Help Haitians — in Haiti

By Mark Krikorian, January 22, 2010

Elliott Abrams has a piece in today's Washington Post calling on the United States to substantially increase Haitian immigration, so as to reduce the population of Haiti and increase the amount of remittances sent there from abroad. It's so wrong-headed I'm not sure where to start.

To begin with, the only salutary development in immigration law over the past 50 years has been the move away from national-origins quotas. The whole point of the 1965 law was to standardize the selection of immigrants, rather than favoring Irish and Germans at the expense of Italians and Poles. Likewise with the 1980 Refugee Act. A "More Haitian Immigration Act of 2010" would be a step backward.

Secondly, why just Haiti? Poor as it is, there are many countries poorer and more screwed-up than Haiti. Afghanistan has a per capita GDP 40 percent lower than Haiti's, and it's obviously a troubled place — should we admit hundreds of thousands of additional people from there, too? Somalia's per capita GDP is less than half that of Haiti, so we need more of them, too, right? Or how about Congo, which is much, much poorer than Haiti and in even more turmoil and has been for years. When you get past gauzy sentimentalism, you see that immigration to the United States can never make even the smallest dent in the world's misery, where 5 billion people are poorer than the average Mexican.

What's more, the idea that remittances sent back by immigrants are some kind of boon is a fallacy, a talking point invented by apologists for mass immigration. This argument evolved from the understandable desire by sending-country governments to harness the remittances that were coming anyway for something other than daily needs, like groceries and school fees, or conspicuous consumption, like a new statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe in the town square.

But trying to make lemonade doesn't negate the fact you have a lemon — generating remittances by exporting your people and trying to re-import their wages is simply not a useful development strategy. The money belongs to the immigrants sending it, and as much as bureaucrats would like to get their hands on it, they can't; and the immigrants' families spend virtually all the money on expenses, not investment. Furthermore, it breeds a dependency mindset, where recipients learn to wait around for the next check from America — hardly the way to generate enterprise. Reliance on remittances is kind of like the oil curse — it looks good at first blush, but it's crippling in the long run. (And all that's apart from the fact that some portion of remittances come indirectly from U.S. taxpayers, as government benefits like Medicaid or unemployment insurance free up money for immigrants to send home.)

And finally, the idea of importing Haitians to help Haiti betrays a mindset common among foreign-policy specialists that America-land is a dumping ground for problems overseas. You see this in the State Department's approach to issuing visas, for instance, where management is unconcerned with the impact on Americans of the widespread illegal overstay of foreign travellers, so long as the people in the foreign country are kept happy and feel good about America. Likewise, the impact on the job prospects of the less-skilled American workers that additional Haitians would be competing with in an environment of widespread unemployment is a matter of indifference to those whose main concern is the well-being of the foreign country rather than of the people whose interests they are supposed to be pursuing.

In short, the place to help Haitians is in Haiti, not the United States.


Editor's Note: If you enjoyed this blog, please visit our Haitian Immigration overview page.