Question #1: Why do most people, families, migrate from other parts of the world into the United States of America?
Question #2: Why did our original colonizing settlers and most European natives come to these United States of America, beginning in the early 1600’s?
Answer: To find a safer, more life-affirming place to call their home, work and raise a family. The career possibilities, potential freedom, and the promise of a better more prosperous life. While reasons are numerous, all are centrally focused on ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Parents wanting a better life for themselves with their children. Individuals wanting a life filled with personal choice, employment opportunities, education-all looking for something ‘better’ ‘life quality’! Is that so wrong?
The U.S. has been a top destination for international migrants since the 60’s, and 1/5 of the world’s migrants as of 2017. This country, despite its historical immigration, has oscillated between seeing immigration as a valuable resource and as a great challenge. Now it seems as though a ‘burden’. In 2016, more than 43.7 million immigrants lived in the U.S., accounting for 13.5 percent of total population of 323.1 million in this country. According to American Community Survey[ACS] data, the foreign born population increased by about 449,000, or 1 percent between 2015-2016, slower than 2.1 percent growth in 2014-2015. Immigrants and their U.S. born children number approximately 86.4 million people, or 27 percent of the overall population, according to the 2017 Current Population Survey[CPS].
In 2016, 1.49 million foreign-born individuals moved to the U.S.. India was the leading country of origin, with 175,000 arriving in 2016, 160,200 from China/Hong Kong, 150,400 from Mexico, 54,700 from Cuba and 46,600 from the Philippines. India and China surpassed Mexico in 2013, and most recently Cuban immigration increased 74 percent from 2015-2016. These numbers factor in legal and unauthorized immigrant populations.
Between 1860 and 1920, the immigrant share of the overall population fluctuated between 13% and about 15%, peaking at 14.8% in 1890, from high levels of European immigrants. In 1921 and 1924, restrictive immigration laws, the Great Depression and WWII, led to a sharp drop in new arrivals. The foreign-born share hit a record low in 1970-about 5%. Since then, due to the Immigration Act of 1965, large scale immigrants were from Latin America and Asia. The act abolished national origin immigration admission quotas.
The predominance of Latin-American and Asian immigrants in the U.S. in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries greatly contrasts with the trends in the mid-1900s when immigrants were largely European. In 2016, nearly 45% of immigrants reported having Hispanic or Latino origins[which the U.S. Census Bureau classifies as ethnic, not racial categories]. The majority of Hispanics are U.S. born. Of the 57.4 million people who self-identified as Hispanic or Latino, 34% were immigrants.
Immigrants accounted for 17%[27.6 million] of the 161.8 million people in the civilian labor force in 2016. Between 1970-2016, the numbers more than tripled from 5 to 7 percent. That same period, the total foreign-born population grew more slowly, from less than 5 percent to 13.5 percent.
Refugees and Asylum Seekers
Each year, the president and Congress set a ceiling on refugee admissions and allocations by regions of origin. President Trump, through executive orders cut the Obama ceilings by half- from 110,000 to 50,000, suspended admissions for 120 days in fiscal year 2017, and limited admissions of refugees from various places like, Iran, Chad, Libya, Somalia, and Yemen[with a few more]. For fiscal year 2018, the ceiling was set at 45,000-the lowest since the program began in 1980.
What is notable in asylees, or Asylum seekers is the falling numbers of grantees including individuals, principal applicants, spouse and/or children under age 21. These grants can be issued upon or after arrival in the U.S. The drop in numbers are due to the backlog of USCIS Asylum Division, because of worker transfers to conduct ‘credible and reasonable fear’ interviews with the adults and families apprehended or found inadmissible at U.S. borders and those who expressed their intention to seek asylum. China, El Salvador,Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico[in that order] represented the grantees, making up 32% of all received asylum in 2016.
Suggesting little change from 2011 to 2012, an estimated 11.4 illegal immigrants lived in the U.S.,according to DHS Office of Immigration Statistics. In 2014, the Migration Policy Institute estimated 11 million unauthorized immigrants in this country. Over half[54%] lived in 4 states: California, Texas, New York and Florida. Mexico and Central America accounted for the most unauthorized immigrants between 2010 and 2014-about 7.9 million people in total[71% of the unauthorized pop.] 13% were from Asia, 6% from South America, 4%-Europe, Canada or Oceania, 3%-Africa, and 2% from the Caribbean. The top 5 countries of birth- Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and China.
Today, what was not considered a crisis at our borders has now become a real crisis- one that was originally fabricated to suit a greater purpose. To hear told by our current President, all immigrants found entering our southern borders illegally are from Mexico. Well, sifting through the truthfulness of that statement, he is correct ‘in part’. Individuals and families are entering through or from Mexico’s border, yet many are traveling from other countries. There are detainees from Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and other Central American countries. The concerns for America at this point is not that people are entering illegally, but what happens to people who are caught entering illegally. What happens to families-parents, children?
Under this Zero Tolerance policy, when families, parents with children are apprehended at our borders, the adults are immediately placed in handcuffs and held in federal detention with pending criminal charges- awaiting their day in court. What happens to their children? At the moment of federal arrest by ICE, the children are ripped from their parents and they, too, become prisoners of HHS. These two, [ICE] Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and [HHS] Health and Human Services, are completely different cabinet agencies designed to serve different purposes. ICE is charged with guarding our national borders, at both officially recognized and unofficial ports of entry. Their job is to protect our national safety. HHS is charged with protecting the health of Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those least able to care for themselves.
Between these two agencies, there is very little to no collaboration, cross-communication, which means that as children and their parents are traumatized by instant separation, the left hand knows not of the right hand. In other words, parents are in jail, children are in cages[another type of jail], and as the numbers rise with regards to detainees arriving with children, neither one knows where the other is located. While in Federal detention facilities, immigrant adults are subject to the laws of the land, which dictate their rights to have legal representation.
The children are alone, literally, and the agency overseeing them are truly unequipped to manage and care for them. Of course, nobody can replace a parent’s caring nor the emotional connection and stability offered in parent child relationships. Children are ‘clients’ and professional ethics require an impersonal level of care given by workers at all levels. What they need is the parental love they have been denied. The facilities that house children, as young as a few months old, are being overcrowded and children are thus shipped and sent to places even farther away from their parents. Meanwhile, the parents are clueless as to where their children are and the same for children also.
While parents await arraignment, their day in court, they are entitled to lawyers. If criminal charges are dropped or dismissed, after waiting up to 10 months before decisions are made, the adults have choices to make. Many people are here with hopes of seeking or being granted asylum. If granted, they are on route to legal citizenship. During this process, unfortunately, parents still are unaware of the location of their children and have had no contact with them since being detained. In detention centers, one is entitled to 15 minutes of phone time. If taken advantage of, most people want 1 of 2 things[usually both]-an attorney and contact with their child at the least.
The U.S. now posts a phone number, a hotline, in thir various detention centers, for parents to try to locate a child. As we all know, when dialing a general 800 number, the waiting time to speak to a live human can be lengthy. A 20-25 minute wait is average. Phone privileges are over before any progress. Cases such as these are further complicated as the workers on the other end of the line, are able to provide little to no help. They are as informed as the parent themselves, and HHS is rarely, if ever, given information specific to each child.
Parents who are fortunate enough to locate their child, and speak with them by telephone, while still in detention are like lifelines to other, newer detainees. It is often ‘someone who knows someone’ who enlightens another parent. Attorneys, advocates, compassionate social case workers, a specific telephone number[rather than a general hotline]….all word of mouth. Each helping anther. They are in this together and everyone wants their children back with them safely. Thank God for the ‘grapevine’ and ‘grassroots’ advocacy and advocates!
What was not a real crisis for this nation and our borders, has been made one officially by our Zero Tolerance policies. We talk about children’s trauma, but parents’ traumas are equally horrific, and unforgiving. As a country whose citizens and leadership is supposed to champion the family and family values, ‘Suffer ye not the little children!” We say that separations are to no longer coexist with this policy fiasco, but not yet have we seen a specific, well thought out plan in place to reunite those families already ripped apart from one another. There is no tangible restorative protocol for parent and child reunification, nor is there an actual humanely- acceptable accommodation to house families together.
This is a rogue policy and rogue justice is rendered in the name of the U.S. people through the rogue operations of ICE. As American citizens, should our fears of the ‘other’ overtake our sense of humanity? Even in light of legal policy? We don’t have too far back to look when legal policy accepted enslavement of African peoples and the same such practices prevailed as accepted policy. They too, when detained or captured, were simply seeking freedom-the same as enjoyed by all others. This policy and recent policies regarding non-white persons all ring of the ‘bullies who stole’ the sandbox being afraid that the people they let play in that sandbox may take it back, in the same brutal unforgiving manner. Rash decisions, based on fear, are usually bad decisions in the end.
There IS room for all here! Don’t make orphans out of children, make them feel unwanted or introduce them to a system that we fear and complain is grossly abused. Angry children make angry adults who will express that anger somewhere, somehow and it is that fear which should guide our decisions to never separate families punitively. Criminalizing immigration for some, is like whitewashing the criminalized entry of Europeans and blaming past behaviors and choices on the victims for their behaviors and circumstances. We are continuing to prove the racial fragility of those groups who never want others to learn their own past truths.
Now’s the time to prove all doubters wrong, and demonstrate that we can have confidence in the our institutions, and back them by enacting policies and practices that are indicative of intelligence, what’s humane, righteous, compassionate and equitable. We must act as though we are informed by the practices of the Nazis, Confederate states[north included], the plight of the Japanese Americans, Native Americans, some Slavic nations. When we fail to protect children from trauma at our best, and instead subject them to trauma, harm and threaten their safety, knowingly…that is the beginnings of genocide and we are acting at our worst.
All throughout history, it has been ethnic/racial fragility and hunger for power that has led to our divisiveness and injustice, whether intentional or incidental. We cannot change the past, but we can learn about the past, teach it, learn from it, and begin to understand what the hunger for freedom looks and feels like. Everyone wants to be free!
It takes extreme bravery to pack up one’s family with little more than the clothes on your backs and venture into a new and strange land-a land where you may or may not speak the language, have a place to sleep or know when your family will eat next….all to be free! We call ourselves the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave’! Does our national anthem and national motto need a sudden revision in 2018?