Maybe Mr. Trump’s wall will make a difference. I doubt it. Desperate people do desperate things. Like trying to walk across the Sonoran Desert carrying a child.
A six year-old girl died near Lukeville, Arizona last week. That’s the way the poor get to America. They walk across the Sonoran Desert in the summer time. Hundreds perish in the triple digit heat. The Reuters report said the little girl was from India.
Immigration is about economics. No one wants to leave family and friends and emigrate. But when the economic gradient gets high enough, people move to find opportunities. When the relative attractiveness of one economy relative to the other falls, as it did between the U.S. and Mexico after the financial crisis, the flow reverses. When the opportunities aren’t there, people simply turn around and go home. According to a recent study by Pew, the number of unauthorized immigrants from Mexico living in the U.S. fell from almost seven million to just under five between 2007 and 2017. That’s why that same Pew study reports that illegal immigration from Asia is growing.
The economic differential between poverty-level in India and a poverty-level existence in the U.S. is very great indeed. GDP per capita is one way to estimate economic gradient. According to the World Bank, the U.S. has an average GDP of around $60,000 per person. Mexico is around $9K. El Salvador $4K. India $2K. But just like in the U.S., averages don’t fully tell the story. Wealth in India is even more concentrated than in the States. Some analysts say it is the second-most unequal country in the world, after Russia. The poverty level is defined as under $2 per day.
On a human level, it’s tempting to reprise Ronald Reagan and say “Mr. Trump, tear down that wall,” to throw open our borders and welcome the world’s poor. But that won’t work. According to the UN, there are over 800 million people in the world who don’t get enough to eat each day. I’m guessing most would like to come here. The West may be able to take more immigrants than we currently do, but we can’t absorb 800 million. Angela Merkel has said the answer is to make things better in their home countries so people don’t feel the need to emigrate. That’s a logical answer, but a difficult one. Doing that requires creating economic growth in those countries. One way to do that is by decreasing trade barriers so those countries can sell more on world markets, but the current trend on both the right and left is against globalization.
An even bigger opportunity is to improve their domestic economies by moving away from socialism, not all the way, but more than where they are today. Every modern economy is a mix of socialism and capitalism. Like cars, economies need accelerators (capitalism) and brakes (socialism.) Unfortunately, once a government steps on the brake too hard for too long, it’s hard to get back up to speed. India was socialist for a long time. According to the Heritage Foundation, despite a recent liberalization of its markets, India still ranks 129th out of 180 countries in terms of economic freedom.
Maybe Mr. Trump’s wall will make a difference. I doubt it. Desperate people do desperate things. Like trying to walk across the Sonoran Desert carrying a child. The dead girl is old news. But I can’t let go. She was six years old. Six years old. The same age as my granddaughter.
I am crying as I type this.