Saturday, April 15, 2006

The Immigrant Nation

 Apart from the debate in the media about the generals rebelling against Rumsfeld, I guess it's immigration that is the big issue preoccupying the American nation at the moment.

Hardly original. In the one way or the other, the issue is one of those defining politics in many democracies these days.

America is a nation of immigrants. They came on the Mayflower or on Kalmar Nyckel, conquered the land and gradually made it theirs. Fleeing poverty and persecution in Europe, but deeply inspired by its ideals and visions, they built their own unique state.

And although there have been periods of very restrictive immigrant policies, it's still immigration that defines the nation.

That makes the debate about the between 8 and 15 million illegal immigrants that are to be found in the country today even more difficult.

For all practical purposes we are talking about Mexicans - although when arrived in the US they are normally included in the broader category of Hispanics. They are coming across the long border seeking jobs, doing the things most other people don't, in many cases working hard and sending money back home to support their families.

They are part of a larger story of demographic change in this country. Numbering over 40 millions today, Hispanics are growing by more than 1,5 million annually, from both the continuing immigration and higher birth rate.

If current demographic trends continue, nearly 1 in 4 US resident will be Hispanic, or of Hispanic ancestry, by 2030 - just a generation hence - up from 1 in 7 in 2000.

It's a big change. And the immigration debate is part of the debate sbout that change in the character of the nation.

The influx of often illegal immigrants is creating strains all over the country. And now the Senate and the House of Representatives is trying to regulate the entire thing.

To throw all that have arrived illegaly out of the country simply isn't feasible. In addition, the US economy can't really do without them. California and Texas - to mention just two examples - would just cease to function.

So there will have to be some sort of amnesty, although that word evokes strong passions. An amnesty - or arrangement - that could perhaps pave the way for them eventually even becoming citizens of the US.

But demands are strong that this is combined with a much harsher border regimes, perhaps even the building of a wall along most of the border with Mexico.

But, as a businessman put it to me, in order to build such a wall there would be the need to import many more illegal workers. There simply aren't the workers available in the US today.

Remember - this is a booming economy.

And the fact of the matter is that nothing can seal that long border. The one way or the other the United States must live with its character as an immigrant nation, attracting those that want to seek a better life.

I think it is a fair guess that there will be no clean-cut solution coming out of the Congress.

With elections coming up, and the issue being a very emotional one, we are likely to see something that its propents say will solve everything although everyone will know that it probably sorts out very little.

Meanwhile, the discussion will go on.

Over breakfast with a blueberry muffin in the sun at Starbucks in Pentagon City.

Or wherever people meet and have the time. Posted by Picasa