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The Benefits of Transmigration

The general causes of migration are poverty, unemployment, economic stagnation and overpopulation.  Accepting immigrants has become a humane cause along with  foreign investment in these poor countries with the hope that less people will have  to migrate.  U.S. investment in the global economy has had the reverse affect though, encouraging people to move along with the flow of capital, goods, and services.  Saskia Sassen’s article, Why Migration, points out that the “open nature of the U.S. labor market, epitomized by the notion that government should stay out of the marketplace, provides a necessary condition for immigration to occur.”(Why Migration, p.15).  The new immigrants from Asian and Caribbean countries have different reasons for migrating.  Many of these new migrants do not come from poor countries as previously thought.  Many migrant-sending countries had been experiencing increasing economic growth.  South Korea had one of the highest gross national products in the 1970's and also was sending a record amount of migrants to the U.S. at the time.  These people were migrating towards the promise of freedom and prosperity.   In the 1980's the U.N. reported that the U.S. was receiving 19% of all global emigration.(Why Migration, p.15).  The U.S.’ foreign investment in export production has disturbed the traditional systems of many countries, displacing subsistence farmers so that commercial agriculture can thrive and produce more exports.  Sassen says that the results are that  “people first uprooted from traditional ways of life, then left unemployed and unemployable as export firms hire younger workers or move production to other countries, may see few options but emigration.”(Why Migration, p.17).  Another cause for migration to the U.S. was the attractive prospect of an abundance of low wage jobs which U.S. citizens were not very interested in.  Even educated and skilled immigrants have filled these low wage jobs when they first get to the U.S.  These immigrants provide crucial and necessary  services for the U.S. citizens and therefore should be welcomed by everyone. 

            America now has 23 million foreign-born residents which is 8.4 percent of the population.  Los Angeles, California alone has a foreign born population that makes up 40 percent of its total population.  Charles S. Clark in his article, The New Immigrants, reports that “Over the past three decades, Asians, Latinos and Caribbean immigrants have outpaced the numbers of Irish, Italian, and Eastern European immigrants...sometimes prickling racial tensions among native-born Americans.”(New Immigrants, p.51).  Assimilating to American life has been  a challenge for some immigrants.  Many of these immigrants live in communities of their own people, fellow  immigrants, and therefore hold on to the old language and customs of their people.  Immigrants have been told by ethnic activists that they will never fit in because of their skin color.  This is not surprising in a materialistic society such as the U.S. where outer appearance is everything,  yet this racism is uncalled for considering the services these immigrants provide for the people of the U.S. and for their families back home.   These immigrants do a lot of the dirty work that needs to be done.  U.S. citizens have continued to put a lot of pressure on these immigrants to blend in and give up their old styles and customs.  In a CNN/Gallup survey,  58 percent of immigrants felt that it was important to blend into American culture and only 27 percent said it was important to maintain their own culture.(New Immigrants, p.51).  Many of these immigrants are transnational, meaning they have family and social ties to their place of origin as well as their newly adopted home.  Linda Basch is quoted in Clark’s article, saying that these transmigrants  “have families in both places, they invest in both places, and they get involved in politics in both places.”(New Immigrants, p.55).  The immigrants of Tonga are good examples of this transnational migration. 

            Many Tongans in the 1960's found that their traditional way of life was no longer possible in Tonga because the leisure time that they had been used to was now being replaced by ever increasing responsibilities and jobs which were needed in order to sustain the numerous needs and traditions of the Tongans.  Going to America became a legitimate option as the best way to support oneself and one’s family while being freed from the many responsibilities of life in Tonga.   A family would send at least one member overseas for a few years to work for money which would then be sent back to Tonga.  These remittances became heavily relied on by many Tongan families who needed the money just to sustain their way of life on the island.  Many Tongans who were sent overseas would return after five years with money saved up so that they could now build their own home in Tonga and live off the land.  Other Tongan migrants would earn university certificates which allowed them to go overseas to complete their education.  Many of these students would return home after college and work for the Tongan government which paid well enough to support their family.   There were also many Tongans who stayed overseas to live out the rest of their lives.

            The migration to the U.S. has been very beneficial for the Tongan immigrants and their families.  Since the 1970's,  remittances have become more relied on than money from exports.  By 1983, remittances had become a supplement for income in many Tongan families.  Cathy Small, in her book, Voyages, reports that “one in seven households depended on overseas money for their income.”(Voyages, p. 48).  Remittance money has also allowed Tongans to buy more imports.  This is evidence of how transmigration has helped the global economy.  Tongan immigrants have also been able to receive a better education in the U.S. and this makes them more valuable to the global economy.  Job shortages in Tonga during the 1970's, combined with an increase in population,  was another reason why Tongans had to migrate to other countries.  The Mormon Church and the Tongan government started to enable Tongans to work temporarily overseas during this time.  The remittances sent back to Tonga “preserved the subsistence agricultural economy...”(Voyages, p.49).  By 1990, there were 17,000 Tongans legally living in the U.S..  These Tongans have been able to earn a decent living and support their families thanks to the jobs available in the U.S.   The jobs they are willing to take are the ones that most U.S. citizens don’t want, but need to be filled because of the important part they play in the social economy.  Tongans also feel like they have more freedom in America.  Emma, a Tongan emmigrant , felt like she had no personal rights in Tonga because she had to do the jobs assigned to her by her father and was forced into a certain role which demanded that she follow village tradition.  Once Emma got to America, she felt like she had the freedom to choose her career and was not held to certain Tongan traditions.  Despite the mixed reactions from people in the U.S., including those people in New York and California who think that all of these immigrants are bad for the U.S., the facts show that families in other countries  are benefitting from remittances and the U.S. economy benefits from the cheap but hard labor produced by these immigrants.  People need to put aside their cultural differences and accept the beautiful diversity which this country was built on and continues to thrive on.  They also need to realize that the U.S. has played a huge part in the reasons why these people had to migrate in the first place and that the U.S.,  as the beneficiary of imports and as a humanitarian country,  owes these immigrants a job and a place to live in freedom.