Women and children are part of a caravan of migrants trying to enter the USA | Ed Jones / AFP
People across the planet have always dreamed of “making America” for centuries, even before the United States was independent. This movement was never interrupted as in Brazil, which received a huge volume of immigrants in the first half of the 20th century, but today it is not the dream of practically any foreigner.
The English came, Christian minorities from different parts of Europe, Germans and Scandinavians. Then came the Jews and Catholics from Italy and Ireland, who suffered enormous prejudice from those who already lived here, as well as Chinese and Indians. They came by ship and landed on Ellis Island, next to the masterful Statue of Liberty. They were fascinated by the skyscrapers of Manhattan. Later, they started to land at airports.
They were both attracted to the United States and often on the run from something. Some fled wars, and others, religious persecution. Others left poverty. There were, as always, the adventurers and also those who moved for professional reasons.
Factors of attraction to the United States and repulsion from its original lands still determine the immigration movement. Once again, it is worth mentioning Brazil, which was attractive a century ago to Europeans, but today there are many Brazilians who dream of going to Europe in search of a better life. Attraction and repulsion changed sides.
Nor do Europeans immigrate to the United States in large numbers today. It doesn’t make much sense for a Norwegian to leave the welfare state in Norway and move from Oslo to Detroit. Those few who come to live in New York or Chicago make the decision for professional reasons, not out of desperation.
The desperate usually come from poorer countries, like us Latin Americans. We are at the center of the debate on immigration to the USA. Especially those who are illegally in American territory and those who try to cross the border illegally or, after legally entering airports with tourist visas, remain in the country even after the period of authorized residence has expired.
The reason for attraction remains the same – the dream of “making America”. With Biden, it intensified even more because the message that arrives in Central America is that the new president will allow these immigrants to enter and stay, especially children – which is not true. In this way, we see these caravans arriving at the border, where the American facilities built in the 1990s were to deal with adult Mexican men, rather than an 8-year-old girl from El Salvador.
This attraction will never diminish as long as the United States continues as a gigantic economy and land of opportunity. What can change is on the “repulsion” side. As Mexico has developed in recent years, many Mexicans prefer to stay in their own country than to try to live illegally in the United States. Guatemalans, Salvadorans and Hondurans still think it is worth taking a risk. The way out, as professor Gabi Oliveira of Boston College says, would be to help these nations in Central America more, eliminating incentives for their citizens to decide to come to the USA. Panamanians and Costa Ricans, for example, hardly migrate illegally because the situation in their countries, also in Central America, is better.
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