Wed | May 24, 2017

Orville Taylor | 2% wise and $3.8 billion foolish

Published:Sunday | April 30, 2017 | 4:00 AM
Donald Trump is still bullish on building his US$10-billion, or US$21-billion (depending on who gives the figures) wall, and since Mexico won't fund it, remittance senders might have to bear the burden.
LASCO MoneyGram customers wait in line at Christiana Pharmacy & Book Centre to collect remittances. If a bill passes in the United States, a two per cent tax will be levied on remittances sent to 44 countries, Jamaica among them.
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You might think that I am about to comment on the crime plan announced recently, and you would be right, but not now. My problem is that this world has too many people who do not think systemically and who fail to recognise that everything is connected.

Of course, I expect to get more hate mail and veiled threats here again for daring to speak out about the ludicrousness of the wall that President Trump seems bent on building. Doubtless, it irks me that the occasional remittance, homophonically called a 'chumps', might be taxed an additional two per cent by the American government, putting more pressure on the Jamaican people.

On March 30, 2017, Republican Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers introduced the Border Wall Funding Bill to amend the Electronic Fund Transfer Act to make American residents, who send money to 24 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, pay for this great wall.

Apart from the obvious irony in reversing the trend and imitating China, the barrier brings to mind the horrors of the division of Germany after World War II and the subsequent separation of Korea into North and South. Even more intriguing is that America and its allies did bomb the @#% out of North Korea during the Korean War between 1950 and 1953, and the South Korean President Syngman Rhee murdered more than 100,000 of its citizens in the Summer of Terror because he suspected them of being sympathetic to the invading communist north. Border walls always affect the wrong people disproportionately.

The bill puts the 'F' in unfairness because Jamaicans have a net positive impact on the US economy. Starting with the census of 1990, Jamaicans have consistently punched above our weight. Using South Florida as an example, I noted in a study in the early 2000s that we ranked highest among all immigrant groups with regard to home ownership, occupational status, level of education, among other variables. Not even Cubans, given red-carpet treatment for decades, could compete with our achievements. Indeed, the Miami Herald referred to this as the 'Jamaican Miracle in Miami'.

 

Steady decline

 

It might be surprising if one were to take the inconvenience of reading and put back in the F before one acts. Although Mexicans comprise some six million illegals in the US, the numbers of new entrants have been steadily declining to such an extent that the net migration between Mexico and the US could very well be zero. Moreover, there has been about a two per cent decline in the size of the Mexican diaspora in the US since 1990. While it can be conceded that there is a stubbornly large number of Central Americans crossing from Mexico's southern border into the US, it must be noted that the Mexicans have been vigilant. Between 2014 and 2015, Mexico increased its deportations of illegals from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, which accounts for 97 per cent of the total, by 44 per cent. Sending home 150,000 persons with possible designs on the US is no mean feat.

Inasmuch as the cost to construct the wall is not a line item on the Trump budget to Congress - and I hope it never gets congressional approval - the two per cent, which could represent some US$29 million, or J$3.8 billion, is a lot of money. Anyone with any economics sense will tell you that the money that our relatives and friends send to us to help take care of Mamma and their own business here such as mortgages and child maintenance is no monkey money, although it is literally trump change.

And far from the perception of idle mendicants lining up like panhandlers, there is no evidence that most of the money comes from 'hustlers' and other criminals. In fact, there is far more reason to believe that the great bulk of remittances coming in from the USA is from the blood, sweat, and tears of honest Jamaicans, both 'undocumented' and legal residents. The very census data cited above should tell anyone that Rogers wants to penalise Jamaicans who are doing what the average American isn't doing.

 

Social consequences

 

Another dimension, which my colleague, reputed social worker Claudette Crawford Brown, and others, fully understand, is that remittances go a far way in taking care of the 'barrel children' in this country. While her research outlines the negative social consequences of children whose parents are not physically here but and struggling to provide for them, they are spared the worst when their parents are able to send money for their upkeep.

And never mind the misunderstood bastardisation of the relationship between money and evil. It ranks a close third behind water and oxygen when children are hungry and the caregivers are broke. Ask anthropologist Herbert Gayle or psychologist Rose Johnson about how financial stress influences child abuse and how that translates into criminal behaviour.

Reducing national disposable income by J$4 billion is going to have a significant impact on the ability of thousands of families to feed themselves. Invariably, in a society, which is part of America's porous sea coast and where youth unemployment is three times the national average, and where youth are increasingly more educated and informed than 20 years ago, what does Congressman Rogers think will happen - if he thinks at all?

The Republicans don't like to acknowledge any affinity with the Democrats. However, ask the American Coast Guard about what happened to the level of narco-trafficking in the Caribbean and Central America when then president Bill Clinton in the 1990s, took the Jamaican government to the World Trade Organization in order to get access to the nine per cent of banana trade, which was provided to the European Union by West Indian countries. We only comprised three per cent, but greedy American planters wanted all.

This is 2017 and we have extradited, and are about to export, suspected criminals from multiple occupations. Rogers shouldn't be fooled. Not because the warning is coming from 876, this is no scam.

- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.