Vivian Salama at PostGlobal

Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. She has also appeared as a commentator on the BBC, France24, South African Broadcasting Corp., TVNZ, NPR and as a reporter for Voice of America radio. Her byline has appeared in numerous publications including Newsweek, USA Today, the International Herald Tribune, the National, Jerusalem Post, and the Daily Star. Salama has an MA in Islamic Politics from Columbia University and she previously worked as a lecturer of international journalism at Rutgers University. Close.

Vivian Salama

USA/Middle East

Vivian Salama is an award-winning reporter, producer and blogger. Currently based in Lahore, Pakistan, she has reported for various publications from across the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, the Balkans, the United States and North and South Korea. more »

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If You Build Business, They Will Come

In the 1989 Kevin Costner movie, "A Field of Dreams," a voice from baseball heaven tells Costner, "if you build it, they will come." It seems to me that the same voice should shed some light in Washington: if you build and expand business, illegal immigrants will come.

It's bewildering to envision a land of immigration closed off to immigrants. Nonetheless, the Council on Foreign Relations recently referred to the topic of immigration as "a toxic political issue." Regardless of whether U.S. presidential hopefuls see the benefits of illegal immigration for America's economy, candidates are toeing the line due to the negative connotation associated with this issue.

First, let's talk numbers: Foreign-born residents in the United States have not exceeded 16 percent since 1675. This year, immigrants to the U.S. – legal and illegal – reached a record of 37.9 million, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. (Where I sit in New York, about 38 percent of people here are immigrants). That said, it's not the legal immigrants raising eyebrows.

Over the past ten years, illegal immigration to the United States has more than doubled from 5 to 12 million. In fact, the problem has become such a major concern in Washington that in 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Secure Fence Act, authorizing the construction of a $1.2 billion, 700-mile fence along the U.S.-Mexico border. Certainly compounding this are issues of "Homeland Security" and general sentiments of insecurity and xenophobia that have gripped the country (in some places more than others) since the attacks of September 11th.

So why, then, aren't candidates taking a steadfast position on the issue? For example, Rudy Giuliani, the one-time mayor of my hometown who once said he welcomes illegal immigrants, is now doing a song-and-dance around the issue.

The fact is that illegal immigrants equal able hands and bodies willing to do some of the grunt work that natives – and some legal immigrants – generally aren't. By coming to the U.S., these illegal immigrants maintain the natural flow of the global market which demands a shift from low-wage and low-productivity to high-wage and high-productivity. Ultimately, U.S. businesses want and need these low-skilled workers – and the workers want to come.

Were the incentives of illegal immigration greater for America's economy, perhaps the issue would offer candidates a more clear-cut platform. However, if these Republican and Democratic presidential hopefuls continue this song-and-dance without addressing the need for a plan to safely and fairly reap the benefits of illegal labor, then everybody loses. This country was built on a platform of immigration. Rather than building walls to shut the world out, it may be in America's economic and political interest to find better, more effective – and legal - ways of letting the world in.

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