Friday, May 21, 2010

Myths Regarding Immigration in the American Society

Comment by Sucharita Sengupta

Immigration continues to be treated as one of the most contentious topics in USA, more so, because USA is a nation of immigrants. However much of the debate regarding immigrants can be found in the past mythology. The article “Five Myths about Immigration” published in the Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 9 May, 2010 deals precisely with the existing myths on immigration and whether immigration can be considered as a blessing in America.

The first myth that the article explores is how immigrants are responsible for unemployment for the U.S population. Immigrants account for 12.5 percent of the U.S population and make up about 15 percent of the workforce. Since the 1980s, Immigrants and their children have accounted for almost 58 percent of the growth of the U.S population. The article claims that low U.S fertility rates and the upcoming retirement of the baby boomers mean that immigrants are going to be the prime workforce in the decades ahead. On one hand, it is true that this contributes towards a decrease in the overall wage of the workers including the U.S workers, but on the other hand immigrants also stimulate growth by creating new consumers, entrepreneurs and investors. The second myth is that most of the immigrants came in illegally , particularly 1890 can be considered as a watershed when immigrants made up to 14.8 percent of our population. Although it is true that unauthorized immigrant population includes more people from Mexico than from any other country, Mexicans are also the largest group of lawful immigrants. There is a third kind of perception which notes that immigrants do not integrate into the larger society. In the present scenario, immigrant integration takes a generation or two. Learning English facilitates this process. However, lack of legal status of millions of immigrants interrupt integration as illegal immigrants are ineligible for in-state tuition. The Fourth myth is that curbing illegal crossings will make the American citizens safe since the job of protecting the nation’s borders is a huge task. After September11 2001, the authorities have taken special care to protect the country’s borders through strict measures like securing cargo shipment, increasing regional cooperation and so on. The Border Patrolling has also increased to more than 20,000 agents. The final point which the article highlights is that reform regarding the immigration laws cannot happen in one election year. However, all the significant immigration bills passed so far were done in the election years. The list dates back to the Refugee Act of 1980 till the recent Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in the 1996.

The article thus traces some of the focal perceptions regarding immigration in the American society. It concludes on the note that changes regarding the existing immigration laws should be ushered in gradually as attempts to foster fast changes have met with deadlocks. However, this does not imply a lack of immigration reform.

For details please visit:

The Wall and the Eye: An Interview with Eyal Weizman

One of history's most fiercely contested landscapes, the 2,270 square miles of territory known as the West Bank was under the control of Jordan when it was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War. Over the last 35 years, the area has become ¬home to some 200,000 Israelis (400,000 including occupied East Jerusalem) who populate numerous, new, purpose-built settlements perched on its hilltops, overlooking long-established Palestinian lowland communities. This ongoing state-sponsored policy of expansion onto the high ground has been paralleled by the development, within the architectural and urban planning professions, of extremely particularized strategies for building on heights. Many of these draw on historical precedents; all are designed to provide basic municipal amenities within a context of highly refined, surveillance-based security. In the following interview, Weizman, a partner in Tel Aviv-based Rafi Segal/Eyal Weizman Architects, discusses both the natural and built environment of the West Bank – from the social, political, and religious history of the area to issues of photography and mapping to concepts of strategic building forms and settlement growth patterns. He also asks pointed ethical questions about Israeli architectural and planning practice and considerations of human rights, which he says is central to the research he and Segal continue to conduct. Weizman spoke by phone to Jeffrey Kastner and Sina Najafi from Haifa, Israel, in October 2002.

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Persecuted Rohingya Flee Burma and Starve in Bangladesh

Physicians for Human Rights released the report, STATELESS AND STARVING – Persecuted Rohingya Flee Burma and Starve in Bangladesh on 9 March 2010. This emergency report is based on a sample of 100 unregistered refugee households at the Kutupalong makeshift camp in southeastern Bangladesh as well as in-depth interviews with 25 refugees and 30 other key informants throughout the region. The Burmese refugee population in Bangladesh is estimated at 200,000 to 400,000. The Government of Bangladesh and the UN refugee agency, (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR) jointly administer two “official” camps with a combined population of just 28,000 registered refugees. The remaining unregistered refugees are currently not protected by UNHCR because they arrived after 1993 when the Bangladesh government ceased conferring refugee status to any Rohingya fleeing Burma. Arbitrary arrests by Bangladeshi authorities have restricted people’s movement in this unofficial camp leading to quarantining of thousands of people. Tens of thousands of unregistered Burmese refugees in the burgeoning camp in Bangladesh have no access to food aid. Results from the PHR household survey reveal that 18.2% of children examined suffer from acute malnutrition. In emergency settings, acute malnutrition is traditionally measured among children age 6–59 months. In addition, PHR received numerous testimonies from families who had not eaten in two or more days. As a coping mechanism, many refugees are now forced to borrow food or money to feed their families. Results from the PHR survey show that 82% of households had borrowed food within the past 30 days, and 91% of households had borrowed money – often with exorbitant interest rates – within the previous 30 days. Walking through the Kutupalong camp, PHR investigators saw stagnant raw sewage next to refugees’ makeshift dwellings. Human excrement and open sewers were visible throughout the camp. Results of the PHR survey show that 55% of children between 6–59 months suffered from diarrhea in the previous 30 days. Such inhuman conditions presage a public health disaster.

For the full report please visit: -

Hitch Hiking on High Seas

Ishita Dey

The very nature of “borderlands” is ambiguous for a person forced to flee, people have been forced to take various avenues to migrate particularly “high seas” to distant lands in search of safe passage and safe life. The media reports of rescue of 100 Rohingya refugees who were left to their fate after ill treatment by Thai Army followed by interventions from Bangladesh last year and death of ten Sri Lankan Tamil Refugees near Kakinada coast, India on 1 May 2009 shows that refugees continue to take high seas amidst the risk. While the reasons for such passage has been documented the current problem lies in the way developed nations and often states which have ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention fail to cope with the “ new boat people” for instance the initial refusal by the Australian authorities in October 2009 to grant protection mechanisms to 78 Tamil refugees who were stranded in Indonesian coast saying that "There's an agreement between Australia and the Government of Indonesia that the people who were rescued in the open seas will go to Indonesia and be processed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees in Indonesia," Australia's Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told ABC News 1 . Refugees have taken recourse to high seas to move to safer places and recent reports of Tamil refugees taking to high seas to reach Australia a signatory of 1951 refugee convention and the recent announcement on 9 April 2010 by the Australian Government not to take in Afghan and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees points to certain complex issues of refugee protection of those being intercepted at high seas.

Mark Davis (2010) 2 drawing from a recently published paper by Parliamentary researchers Janet Phillipes and Harriet Spinks that chronicles three decades of attempts to deter asylum seekers from entering lawfully in to Australia. “In 1978 the Fraser Government approached regional Government to hold vessels in transit so that claims could be processed while asylum seekers were in refugee camps. In 1982 the Liberal Party’s moderate Immigration minister, Ian Macphee, introduced individual determination of asylum claims to ensure only “genuine” refugees were admitted. In 1983 the newly elected Hawke Government endorsed a plan by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for “durable solutions” to the Indo Chinese refugee problem which made resettlement in countries such as Australia a last resort. In 1992 the Immigration minister, Gerry Hans, from the Victorian ALP’s Socialist Left, introduced mandatory detention for all non-citizens in Australia without a valid visa. From 1999 Howard Government tightened policy by introducing temporary protection visas for asylum seekers found to be refugees after arriving unlawfully”. These visas were valid for three years. In 2001 John Howard adopted the Pacific Solution by sending the unauthorized arrivals to Nauru and Papua New Guinea while their asylum claims were processed. The Rudd Government ended the Pacific Solution in 2008 and announced that all future arrivals would be processed on Christmas Island. The Christmas Island detention centre – built for 800 people were holding about 1,500 in tents and buildings according to reports in April 2010 3.
The recent cases of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees being intercepted near the Indonesian Coast and most of them wanting to seek asylum in Australia and the Australian Government’s refusal to process asylum applications of Sri Lankan Tamil refugees and refugees from Afghanistan came at a time when 70 people the Australian navy rescued 70 people from a sinking boat in Australian waters in the Indian Ocean. According to the news reports “The passengers, who said they wanted to come to Australia, would be the last allowed to file refugee claims with Australia under the new standards”. The United Nations refugee agency said it would review Australia's decision, which it said was made independently of the agency's assessments of the situation in those countries."We are currently examining Australia's announcement, particularly with regard to issues around the detention of vulnerable persons and the provision of social support for those asylum seekers subject to this suspension," said Richard Towle, UNHCR regional representative for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific”.

In the light of these cases various issues come up: despite being a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the suspension of asylum applications for Sri Lankan Tamils and Afghan refugees are a clear signal that no matter out how desperate are people are to flee through “illegal” means; risking their lives for a better future, protection mechanisms devised are not sufficient to grant them “legal” status. It is time that the international protection mechanisms available under such circumstances and the practices adopted by signatory states are closely monitored by the international community to avoid such arbitrary policies of protecting the victims of forced migration – the refugees.

1.“Australia refuses Tamil refugees” in; Accessed on 17 May 2010
2.Davis, Mark. “Long history of hardline rules to stem asylum boats” in The Sunday Morning Hearld, 10-11 April 2010
3.Australia stops accepting refugee claims from Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, 9 April 2010 in; accessed on 18 May 2010