwards the case to a Judge for decision, after instituting deportation proceedings against that person. The Immigration Judge can also decide to deport immigrants who are not eligible for asylum, and they are in the country illegally.
There is a close relationship between getting refugee and asylum status, since the only difference is in the place where a person asks for such status from. Refugee status is asked from the US, while asylum status is asked from outside the US. For a person to be granted asylum status, he or she must meet the requirements for being a refugee.
Immigrants flee their country, because of other reasons other than fear of persecutions. The most common reason for leaving the country is looking for greener pastures, that is better employment opportunities that would raise their standards of living. Legal immigrants are those who are in a foreign country legally, that is their visa is valid and allows for their residency, for a certain period of time. Illegal immigrants are either foreigners who crossed into a foreign country illegally, or foreigners who entered a country legally, but overstayed their visa, so that they can live or work within that country.
Benefits and limitations of resettled refugees and asylum seekers in the US government
According to McClellan (2007), one benefit that refugees that have been resettled by the US government receive is an interest free loan to cover their travel expenses, Refugee Medical Assistance and Cash Assistance for a period of eight months. Others are food stamps, social security card and assistance with food, clothing and housing. They also receive registration for their children, and access to employment. After a period of living under the refugee status, an individual is eligible for applying for permanent resident. They however face a few limitations, such as the following; The refugees and asylum seekers do not receive permanent citizenship status, and can be requested to leave if circumstances that made them acquire this status change for the better. They are also not eligible to vote during national elections, since they are not citizens of the US, however, they can apply for citizenship status after one year of stay.
This is a document that is given to a person who is not a citizen of the US and it enables him or her to live permanently, and acquire the right to work in the US. The card is used as proof of this status, and though it expires, it does not affect the residency status, as it is permanent. However, expiry of the card needs renewal as expired cards cannot be used to seek employment or visas. If the holder dies, is deported or permanently leaves US, the card is surrendered. People who qualify for it include those with family in the US, religious workers, foreign employees, those with extraordinary skills, entrepreneurs and others. Application is usually done through filling form 1-485 and attaching a medical sheet, color photos, affidavit of support, evidence of parole or admission to US, and affidavit of support. There are also applications that are available on-line, though the applicants still have to provide this information.
Arguments in support of the open border policy for qualified refugees and asylum seekers.
There are several arguments in favor of this policy, and they can be divided into two; from the economic perspective and the cultural perspective.
The basic argument in favor of the open border policy is that refugees are basically people who come to the US to look for opportunities that would improve their lives. These are people who know the US as the land of opportunity and come to look for employment opportunities. Since these people are just trying to improve their lives so that they benefit themselves and their families, it is our obligation to support them, as long as they pull their weight and try to help themselves. There are systems in place, such as the welfare system which these people can benefit from, and it is our responsibility to offer them assistance as long as they add value to our country. This value may be in terms of labor, diverse culture, and many other benefits that immigrants in general bring to the US.
There are some people who support this argument, such as Bruhn (2005), because they view the stringent immigration controls as a waste of public resources. They say that the controls are expensive, yet they do not work very well. They back that argument with statistics which indicate that over one million illegal immigrants enter American borders, each year. The resources that are used to keep them out require militarized border patrols, and many federal agents, which would translate to higher taxes paid for maintaining them. Such controls would require ID checks, which would be perceived as invasion of privacy of Americans.
They would also require central planning, which does not work in free markets. Maintaining efficient and honest border police is already proving to be a challenge, since many border guards are being implicated in border scandals. This is clear, since the government is finding it a challenge to prevent corruption among prison guards, police and the military. Tightening borders has also been perceived by some people as a motivator for the growth of black market. This would lead to increased corruption in government as well as increased violence, attributed to drug wars. Bloemraad (2008), compares the war on immigrants to the war against drugs, which has failed to achieve its objectives, and has drained resources as well as eroded civil liberties.
Another positive effect that comes from immigrants in the US, is in terms of economic welfare. As we are going to see later, immigrants lead to lowering of the wage rate due to flooding of the labor market. However, when this happens, the extra wages do not disappear. The immigrants provide labor at lower cost, which means that the revenue saved either goes to the employer or is passed to consumers. This means that the economy benefits at the same rate that the local workers lose to the immigrants through cheap labor. The benefits are even more amplified, since the extra money saved generates more profits since the employer sells more goods due to the lower prices.
Finally, the host country benefits from the rise in the career ladders of the immigrants, or their increase in the standards if living. It is clear that the standards of living of immigrants rise, with time, since if that were not the case, new immigrants would not come, and the immigrants already in US would go back to their native country. This means that the government benefits from the payment of tax by such immigrants.
Some proponents of an open border policy see immigration as beneficial to the US, since it adds diversity to the culture of America. The influx of immigrants makes culture rich and people are able to enjoy different foods, art, music, and traditions. This, according to Coutin (1999), is what makes America a great country. In Maine for instance, there are several refugees of African origin. These refugees bring diverse cultures that add to the beauty of Maine, a small city. In fact, some of the museums in Maine, such as the College Museum of Art, have exhibited beautiful pieces of art from East Africa. One such photo of a Somali woman holding a baby in the serene environment contrasts sharply with the plaque which says that she later died at a refugee camp. Most of the refugees have gone through traumatizing experiences in their countries of origin, and this helps the people of Maine appreciate global problems and be empathetic.
Arguments against the open border policy for qualified refugees and asylum seekers.
Similarly, there are two dimensions to these arguments, the economic dimension and the cultural dimension.
The people who are against the open border policy view immigrants and refugees as people who have lower educational qualifications than the general population; those who were born and live in the US. These immigrants are generally employed in low-skill labor markets, due to their minimal skills and training. This leads to an influx of immigrants who are ready to take these jobs, even in instances of low pay, for their survival. When any market is flooded with labor, naturally, the wages will go down, since employers will face people who are willing to take lower pay packages, in order to survive. This lowers the amount of wages that everyone in the market receives, including those people who were born, and live in the US. This is one reason that the open border policy is opposed by some US citizens.
According to Tapp (2008), the influx of immigrants and refugees in the US leads to formulation of incentives and programs that can cater for this category of people. This is because many of them, as earlier said, have very little or no skills, that can make them acquire high-pay jobs. Such incentives for catering for these people are funded by the US government, which puts pressure on its budget. The end result is that taxes may be raised in order to meet the needs of these people as well as the other obligations of the government. This has particularly been observed in Maine, where the strain by refugees make the taxes among the highest in the country. This reduces the amounts of disposable income the citizens have, and thus the opposition for the open border policy.
The native US residents with low educational background oppose the open border policy because it is a threat to their survival. These residents are used to doing low-paying jobs for survival, and opening borders brings competition from the refugees and immigrants. This may lead to either lowering of wages, as said earlier, or lack of employment opportunities. These are threats to this category of people who depend on the low paying jobs for employment and they are thus likely to oppose the policy.
Sometimes, states which are relatively poor are against the open border policy, since the immigrants and refugees put pressure on their already inadequate resources. They discourage immigrants and refugees from residing in their countries since it adversely affects the economic and social welfare of the native citizens, who are already struggling to survive. Some extremists are of the opinion that if the world was ideal, then most of the land available would be private land. In this context, then all the immigrants using public space in America are essentially trespassers, since all private land should belong to native Americans.
Native citizens have been known to oppose the open border policy, since they are of the view that majority of immigrants and refugees who relocate to the US, do not get integrated into American culture. These immigrants are seen to retain the culture they had, instead of learning the American culture. They are also reported to keep their loyalty with their native countries and therefore lack allegiance with America, unlike the natives. This makes them to be perceived as ‘foreigners’ and thus the opposition to the open border policy. The bottom line is that they do not hold the American view of loyalty to one nation and national pride. However, some people see weaknesses in this line of argument. They sat that most people who come to America, come to seek freedom from the despotism and socialism that is present in their countries of origin. It therefore does not make sense arguing that the immigrants do not embrace American culture.
An open border policy would be a threat to the security of the United States. There is the risk of insecurity from wars between rival ethnic groups and control over drug trade. There is also a greater security risk that would come about with the open border policy. Terrorists would take advantage of it, since they are very good at impersonation and forging documents. Terrorists would find an easier time penetrating the US borders masquerading as immigrants, striking their targets and going back, though the same borders. Ever since September 11, 2001 security has been tight across the borders and there has not been a subsequent attack, for seven years. This is an opinion that is held by many people in Maine, since most of the refugees present are of Muslim origins. Opening up the borders, according to them, would expose the US to future terrorist attacks.
Ethical conclusion and theoretical basis.
The costs of the immigrants outweigh their benefits, which suggests that the immigration policy has a weakness. Immigration can be said to have increased the tax burden of native Americans, since the skills of immigrants have gone down, while their numbers have gone up. This can be resolved in two ways; one is that the American government can decrease the proportion of immigrants, to a point where benefits outweigh or are equal to costs. Another approach, which has been used by Canada, is to admit wealthier and more educated immigrants.
A closer look at Maine shows that the refugees did not take many jobs away. This is because of the fact that most of them had low levels of education and were hence unemployed. These refugees have also not significantly contributed to increase in crime. This is because most of them, especially the Somalis, obey the Koran, which explains how murderers, thieves, rapists and adulterers will burn in Allah’s fire. These refugees have struggled to get assimilated into the community and become productive. The refugees in Maine can be helped by giving them opportunities to learn skills that would make them to move to other areas and states, where opportunities are plentiful.
However, when viewing this argument from the perspective of equity, even though costs outweigh benefits, immigrants should not be turned away. When looking at the US history, it is a nation of immigrants. Most people who have arrived to the US, have had improvement of their lives and rise in social class. It is therefore not fair to restrict people living in poorer countries from having an opportunity to change their lives for the better. After all, our ancestors used the same opportunity that these immigrants are looking for, so the US/Maine should embrace the policy of welcoming asylum seekers and refugees.
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