When Immigration Is A Mistake

Immigration is an issue that affects numerous people throughout the world. People immigrate to new countries in order to improve their lives. Sometimes their lives do improve. Sometimes they don’t.

One example of a country created by immigration is Argentina. Huge numbers of southern Europeans went to Argentina. They went there in order to get better opportunities and in order to improve their lives. During the nineteenth century, this decision made sense; Argentina was much wealthier than southern Europe.

Yet today Argentina is much poorer than southern Europe. The descendants of an Italian who moved to Argentina in 1900 are much worse off than the descendants of an Italian who stayed in Italy. For millions of Italians, the decision to immigrate to Argentina was a mistake. They should’ve stayed in Italy. The tragedy is doubled by the fact that these new Italians endured enormous discrimination in their new home in Argentina, in the hopes that their lives would improve. All for nothing.

Or take the case of the Japanese community in Brazil. During the early twentieth century tens of thousands of Japanese immigrated to Brazil, hoping to improve their living standards. Like the Italians in Argentina, the Japanese in Brazil would’ve been better off staying in Japan. Like the Italians in Argentina, the Japanese in Brazil also endured enormous discrimination. The discrimination was in fact worse; Argentina today is very Italian in character, but Brazil today is certainly not very Japanese in character. The Japanese in Brazil ended up being much poorer than those who didn’t leave Japan, as well as losing their heritage. To further the irony and the tragedy, the descendants who returned to Japan are rejected as foreign.

What of the United States, that other great recipient of immigration? For most Europeans, the decision to immigrate to the United States seems to have payed off. Americans still generally live better than Europeans (especially eastern Europeans), and the United States is dominated by Europeans. The descendants of a German immigrant in America are slightly better off than the descendants of a German who stayed in Germany. There are exceptions; perhaps the Swedes and Norwegians who went to America would’ve been better off staying in Sweden and Norway.

It’s more complicated for the non-Europeans who went to the United States. It’s worth asking, for instance, whether or not the descendants of the Africans enslaved in the United States are better off than the descendants of the Africans who stayed in Africa. Economically, the answer is yes; thanks to colonialism, African-Americans live better than Africans. Socially, of course, African-Americans have to contend with a terrible racism which does not exist in (most parts of) Africa. Is the economic gain worth the social cost?

In a sense immigration is a bet. It’s a bet that the new country is richer – and will stay richer – than the old country. Sometimes the bet pays off; sometimes it doesn’t. Take India. India is much poorer than the United States and likely to stay that way. An Indian who immigrated to the United States is probably better off than an Indian who stayed in India. His descendants may never be able to become president, but at least they’ll have running water and electricity.

Korea is a countervailing example. Take the stereotypical Korean who moves to the United States in 1975 and opens a convenience store. He kills himself working, has to deal with an unfamiliar language and culture, suffers racial discrimination – all in the knowledge that life in the United States is much better than life in Korea. His children will live better in the United States than in Korea. Because Korea is very poor and the United States is very rich. Yet as it turns out, forty years later Korea is a First World country. Who could have guessed that that would happen? The guy could have stayed in Korea, not suffered the discrimination of the United States, and ended up with just as much money. And his children would have had more opportunities in Korea.

The United States is not like Argentina or Brazil; most people who immigrated to the United States made the right choice for them and their descendants. Nevertheless, it is quite tragic when a group sacrifices so much to get to their dream country and then suffers so much in said country – only to find out decades later that they would have been better off staying at home.

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4 Responses to When Immigration Is A Mistake

  1. ana says:

    I totally disagree,actually western europe is a shithole.they have the highest abortion rates in world and the highest number of abandoned children in world and laws against child prostitution.the gender unequalty is huge.east european women r selling themselves out to foreign men in loads of mail order brides websites.
    That does nt happen in Argentina.where even welfare money is gíven to pregnant women,also all kinda birth control methods are available in hospitals for free.
    High quality university education is also given by the state.
    While most of east european countrys dnt even have labor laws,Argentina s sindicates are strong and laws protect the workers.
    So this information u r givin is totally wrong.
    As for the european inmigrants who came here,i myself descend from germans,am forth generation german.german as well as spanish and italian descendant till the third generation have the right to citizenship of the country they descend from.and none of us ever considered of leaving Argentina.we are proud of our country.we dnt leave our country in droves as other nationalities do,we dnt represent a problematic inmigration group(like east europeans,or indians too,)a poor argentine has all the social means to improve here in our own country.
    Our women dnt sell themselves as desperate mail order brides as east europeans do.
    I could go on and on to refute this post.but i think statistics speak for themselves.

  2. E C says:

    Also, if a black person with a Kenyan Muslim name can be elected president, an Indian-American sure as heck can be elected president too (at least provided that he/she is a professed Christian).

    In fact, given the elite status of Indian-Americans in this country and the high level of assimilation into the general American society by the 2nd generation, I would argue that an American of Indian descent has a far greater chance of becoming president of the United States than the average Indian has of becoming prime minister of India (even when normalized to take into account the inherent advantage of being 1 in 300 million over being 1 in 1.2 billion).

  3. E C says:

    As the son of Indian immigrants myself, I’m not sure that I agree with this article. First off, it is definitely not the case that someone of Korean descent would have more opportunity in Korea than in America. Korean-Americans, along with other East-Asian-Americans and Indian-Americans, are something of an elite in America and are one of the highest earning income groups. Korea’s average income, on the other hand, is well below America’s average income.

    As for discrimination, Asian immigrants do not face anywhere near the discrimination that Jewish immigrants or even Irish and Italian immigrants faced when they came to this country. Even today, Jews face significant discrimination. Yet can we honestly say that Jews are better off in Israel than in America?

    This brings me to the main problem with this article: the idea that immigration should be based on cold, narrow economic analysis rather than deeper principles. Over the centuries, many immigrants have come to America not just for economic opportunity, but also for the promise of liberty. Many of the German immigrants that arrived in 1848, for example, were fairly well-off in Germany but fled to America after the revolution against the aristocracy there was suppressed. The same is true, of course, with a significant number of prosperous Jews that migrated here in the early 20th century. Is it really worth it to live through tyranny just on the chance that one’s descendants may be very well off than to move to a country where there is an immediate promise of freedom?

    Of course, the inverse is true with the case of the African slaves. I have always maintained that I would FAR rather live free in dirt-poor conditions than live as a slave even in abundant wealth (e.g. like rich Saudi women).

  4. Ed says:

    While I think historically people have been too quick to emigrate (countries, like weather, change considerably for good or worse over time so its possible to just wait out whatever it is that you don’t like about a country), you are forgetting one thing. The countries with lots of emigration such as Korea benefited from the emigration by becoming less crowded, also from the emigrants sending money back to their families. If there had been no emigration, all these countries would be much worse off today than they are now.

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