Lesson from Irma: How easily Americans could become refugees, migrants

Friday, September 15, 2017

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As debate in America about getting rid of immigrants heats up, it behooves those who are in a hurry to expel children who know no other country to contemplate their own future in the face of increasingly devastating natural disasters.

The Donald Trump Administration early this month rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) programme which allowed some individuals who entered the country illegally as young children to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation and eligibility for a work permit.

Established in November 2014, under the Barack Obama Administration, DACA now covers roughly 800,000 individuals who are commonly referred to as 'Dreamers'. To be sure, the programme has been controversial from the start, having been bitterly opposed by anti-immigrant members of congress and their supporters. It was originally intended to be a temporary programme, pending a formal legislation by the Congress. So fractious has the programme been that, three years later, Congress has done nothing about it.

In the meantime, credible research has shown that DACA has been good for America, increasing the wages and the productive labour force participation of the eligible immigrants; and reducing the number of unauthorised immigrant households living in poverty.

To be eligible for the programme applicants cannot be felons or have any serious misdemeanours to their names. The record shows no evidence that DACA-eligible individuals were any more likely to commit crimes than any other demographic in the United States.

The real tragedy is that these DACA eligibles were brought to the United States or were born there of illegal immigrants. They had no choice in the matter.

Mr Trump has delayed the implementation of the action to end DACA, by six months, throwing it to the Congress to resolve the issue.

But the big question is whether the Congress can get anything positive done in that short period when it could not in three years.

The people who are opposed to DACA need to have a heart. They also need to be wise and open their eyes to what is happening around them. They need look no farther than the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, followed by Irma in Florida.

The vivid and graphic pictures coming out of Houston, Texas, and all over Florida are uncannily like those we have become accustomed to seeing in flood-prone parts of the Third World, where disasters have forced millions of people, mostly poor, to become refugees.

Those Americans who had to flee their homes to escape the hurricanes, or those who have seen all their possessions destroyed, are hardly any different from some of the refugees fleeing natural or manmade disasters like war.

In the comfort of our homes and our high living we had better contemplate how easily we can be reduced to nothingness. If for no other reason, anti-immigrant Americans should ask themselves: What if that were me?

Let Irma be a lesson.




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