Opinion: Balance sheet

POSTED: 10/21/13 11:58 AM

A balance sheet has two sides: assets and liabilities. When the discussion turns to immigrants, and especially to illegal immigrants, there is a tendency to look at only one side of the balance sheet. You’re right: people tend not to look at the assets at all; they look at the liabilities.

Looking at any issue from only one perspective will paint a picture that usually fits a certain way of thinking. In the case of the illegal immigrant – or the immigrant period – most discussions go this way. Immigrants cost money. They use our healthcare system, they send their kids to our schools, their employers do not pay social premiums or wage taxes, they are stealing the jobs locals could do – and so on.

We are not claiming that there is no truth at all in these arguments. Most fail to understand what our community would look like if there were no immigrants at all – legal or illegal.

In 2004 Sergio Arau made the satirical movie A Day Without a Mexican. It describes in vivid and sometimes hilarious detail what would happen to the state of California if one day all Mexicans disappeared from it.

Arau made his movie 75 years after Hans Karl Breslauer made another satirical movie, entitled The City Without Jews. It is an expressionist movie about Austria’s capital Vienna in the twenties of last century when anti-Semitism was still mild of character.

Wikipedia described the plot of this movie like this: “In Austria the Christian Social Party comes to power, and the new Chancellor Dr. Schwerdtfeger, a fanatical anti-Semite, sees his people as being ruled by the Jews. He therefore has a law passed by the National Assembly forcing all Jews to emigrate by the end of the year. The law is enthusiastically received by the non-Jewish population, and the Jews leave the country. After a short time a sober reality makes itself felt. Cultural life becomes impoverished: in the theatres only plays by Ludwig Ganghofer and Ludwig Anzengruber are still performed. Many cafes are empty, or are converted into beer halls selling sausages. After an initial upturn, the economy declines, as business has greatly diminished, and has moved to other cities, such as Prague and Budapest. Inflation and unemployment run wild.”

Breslauer based the film on a novel by Hugo Bettauer who was murdered by a Nazi shortly after the movie was released.

Both movies, 75 year apart, make the same statement: the group they portray (Jews, Mexicans) make a significant contribution to the economy. The same is true for the immigrants that have made St. Maarten their home.

Okay, this statement lacks the backing of solid research but the assumption stands to reason. Immigrants come to St. Maarten because of its relatively thriving economy. There are jobs here for those who want to work and who are not afraid to get their hands dirty. And somebody has to do those jobs.

It is a given that (based on an Economic Outlook  report from our own government from a couple of years back) that St. Maarteners do not want to work in construction because they consider the work to tough. So how are we going to build our projects if there is not meaningful and willing local labor force available?

Does this mean that St. Maarten should let everybody in? No it does not. But in practice this is still what we see happening. Maybe there are too many illegal immigrants. A lot of people think this is true, yet nobody knows it for sure. The vast majority of immigrants come here to work. They send money home to their families who live in sometimes atrocious conditions. And yes, the general feeling is that this way immigrants do not contribute to country St. Maarten.

Is there maybe a way to curb the number of immigrants that fail to make it here? Because those are the people who burden the community – in healthcare, in education – without contributing.

The United States is struggling with an enormous influx of illegal immigrants. At last count there were 12 million, or maybe 16 million – the exact number does not really matter. There are just a lot of them. What has Uncle Sam done? It has built a wall along the border with Mexico, not realizing that many Mexicans simply take a plane to get to the land of unlimited possibilities. All attempts to get rid of these immigrants have failed in the States, even though the country expels a number of them on a daily basis. It’s swimming against the tide for a very, very long time in a race that will never end.

One could well wonder if it were not better to embrace these newcomers and give them their proper place in our community without much ado. Because you know what? They are coming anyway, whether we like it or not, in search for a better life. In their position, all St. Maarteners would do exactly the same.

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