Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Crossing The Border

Coming as I do from a family of refugees from Bangladesh displaced by partition and settled in India for a couple of generations, immigration legal, illegal, enforced or by choice is always of interest to me. My ancestors were driven out of their homeland and had to start their lives over in a new country. Years after the 1947 refugee crisis was over, the tide of illegal immigrants from Bangladesh to West Bengal rises unabated.

The semi-porosity of the international border and the government's studied indifference to the problem only helps these people who desperately seek a better life. Once in India, they form a formidable vote-bank that no political party can afford to alienate itself from. They derive their strength in their large, undocumented numbers and just for that reason the free flow from across the border will never stem.

Anyone who has spent time in West Bengal knows that an impoverished neighbor and electoral math involving illegal immigrants is a lethal combination. We bemoan the state's appalling lack of infrastructure and how it is the least favored destination for domestic or international investors. We watch helplessly as the swelling ranks of illegals overtake what little the state has got left - it is akin to watch a parasite grow so large that it kills the host it feeds on. We wait for that slow death to deliver our state form its delibitating status quo.

The storm of protests over the US immigration bill fills me with deja vu. With some variations, there is the same fatal mix of an impoverished neighbor and electoral math. Only in India illegal immigrants would not so boldly proclaim that an enforcement-only policy is not acceptable to them. Also, in India we do not have a large body of people working diligently
through legitimate channels to acquire permanent residency and citizenship.

Granting any form of general amnesty to illegal immigrants in America is a slap on the face of those who have and are pursuing the long, arduous and mind-numbingly painful immigration process. It is as much a mockery of the immigration system in this country as it is of all those who are involved in it.

The real solution lies in eliminating the root cause of such exodus from one country to another - in helping the impoverished , sometimes relatively dysfunctional neighbor improve their lot and set their house in order, so their people would have no incentive left to cross the border. Because once they do and their numbers swell to 11 million and over, the electoral math will render it impossible to remediate the situation as is evident in the ongoing struggle with the immigration bill.

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