what’s a fair immigration strategy?

Tuesday 27 January, 2009

I read with interest this article in the Chicago Tribune magazine by Tom Hundley Return Trip about Poles returning to Poland.  I spent 7 months in Poland at the same time as Hundley, as it was transitioning from communism to capitalism & have tried to keep up with what’s going on there since then.

Poles in America aren’t just fleeing Chicago.  I spent a number of years of my youth in the suburbs of Detroit.  There was what was then a fairly renowned, around Detroit at least, district full of immigrant Poles called Hamtramick.  My step-brother now tells me it’s been overrun by immigrants from other countries.

When I was working in Poland, I came across Poles who lived & worked for years in Chicago who never learned English & really integrated with the greater Chicago community beyond the Polish enclaves.  We used their man-hours at work.  Is that a positive contribution to Chicago?  There’s been talk of a labor shortage as the baby boom generation retires.  Will foreign immigrants fill those gaps?  Polish immigrant Piotr says, “We came to America for better jobs.” He’s seeking the American dream, but is that open to illegal immigrants too?  Is he taking jobs legal workers would take? Generations earlier, the present Polish equivalents were the Germans.  I wonder if the media lamented the stemming of that flow.

Americans didn’t used to need a visa to travel to Brazil, but that has changed in reaction to American policy.  When the US required visas for Brazilians traveling to America, Brazil reciprocated & made the same requirement of Americans & I can’t blame them.  When I travelled to Brazil a few years ago, it was an additional hassle I didn’t want to deal with, but had to.

A number of years ago, I spent 6 months in Stockholm, Sweden & almost found work there.  Technically, I was an illegal immigrant because I was there longer than the 3 months you are granted when you enter the country.  Had I found work, I’m sure getting working papers would have been little problem because Sweden is a small country & needs workers.  Coming to America, the security situation, & these economic times are a pretty different.  In some ways I’d love to return to work in Europe, but most governments there are very protective of local jobs.  That’s 1 part of the global economy that isn’t yet free, open & transparent-it’s simply not possible for workers to flow to wherever they like.  As far as I know, there is no visa reciprocity, so why should we let foreign immigrants work here if we don’t have the same reciprocal opportunities?

I don’t mean to be unsympathetic to immigrants who came here, built families & lives, & might have to return home.  They took a risk when they came here, fully well knowing they might not be able to stay.  Although America was built by immigrant workers, I think in many ways our immigration policy mirrors our labor policies.  We think nothing of throwing thousands of workers out on the streets & now treat immigrants the same way.


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