In the interest of transparency, I must start this post off by stating that my husband is an immigrant. He came to the U.S. legally from India in 2007. To streamline the process, we retained an immigration lawyer to help us through this journey. Once my husband arrived in the U.S., he went through the proper channels to get work authorization, permanent residency, and finally, citizenship – and we paid all of the associated fees for each step of the process. At the end of everything, including the lawyer fees, we spent over $10,000. Because of the struggle and cost of the process, I am admittedly sympathetic to people who attempt to come to the U.S. to escape their homes. I say sympathetic because people who are seeking asylum and are trying to escape the horrors of their homelands do not typically have access to the resources that we did. Often, they cannot even afford to pay the processing fees to establish legal residency. Many times, the person seeks refugee status, which is the topic I would like to focus on for the rest of this post – refugees and the recent threat of the “migration caravan.”
In researching this post, I was surprised to learn that refugee and asylum admissions to the U.S. have actually decreased since the 1990s, with an increase in the last three years. Also, most asylum seekers do not come from south of the border. Most asylum seekers in 2016 (the most recent data) are from Africa and Asia. The Department of Homeland Security’s statistics show that the people who sought refugee status were from war-torn countries, some of which have been ravished by genocide, such as Myanmar and Syria. The data does suggest that there is a current increase in people seeking asylum from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Still, the largest group of asylum seekers were from China, irrespective of the 2016 trend of more seekers coming from Latin America.
This begs the question, what is going on in Central America that would prompt people to leave their homes and travel thousands of miles, sometimes by foot, to escape a perceived danger? According to the U.S. Department of State, there are travel advisories in each of the countries that are trending upward in asylum seekers. For El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras the warning is for violent crime and gang activity, with widespread reports of murder, assault, rape, and armed robbery – all of which are characterized as common. Who wouldn’t want to escape those conditions? But what about China, the largest “producer” of asylum seekers? The Chinese government is well-known for detaining people, interrogating them to the point of torture, restricting free movement within the country, and other humanitarian abuses. All and all, horrible living conditions in all these countries.
So, why aren’t we hearing more about closing our borders to prevent the influx of Chinese instead of the migrants of Latin America? Aren’t there criminals in both groups? Wouldn’t people from all these countries “take U.S. jobs?” The Sociologist in me first thought that this is really a classist issue in a way. How much does education a group has have to do with whether they are considered a threat? With this line of thought, I looked at the education rates of each country. Since 1964, China’s literacy rate has climbed from 66% to 96% while the number of high school and college graduates has skyrocketed. It’s not a far-fetched idea to think that asylum seekers from China would be highly educated and able to do highly skilled labor. In El Salvador, primary education is not completely free, so poor families are not able to complete what we consider basic education. Guatemala has the lowest literacy rate of Central America and education is only compulsory for six years. Similarly, in Honduras, children are only required to attend school until the age of 12. Basically, the migrants from these Latin American countries are seemingly poorer and less educated, meaning they would only be skilled to perform lower-paying jobs. As a point of fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that there will be employment growth of 0.7% annually through the year 2026, with the largest industry affected being healthcare. As we would rightly assume, healthcare professions generally require a more highly educated populace. More than half of the growing occupations require a post-secondary education. What his means is that those in the current migrant caravan from Central America would not immediately qualify for this economic boom.
One of the biggest fears we have heard associated with this migration is crime. To me this actually makes sense for someone to believe this. If poor people are struggling to get an income, they might resort to illicit means of providing for their livelihoods. Is this the reality, though? According to the 2017 Unified Crime Report, the most common offender was between 21 and 30 years of age, male, and white. In comparison, what does the typical Central American migrant look like? Well, they’re definitely not white and the majority are children – they do not fit the profile of a violent offender in the U.S. Well, what about being an offender in their homeland? As a part of the established process for registering refugees, each migrant is required to go through a background check and if anything comes back on this check, they will be rejected.
I think this last part is part of the issue – the fear that people are coming into the U.S. illegally and not going through the proper refugee/asylum process and will then be free from scrutiny to wreak havoc on an unsuspecting population. According to the Pew Research Center, illegal immigrants only comprise 3.3% of the U.S. population as of 2016 and have significantly declined since 2007. Sounds to me like we’ve got some immigration processes that are working, all without a wall.
What about the threat to West Virginia, specifically? Well, there’s not much of one. Most refugees are resettled in California, Texas, and New York. The immigrant population of West Virginia is less than 2% of the state’s total population, much of which comprises migrants from Germany. Also, nearly half the immigrants in West Virginia possess a college degree or higher.
Bottom line, in looking at the data, you are more likely to be a victim of crime from a young white NON-immigrant man than an illegal immigrant or someone seeking asylum to escape those same conditions.