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Valeria and Gurupreet

Their deaths are a reminder that a more humane politics around immigration is needed

By: Editorial |
Updated: June 28, 2019 1:05:32 am
Valeria and Gurupreet The image of Alberto and Valeria, the death of Gurupreet, must become a catalyst for a new way of thinking about immigrants and refugees.

When their bodies were found on the bank of the Rio Grande, the river that forms a border between the US and Mexico, Valeria (23 months old) had her arm draped around her father, Alberto Martinez Ramirez. In her last moments, she was likely clinging to Alberto, as they were swept away, attempting to cross over to the US. The Martinez family walked from Ecuador to try to get to America through Mexico. A week earlier, seven-year-old Gurupreet Kaur died while crossing the Arizona desert. From Punjab, she had entered the US via Mexico. The image of Alberto and Valeria, the death of Gurupreet, must become a catalyst for a new way of thinking about immigrants and refugees.

US President Donald Trump kicked off his campaign by calling Hispanic immigrants “rapists and criminals”. Across Europe, the far-right has been gaining ground by claiming that the refugees from Syria, convulsed by a civil war and theatre for Great Power rivalries, will dilute local culture and pose threats to national security. In India, Muslim migrants, often from Bangladesh, have been referred to as “infiltrators”, while those from the majority community are treated as refugees — now, this duality may well be enshrined in law with the proposed amendment to the Citizenship Act. There is enough evidence to show that immigrants benefit their adopted economy. Germany, which left its borders open to Syrian refugees, is finding that with some training, the new residents are bridging the labour gap in the country, especially in terms of vocational jobs. The US, which is largely a country of migrants, has also benefited from Hispanic immigrants: Multiple studies have established their contribution to economic growth, both as job creators as well as in jobs that many native-born Americans no longer want.

The rationale behind the politics that seeks to prop up the bogey of the migrant is based on a limited and impoverished understanding of citizenship. Capital — wealth — now moves with comparative ease across free markets while labour is mostly not allowed to. The fact remains that there is a genuine tension between the idea and benefits of national citizenship on the one hand, and the inequalities, shaped by history, that exist between nation-states. This requires a reimagining of the social contract between people’s rights and economic sovereigns on a larger scale. But the starting point for such a project has to informed by the image of Valeria in her father’s arms, not a brutal politics that seeks to label their community “rapists and criminals”.

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First published on: 28-06-2019 at 01:05:29 am
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