Helping out Latin American countries can stem the flow of immigrants into the US
Released on: October 10, 2007, 1:36 pm
Press Release Author: Kenneth D. MacHarg
Press Release Summary: Can the U.S. help stem the flow of immigrants by assisting Latin American countries. The experience of Colombian immigrants in Florida provides an example.
Press Release Body: By Kenneth D. MacHarg
The on-going debate about immigration and what to do about an estimated twelve-million illegal migrants has, unfortunately, failed to address the longer-term issue of stemming the tide of people coming to the United States primarily to find higher paying work than is available back home.
The experience of Colombians in South Florida may provide some pertinent insight into such a solution.
In 2002 while writing freelance as a Special Correspondent for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel I was asked to prepare a feature story on the Colombian community in the region.
During the previous decade, there had been a steady flow of Colombians to south Florida as increasing guerrilla warfare among two rebel groups, a right-wing paramilitary group and the army had spread throughout the country. The conflict had brought a sharp increase in the number of people kidnapped for ransom or killed in bombings and other violence.
Talking with recent and long-term immigrants, I found a community that was working hard to help newcomers adjust to their new home.
As more and more Colombians sought safety and security in the U.S. longer-term residents had formed organizations to provide seminars on developing credit, planning for retirement, insurance, social security and other issues that were often very confusing to newly-arrived Colombians.
Others helped immigrants to purchase a home, process immigration papers, learn how to jump through the necessary hoops to open a business, get their children registered in school, identify doctors, find a church, etc.
But it wasn't easy. "They don't understand the finances here and they can't get credit," one interviewee told me. "And, they miss their family, friends and way of life back home.
By the next year, 2003, when the paper again asked me to write a feature on the Colombian community in South Florida, I found that the picture had totally changed.
"Many people are starting to return to Colombia," the same source told me. "For many Colombians, it has been a struggle here, and many of them have not made it after two to three years of trying."
She said that changing conditions in Colombia under President Alvaro Uribe and an increasingly favorable economic situation there had convinced many that it was time to return home and start again.
Two years previous, 1,000 Colombians were relocating to Florida each week. By 2003 the number of immigrants is down to 100 to 150 a week. And, Avianca Airlines was reported to be carrying at least 15 families back to their Colombian homes each week.
The reason for the change? Conditions had improved in Colombia and Colombians wanted to return to their homeland and be closer to their families. The economy had improved, violence was reduced, movement around the country and in cities was much safer and the business climate had turned around.
Another source told me, "Many Colombians are returning because they feel the need to go back to their roots and resume the style of life they had before they fled. "From our heritage, our family is our first society. By going back, we will have more time for a social life and our families."
The example from Colombia can easily be applied to Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and other countries from which immigrants come to seek a better life. They too value the extended family, want to return to their roots and feel more at home in their own society. What keeps many of them here are the steady jobs and higher salaries.
As we debate spending upwards of $3 billion dollars (some estimates go as high at $7 billion dollars) to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border, consideration needs to be given to providing resources to develop the economic base where most immigrants originate. Such development would not only keep potential immigrants home but would attract others to return to what is familiar and comfortable.
Rodolfo García Zamora of the Autonomous University of Zacatecas in Mexico told the Chicago Tribune in 2006, "If the U.S. would take half of what it is investing in militarizing the border and invest it in economic development in Mexico, in ten years the migration to the U.S. would be going down."
Along side the immediate attention needed to control the influx of immigrants, we need to also be planning for the long-term resolution of the immigration problem. A solution that helps our neighbors to the south to improve living and working conditions and provides economic stability will go a long way toward reducing the flow of people across the border and rebuilding the fractured relationships with our Latin American neighbors.
Kenneth D. MacHarg is the author of From Rio to the Rio Grande, Challenges and Opportunities in Latin America available from local book stores or on line at www.atlasbooks.com/marktplc/01969.htm or at other online book sellers. . He lives in Carrollton, Georgia.
Web Site: http://www.atlasbooks.com/marktplc/01969.htm
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