‘We are the land of opportunity’

By Derren Joseph
June 06, 2009

Trinidad and Tobago News Blog

Trini PeopleIn difficult economic times, the sensitive issue of immigration tends to get even more sensitive. It is hard not to notice this. In England for example, there is much debate about an apparent increase in popularity of a far-right political party called the British National Party or the BNP.

logoThis right-wing political party is perceived as being intolerant of foreigners. In fact, the BNP is committed to “stemming and reversing the tide of non-white immigration and to restoring, by legal changes, negotiation and consent, the overwhelmingly white make-up of the British population that existed in Britain prior to 1948.”

Moving back to our side of the Atlantic, we have noticed increasing coverage of the situation in Barbados. Guyanese nationals living in Barbados have been complaining about harsh and discriminatory treatment by Barbadian authorities. Nationals there have been calling upon Guyana’s President, Mr Jagdeo, to intervene on their behalf. President Jagdeo has in return labelled Barbados’ approach as un-Caricom.

Day labour

In the United States, the debate continues but appears a bit more balanced than before. This is at least partly driven by changing demographics (particularly the rising power of Latino voters) and continuing labour shortages in certain industries.

An article in the LA Times on May 7, notes that not even unemployed Americans seem to want to do farm work or day-labour jobs, at least not yet. Plus fewer foreigners are going to the US in search of work as they know that there are fewer jobs available. This reduced flow seems to be easing American anxieties somewhat. Here in sweet Trinidad, immigration has been getting some national attention as well, given the recent death of Guyanese construction workers and other issues. Discussion has to some extent even expanded to include all immigrant workers.

A couple weeks ago, I was listening to a talk radio programme while stuck in traffic and heard a local politician say something about keeping jobs for “our” people. This person also went on to refer to us (I guess he meant the Government) giving jobs to foreigners including people from China and so on. His comments really got me thinking. On one hand, we as a nation would like to see as many of our citizens who genuinely want a job, to have one. But on the other hand, where it becomes clear that no local has either the capacity or willingness to carry out a job–should it not be offered to someone else who can and would?

I suspect that few people would disagree with the above reasoning. If so, then I guess most of the disagreement would surround assessing whether locals lack the ability or willingness to carry out a given job, versus a foreign worker. To be honest, I consider such a debate to be a healthy and necessary one. What I do consider to be less than healthy is when that very fine line is crossed. A fine line over which we begin to sound like members of England’s BNP quoted above.

In June 2007, then Illinois Senator Obama delivered a stirring speech in introducing an amendment to the Immigration Reform Act of 2007. He said:
“We live in a global economy, and I do believe that America will be strengthened if we welcome more immigrants who have mastered science and engineering. But, we cannot weaken the very essence of what America is by turning our backs on immigrants who want to reunite with their family members, or immigrants who have a willingness to work hard but who may not have the right graduate degrees. This is not who we are as a country.”

Attract immigrants

I suspect that many of us would have little problem in replacing the name “America” with “Trinidad and Tobago” in the above quote. Yes, we have problems like most other places–we are by no means perfect. But despite our problems, we continue to attract immigrants from foreign shores looking for a better life. Immigrants looking for opportunity. Each and every one of us helps make this island the cultural melting pot that it is. And this weekend is extra special as we demonstrate our appreciation for the integral role that immigrants from the Indian subcontinent have played and continue to play in the development of our nation.

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11 thoughts on “‘We are the land of opportunity’”

  1. It might interest your readers to know that despite the British National Party, many black people from the Caribbean and other places voted for the BNP.

    Those people and their descendants who came to the UK in the 60’s and 70’s are just as concerned as the indigenous population about the mass immigration taking place there.

    I advise your readers to look towards Fiji when you talk of immigrants from the Indian Sub Continent.

    Good Luck to the people of Trinidad and Tobago.

  2. Undocumented immigrants paying more taxes than you think!!



    Eight million Undocumented immigrants pay Social Security, Medicare and income taxes. Denying public services to people who pay their taxes is an affront to America’s bedrock belief in fairness. But many “pull-up-the-drawbridge” politicians want to do just that when it comes to Undocumented immigrants.

    The fact that Undocumented immigrants pay taxes at all will come as news to many Americans. A stunning two thirds of Undocumented immigrants pay Medicare, Social Security and personal income taxes.

    Yet, nativists like Congressman Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., have popularized the notion that illegal aliens are a colossal drain on the nation’s hospitals, schools and welfare programs — consuming services that they don’t pay for.

    In reality, the 1996 welfare reform bill disqualified Undocumented immigrants from nearly all means tested government programs including food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid and Medicare-funded hospitalization.

    The only services that illegals can still get are emergency medical care and K-12 education. Nevertheless, Tancredo and his ilk pushed a bill through the House criminalizing all aid to illegal aliens — even private acts of charity by priests, nurses and social workers.

    Potentially, any soup kitchen that offers so much as a free lunch to an illegal could face up to five years in prison and seizure of assets. The Senate bill that recently collapsed would have tempered these draconian measures against private aid.

    But no one — Democrat or Republican — seems to oppose the idea of withholding public services. Earlier this year, Congress passed a law that requires everyone who gets Medicaid — the government-funded health care program for the poor — to offer proof of U.S. citizenship so we can avoid “theft of these benefits by illegal aliens,” as Rep. Charlie Norwood, R-Ga., puts it. But, immigrants aren’t flocking to the United States to mooch off the government.

    According to a study by the Urban Institute, the 1996 welfare reform effort dramatically reduced the use of welfare by undocumented immigrant households, exactly as intended. And another vital thing happened in 1996: the Internal Revenue Service began issuing identification numbers to enable illegal immigrants who don’t have Social Security numbers to file taxes.

    One might have imagined that those fearing deportation or confronting the prospect of paying for their safety net through their own meager wages would take a pass on the IRS’ scheme. Not so. Close to 8 million of the 12 million or so illegal aliens in the country today file personal income taxes using these numbers, contributing billions to federal coffers.

    No doubt they hope that this will one day help them acquire legal status — a plaintive expression of their desire to play by the rules and come out of the shadows. What’s more, aliens who are not self-employed have Social Security and Medicare taxes automatically withheld from their paychecks.

    Since undocumented workers have only fake numbers, they’ll never be able to collect the benefits these taxes are meant to pay for. Last year, the revenues from these fake numbers — that the Social Security administration stashes in the “earnings suspense file” — added up to 10 percent of the Social Security surplus.

    The file is growing, on average, by more than $50 billion a year. Beyond federal taxes, all illegals automatically pay state sales taxes that contribute toward the upkeep of public facilities such as roads that they use, and property taxes through their rent that contribute toward the schooling of their children.

    The non-partisan National Research Council found that when the taxes paid by the children of low-skilled immigrant families — most of whom are illegal — are factored in, they contribute on average $80,000 more to federal coffers than they consume. Yes, many illegal migrants impose a strain on border communities on whose doorstep they first arrive, broke and unemployed.

    To solve this problem equitably, these communities ought to receive the surplus taxes that federal government collects from immigrants. But the real reason border communities are strained is the lack of a guest worker program.

    Such a program would match willing workers with willing employers in advance so that they wouldn’t be stuck for long periods where they disembark while searching for jobs. The cost of undocumented aliens is an issue that immigrant bashers have created to whip up indignation against people they don’t want here in the first place.

    With the Senate having just returned from yet another vacation and promising to revisit the stalled immigration bill, politicians ought to set the record straight: Illegals are not milking the government. If anything, it is the other way around.

    The Undocumented Immigrants pay the exact same amount of taxes like you and me when they buy Things, rent a house, fill up gas, drink a beer or wine, buy appliances, play the states lottery and mega millions . Below are the links to just a few sites that will show you exactly how much tax you or the Undocumented Immigrant pays , so you see they are NOT FREELOADERS, THEY PAY TAXES AND TOLLS Exactly the same as you, Now if you take out 10% from your states /city Budget what will your city/state look like financially ?

    Stop your folly thinking , you are wise USE YOUR WISDOM to see the reality. They pay more taxes than you think, Including FEDERAL INCOME TAX using a ITN Number that is given to them by the IRS, Social Security Taxes and State taxes that are withheld form their paychecks automatically.

    GAS Taxes paid by you & the Undocumented are the same. Go to and check out your states tax;
    Cigarette Taxes paid by you & the Undocumented are the same,

    Food Taxes, paid by You & the Undocumented are the same in each state check your state

    Clothing Sales Taxes, are the same paid by you & the Undocumented Immigrant;

    City Taxes, are the same paid by you or the Undocumented, since he pays rent and the LANDLORD pays the city :
    Beer Taxes, are the same paid by you or the Undocumented:

  3. It’s call assimilation Green Arrow. Immigration can be a very complex issue especially as reflected across the global North /South divide. Why for example is the work ethic different between an indigenous aborigine in Australia, South Africa, Kenya, North America , and sometimes Europe as opposed to an immigrant?
    In our specific case as well as Guyana, Fuji, South Africa, and Sri Lanka- what explains the resentments between the major/ dominant ethnic (or if some prefer racial ) rival forces when it comes to the equitable distributions of economic and political spoils, as well as elevation of historically narrow cultural proclivities so long after the savage and conniving colonials have departed?
    These and similar pressing issues cannot be brushed under the carpet by our policy makers ,or left for mere feeble discussions by pimple face naïve University students , and their intellectually reticent, deceptive Professors, if the end game is true development.
    Can we afford to pretend that race and history is of no significance like dominant majorities do across USA, Canada , Australia, New Zealand, and all of Europe,-as they today fervently push skewed ,disastrous, and often discriminatory immigration and other domestic social policies ? Perhaps not.
    Hopefully we can begin the final act of looking forward together , and not nostalgically over our shoulders like ‘Lots wife’ , as we seriously attempt to build our society and nation as a whole.
    Hey I am just about to listen the audio of the Mimic Men by a certain unmentioned world renown international novelist. Quite poignant indeed.
    “Pinch yourself,” people.!

  4. Mr. Joseph is obviously not informed regarding the situation in the US. Immigration policies there has been tightened rather than relaxed as Mr. Joseph suggests. It has become more difficult to enter the US for any reason, work or visit. Also, the number of deportations from the US has suddenly increased. The Americans are protecting their own turf in the face of increasing unemployment and rising crime. There is a major discrepancy between Obama’s election rhetoric and the US Immigration policy.

  5. We do ourselves a disfavour when we compare our immigration problems with that of Countries such as the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and the Fiji Islands. Each of these regions have complexities which might not be welcoming to the immigrant (with a DIFFERENT EXPERIENCE) might want to assimilate in. Let us take Trinidad and Tobago for example, Sat and friends have at times spoke very angrily about the Tobago authorities not acquiesing in facilitating accommodation for the disposing of dead bodies by burning in Tobago. On the surface this might seem radical by the unresponsive nature of it’s policy makers but no one takes into our understanding that such behaviour is unnatural to the masses, whose history treats death differently. Maybe a more tolerant approach by Sat and others might result in a favourable accord in instituting this change. In the case of Fiji, while one may fault them for not recognising the democratic one-man one-vote policy, we must remember that unlike most colonial territories, their constitution calls for Fijian ancestory ownership of all lands. So while the immigrant population might outnumber the ancestrial Fijian he (the Fijian) has a responsibility (by way of the constitution) to protect his way of life and that should not necessarily be changed because he has now become outnumbered. Immigrants have a duty to prepare themselves with knowledge and willingness to assimilate into a new society. Change is without doubt inevitable but it should also be managed. Here in Trinidad and Tobago we INVITE need for immigration because we are so busy emulating the American middle-class lifestyle that we forget that we belong to a different society. We attach more importance to pastimes than to ethical behaviour that deals wiwth real development of the country. We work because we have not because we want to, we minimise our working hours because it would interfere with our leisure activities, therefore leaving the void that it is necessary to encourage immigrants to fill the void.

  6. Perhaps the extremely influential Sat and his pals /friends might be taken more seriously if they begin to show some authentic concern for the plights of Tobagonians that have seen ‘the short end of the stick’ as it were in terms of non existant , paltry social development, and fair distribution of our vast economic oil wealth .
    65 years ago today allied troops were forced to invade savage Europe to keep Hitler and his henchmen at bay and so save all Europe from German domination and possible further tyranny. I hope that we are astute enough to recognize modern parallels with prevailing conditions across the globe , and it is not lost on us as to what factors in Europe made it possible for someone like Hitler to emerge .
    Unlike L. Logan , I believe that we are absolutely correct in comparing “ our immigration problems with that of countries such as the U.S., Canada, Europe, Asia and the Fiji Islands.” It can also serve us well to examine Sri Lanka, South Africa, most of East Africa , and even the middle East ,as it might help sharpen our perspective and if the “ will exist’ ,help prevent some of the calamities, chaos and challenges here that evolved in those societies.

  7. “I hope that we are astute enough to recognize modern parellels with prevailing conditions across the globe” that was well said Neal. My point was that we should not without prescription apply the same plaster to the same wound. In the United States, the majority white population in the pre-segregation years were made to see themselves and their attitudes of hate before they were made to see the backwardness of their thinking. In South Africa, the white minority was not just afraid of the black majority, the were also convinced that they were superior in all forms also. The apocalypse that they envisioned did not materialaize when Nelson Mandela took power and never bothered to seek revenge to the evil that was brought to the black majority. We should not look at everything only in terms of majority/minority but should apply other principles by asking “how did we get to this”? berfore dealing with our problems.

  8. I see your point L. Logan and believe that you are on firm ground . Thanks for the clarification.
    When folks say that they hate politics , I smile inwardly , and often whisper to them an old cliché which claims that “ politics is everything.” It is simply one’s ability to get one’s way against sometimes competing overwhelming odds. What is more important is that advocates try to show others how all interest can be advanced simultaneously.
    It is not too much of a coincidence that African Americans are often the most anti immigrant in that country, as from many perspectives , their gains have been miniscule as the USA embarked on a selective immigration policy for obvious reasons since the end of slavery, to present time. The irony is, that short sighted African Americans ,particularly their educated political elites leaders are failing, primarily because they do not understand and appreciate the principles of solidarity , alliances, and coalitions so as to withstand the onslaught of the dominant majority – both domestically and internationally.

    In similar fashion in our country , and more so Guyana ,indentured labor was introduced by the British to deal with the sudden drop in free service by slaves, and the rest as we often say is history. The lower echelons of these two groups , unfortunately remains fixed in unnecessary competitive battles since independence – often led by very disingenuous elites. It is a shame , and one is left to wonder what the end game really is , or if the will exist to escape what on the surface appears as overwhelming problems. Notice that each time a debate occurs either about regional integration, or domestic immigration , it will by necessity become politicized as our out of touch leaders remains fixated on short term gains. Ironically -and Dr. Deosaran , Ghanny ,or Ryan might back me up here -9 out of 10 Trinidadians has a parent that was born in another country just like big brother America. What therefore is the correct policy , the one advocated by our upstart Bajans political friends , or should Trinidad and Tobago remain a free for all ,as a multitude of citizens in our twin island Republic remain neglected in squalor ? Better yet , do we have a choice , or can we too attempt to build walls around our oceans – since we lack borders like big brother USA ?
    With respect to SA ,a few years ago Dr Tutu lamented the ungratefulness of white South Africans for their general attitudes towards blacks in their country today ,seeing as you so skillfully claimed, “the apocalypse that they envisioned did not materialize when Nelson Mandela took power and never bothered to seek revenge to the evil that was brought to the black majority.”
    There are enormous challenges ahead for SA , and I am not too certain if the Zulu buffoon that recently took over from the arrogant, misguided Mbeki posses the skills to advance the country forward. It is interesting to note the tough immigration policy by SA towards black Africans neighbors that made huge sacrifices to aid them during their Apartheid struggles. Let’s just say for the record, that if that country continually fails to get it acts together soon, Zimbabwe’s turmoil would look like a Sunday School fun play in comparison.
    I say all this to say the following L. Logan.: There is no question that the world is filled with greed , hatred, selfishness and some of the most blatant evils that one can imagine. No group of people have experience more than the people of African decent ,where ever they exist.
    There are those that simply wish to dismiss slavery as just another unfortunate aberration, and therefore hope that the descendants should be just encouraged to grow up and move on ,as the ghastly system ended hundreds of years ago, and no one today is directly responsible.
    Therein lies the challenges. The harmful effects of this evil systems are being felt today , and those who ignore it and display so little empathy , do so to their own peril. No other has made as much ultimate sacrifices to help develop countries across the global village like the African people – with so little to show for their efforts. No other people and or leaders has displayed the level of wanton neglect and acts of mayhem against their own like African people. At the same time, none has been more accommodating, and forgiving towards others of different racial and ethnic backgrounds – especially the ones that have done them much historical harm.
    Let us the few conscious ones, remain engaged in honest debates on the issues – always cognizant of the fact that “ History matters.” We should all try to pay tribute to others in recognition for their struggles , and never fail to admire and point to the resiliency in fellow humans as they try to succeed in elevating the human spirit amidst overwhelming odds. Idealistic perhaps , but it is only by so doing that we can make this world a better place.

    I wish you well.

  9. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that history matters. It is the downfall of the African of today because he is too quick and agreeable to give up what he or his parents practised for decades and in some cases centuries, just because it is “too old”. I grew in a small village where people of African descent practised the idea of “thanksgiving”, it was called by many other colloqualisms that meant the thing. It served the purpose of giving thanks to the Almighty, keeping the community close in belief and practice, communicating the practice of our ancestors and keeping the community safe and healthy. That was abandoned for nothing and nothing replaced it. Today most of our youths hold a beer bottle in their hands sitting by the wayside as a sign of “manhood”, with nothing positive coming out of their conversations. What would this generation of Africans pass to their offspring? Nothing!
    Africans need to learn from other ethnics. Too often we just criticise those who seek better for their kith and kin when in so doing we allow an opportunity to learn and adapt. The European always took a piece of every culture to build and uplift his own.
    It is said that in order to know where you are going, you must know where you came from. That can only mean one thing – History! It is what will enlighten us and it is what will set us free. We neglect it at our own peril.

  10. I don’t know which cave you guys are living in, but surely you should know that people of African descent have made remarkable achievements in every endeavour.
    If there is a problem, it is that African North Americans are quick and ready to adopt “White” culture and values at the expense of their own history and culture.

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