Three panga boats packed with migrants arrived on San Diego beaches this week, leaving one person dead and dozens in Border Patrol custody. It is part of a growing trend that leaves many conservatives angry and liberals horrified.
Those reactions aren’t surprising. What is surprising is the unending willingness of people across the world to risk everything to enter the United States.
What drives a family to enter an overloaded boat in rough seas? Or cross the southwestern desert? It can’t be just a desire for government aid, or a heartfelt belief in what the smuggler is promising them.
People don’t leave their home and family and risk their life unless they’re seeking something truly important — a new future — as did poor Italians and oppressed Eastern European Jews a century ago.
Maybe we shouldn’t view the influx of immigrants on the border as a crisis. Maybe it’s really an opportunity in the context of today’s troubled world.
America faces a host of internal problems and external challenges as it recovers from the pandemic, but there are two overriding ones:
- Autocratic regimes in China and Russia threaten democracy in general and America in particular.
- An aging U.S. population will slow our economic growth and force taxpayers to spend more and more on social services for the elderly.
Both of these challenges can be offset by welcoming young, hard-working immigrants to the United States.
First, consider China and Russia. Both countries’ populations have peaked, with China’s working-age population actually falling. The longtime one-child policy in China and gangster economics in Russia and have discouraged parents. And nobody wants to immigrate to those countries.
Second, consider the history of immigration in America. Nativists opposed the immigration of Italians and Jews and century ago, but those immigrants helped build America into an economic colossus and win World War II.
The vast majority of immigrants are hard-working people who are less likely to commit crimes and more likely to start businesses than natives. While Fox News will always be able to find a counter example, academic studies have shown time and time again that immigrants benefit our society.
Some on the right wing like the Center for Immigration Studies will argue that keeping people out is good for the environment and will help build a sustainable future. But that’s likely to be a utopia for only the already wealthy who no longer need economic growth.
Others call for a selection process to ensure that immigrants are educated and have resources. But there’s already a rigorous selection involved in mustering the courage to leave everything behind. The best and the brightest are always risk takers.
The panga boats are a wakeup call. People are risking everything to make it to America. Maybe we should give them a chance. It could save us in the 21st century.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.