Should the U.S. welcome immigrants from Africa?

Last week President Donald Trump reportedly stated, in vulgar language, that he didn’t want immigrants from nations such as El Salvador, Haiti and African countries.   His reportedly said that immigrants from countries such as Norway have more to contribute

West African market in Washington, D.C.

Kirsten Nielsen, the new Secretary of Homeland Security, said that what the President really meant was that the United States should have a merit-based immigration policy, in which immigrants are admitted based on their potential to make a positive contribution to their new country.

How would such a policy work?  Canada, our neighbor to the north, is a pioneer in merit-based policy.  Immigrants are admitted based on a points system that includes fluency in English or French, educational level, work experience, age (18-35 preferred) and whether they have a job offer waiting.

According to a Canadian academic named Arvind Megasan, these were some of the sources of Canada’s 1.2 million immigrants admitted under these criteria during 2011-2016:

  • Africa, 162,800.
  • Central America and the Caribbean, 76,860.
  • Northern Europe, 31,880

From selected individual countries:

  • United States, 33,060
  • Haiti, 19,990
  • El Salvador, 3,530
  • Norway, 230

Why would there be such a large number of highly qualified immigrants from Africa?  It is because there are few opportunities for them in most African countries.   By and large, African countries do send their best.

In contrast, Norway has, by some measures, the highest living standard in the world, thanks to its welfare state and North Sea oil.  Few Norwegians have anything to gain by leaving their homeland.

Many advanced countries have a merit-based immigration policy.   Such a policy, as the numbers above show, is not necessarily a racist policy and would not shut out immigration from majority-black countries as President Trump evidently assumes.

I think such a policy is worth considering. The United States birth rate is below the replacement rate.  That means that we need immigrants if we are to maintain a good ratio of working-age population to retirement-age population.

I have a favorable impression of most immigrants I’ve met.  They have a good work ethic and good family values, and are determined to make a better life for themselves and their loved one.  This includes highly educated engineers and professionals and also poor refugees.   Of course my limited personal experience is not proof of anything.

I don’t think an open borders policy is feasible.   There is a limit—although I don’t claim to know what that limit is—of the number of immigrants a nation can absorb, and still maintain its unity as a nation.  Without a sense of national identity, the USA or any other country becomes nothing more than an arena of warring factions and competing individuals.

I think the worst policy is to have immigration restrictions that are not enforced.   This means that the United States has an underclass of people who are outside the protection of U.S. laws and, for that reason, will be chosen by employers in preference to U.S. workers.

I don’t think it is feasible to deport the millions of unauthorized immigrants already here.  So if they can’t be deported, and shouldn’t remain in their illegal status, the only choice left is some kind of path to citizenship.

Yes, I realize that repeated amnesties would be, in practice, the same thing as an open borders policy.   I don’t have a good answer to this.   In fact, I don’t have a good answer to the question of immigration overall.   I think a merit-based policy, such as other countries have, is worth considering.

 What it means, though, is shutting out most of the poor, destitute refugees that are knocking at our doors, which I flinch from doing.  A large fraction of those refugees are fugitives from wars instigated by the U.S. government or regimes which the U.S. government put in power.

Libya and Syria, for example, were refugee destinations, not sources of refugees, until the U.S. government instigated the overthrow of Qaddafi in Libya and promoted the armed rebellion against Assad in Syria.

I think we Americans have a moral obligation to do something to mitigate the harm our government has done. The fact is, though, that it is not feasible for the United States to admit sufficient numbers of refugees to solve the refugee problem.

What we Americans ought to do is to help refugees to return to their homelands.   I suppose it’s not politically feasible to pay reparations to help those homelands rebuild.   The least we can do is to make our government refrain from starting wars that create new refugees.


Data on Canadian immigrants from ‘shithole’ countries might surprise Trump by Arvind Megasan of the University of Calgary.

Immigration points systems compared by Adam Donald for BBC News.

African immigrants are more educated than most—including people born in the United States by Ann M. Simmons for the Los Angeles Times.  [Added 1/18/2018]

Sub-Saharan African Immigrants in the United States by Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova for the Migration Policy Institute.

African immigrant population in United States steadily climbs by Monica Anderson for Pew Research Center.


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