We’re not the only “Land of Opportunity”

February 3rd, 2011

Along with 12 of my fellow students, I partook in one of the school’s immersion trips over winter break to the Dominican Republic and had a wonderful experience. After witnessing the lack of opportunity for the people that we met in one of the nation’s many small villages (called bateys) made up of poor sugar cane farmers that make about $1 per day, I tried to put myself in their shoes and wondered what I would do to try to get out of their poverty stricken situation.

My immediate plan would be to emigrate to the U.S. as soon as possible. So many immigrants have come to the “Land of Opportunity” recently that immigration has become one of the most contested issues on the political stage over the past 20 years. The classic liberal claims (to go along with humanitarian arguments) America was built on immigrants, so what merit did past immigrants have over the present day ones knocking on our door? The classic conservative (popularly caricaturized with the famous line from South Park “They took our jobs!”) is generally against raising immigration levels. I have always felt very torn on the subject, more so after my immersion experience.

I recently watched a presentation by author/journalist Roy Beck, entitled “World Poverty, Immigration, and Gumballs” which gave me a better perspective on the matter. Beck illustrates that, according to the World Bank, 3 out of the 7 billion people in the world make less than $2 per day. Compare that to the average American who makes $120 daily. Each year, the U.S. takes in one million immigrants. Beck believes going as far as doubling this rate would not only be futile in the effort against world poverty, but would actually exacerbate the problem.

When the U.S. accepts immigrants from these poor countries, we are going to accept the highly educated and healthy ones. Obama wants to bring more of these immigrants in from other countries to help boost American competitiveness. I was talking to fellow junior Patrick Burns at lunch the other day and we came to an interesting point. It’s good to be competitive and we should want to be the best nation in the world. But when it’s at the expense of other countries, particularly poor countries, it becomes wrong and rather selfish. Taking the cream of the crop from places like the Dominican hurts those countries and helps only a sliver of their population.

We learned on the trip that the goal of what we were trying to do was to help the people we worked with help themselves. Taking their best and brightest is not helping them help themselves. The idea is not to work for them, but rather with them. Simply giving to the poor doesn’t do anything, nothing is instilled in the culture.

Using immigration as a way to fight world poverty is an irrational and ineffective weapon (and in my opinion, rather pretentious). Poor countries need their best and brightest, bringing them to the U.S. for our advancement is a rather selfish thing to do. As Beck said in his presentation, “They have to be helped where they live.” Find out more at