Dec. 31, 2015
Should the US Ban ALL Immigration?
Paul Conton

Donald Trump, the millionaire candidate for the Republican nomination for US President in the 2016 elections, recently controversially proposed that all non-US Muslims be temporarily banned from entry into America until the security authorities can put a halt to attacks by Islamic extremists. Trump's proposal follows the December 2 San Bernardino, CA, mass shootings in which 14 died and 21 were injured. The proposal provoked a storm of outrage and was repudiated by President Obama and many of Trump's fellow candidates for the US presidency. He did however garner some support from conservative American politicians, and the remarks do not appear to have hurt him in the race for the Republican nomination.

There is surely a measure of hypocrisy in the storm of condemnation of Trump. There is no automatic right of entry for Muslims, Christians or any other groups into the US or indeed into any other country in the world. Each application for entry into the US is scrutinized and is subject to US immigration guidelines as well as to the whims of consular officers. Many, indeed in Africa probably the great majority, Christian and Muslim alike, are rejected, and this is surely no great punishment. There is no custodial penalty, much less loss of life, no siezure of assets or financial penalty. Those rejected are entirely free to continue their way of life in their home country. Here in West Africa, the Ebola-hit countries Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, recently have had to go through a period in excess of a year when all their citizens were essentially persona non grata in all countries of the world. Everyone of these citizens survived the restrictions on travel unscathed. All countries have a responsibility to adopt security and health measures as they deem fit to keep their citizens safe. The US has indeed done far worse than deny visa applications in the past when it deemed its security to be under threat. As has been well documented, the US imprisoned Japanese-American citizens during the Second World War when it decided they were a security threat. Security of the State and the individual generally trumps all other national priorities. So the real issue for American policymakers evaluating the Trump proposal is not the rights of Christians, Muslims or any other group, but the effectiveness of it in improving Americans' security.

The controversy throws up the even more important question, why exactly do the US and other Western countries allow immigration? There is some immigration on a humanitarian basis, but to a large extent Western countries encourage immigration when it suits their own purposes, not as a favour to the prospective immigrants. The US opens its gates to waves of Mexican immigrants and legalizes illegal aliens when its unemployment rate is low and it needs cheap labour. It shuts the gate much more tightly when the unemployment rate is high. The US DV program emphasizes the skill sets that the US economy needs, and shunts aside those who have no skills to offer. The US H1-B visa program provides fast-track visas and residency to foreigners who have specialty qualifications that are in demand by US business. The German government's recent decision to admit up to one million refugees was not exactly borne of altruism. German economic projections indicate a serious labour shortage in coming years. The Germans need those immigrants to keep their economy booming.

So, this is the best of both worlds. The immigrants need the jobs/ income and the Western economies need the labour. It's a win/ win situation. Well, not exactly. The big losers are actually the countries the immigrants leave behind. They lose their most important resource, the human resource, the one that, if societies were structured properly could rapidly propel their countries out of poverty, a la Singapore, Hong Kong etc. Often, the individuals that take the huge step to leave their countries of origin are the most aggressive, the most energetic, the most enterprising in their society, precisely the individuals who could make an important contribution. Highly trained professionals in developing countries are easily lured by high salaries in the West to abandon their country of origin. In Africa, for instance, a substantial percentage of doctors and nurses have sought greener pastures in the West, where they are in high demand, to the great detriment of the health situation in their home countries. Sierra Leone's transport minister recently claimed that the country has five hundred thousand of its nationals living in England. One could project from this a figure of one million or more Sierra Leoneans living abroad, 15-20% of the population. Yes, they send remittances home, reinforcing the culture of dependence and an all-consuming urge to escape to the West.

So, perhaps what Trump should have said was that the US should put a temporary ban on all immigration, Christian, Muslim and everybody else, and try to figure out how to channel the energies of would-be immigrants into helping their countries of origin. The goal should be to stop the drain of the developing countries' brightest talents to the West. A temporary ban, reassessment and reorientation of policy might help not just America's security and unemployment rate but the development efforts of much of the third world.