Dollar dreams, dignity of labour: What’s making them take such a risk

Anju Agnihotri Chaba
Despite this, a large number of Punjabis continue to attempt the Mexico route to land in their dream country. (Representational Image)

On Friday, for the very first time, a charted flight specially arranged by Mexico brought 311 Indians, mostly Punjabis, accompanied by 73 Mexican officials to New Delhi after they were deported for attempting to enter the United States illegally through the US-Mexico border. Most of these youths had recently reached Mexico, after US President Donald Trump’s declaration to stop illegal entry into US from the Mexico border and passing of new stringent immigration rules making ‘asylum’ protection tough in mid-July. Despite this, a large number of Punjabis continue to attempt the Mexico route to land in their dream country. The Indian Express explains why:

Why do illegal immigrants from Punjab choose the Mexico border to enter US?

Mexico shares an over 4,000 km-long border with the USA and entry to the US from here is either through gates or a fence. Some Mexico officials connive with agents to help illegal immigrants. An average 100 Punjabis enter the US through the Mexico border every month.

Why are Mexican officials acting tough now?

In June, US President Donald Trump had threatened Mexico that a tariff would be imposed on all Mexican imports if entry of illegal migrants to US from the Mexico border is not stopped. Mexico could not afford US’s sanctions. Trump has become quite tough on illegal migrants coming all over the world. Over 6 lakh illegal migrants from all over the world had entered USA from between February and August.

What are the new measures of the US administration to check illegal immigration?

In July, the Trump administration had passed new stringent immigration rules making ‘asylum’ protection tough. According to these rules, if any migrant who has entered the US after passing through several countries and seeks asylum, he/she will not be eligible for the same unless they had applied for it in the country of transit and faced rejection there. It is a tough task as no illegal immigrant could afford to apply for asylum in all transit countries. Also as per the new rule, the asylum seeker’s case would not go to court and an immigration officer can take a decision about their deportation.

Are people from Punjab and Haryana still going to Mexico after these rules came into play?

Several of the youths deported on Friday admitted that they had started their journey to the USA via Mexico after these news rules came into play. They said that their agents had assured them safe landing there despite the new rules. They also said that another 250 Punjabis are currently in Mexico and nearly 100 to 200 groups are reaching Mexico every month.

Why do they still continue to take the risk?

One of the deported youths said going to the US illegally, even after spending upto Rs 50 lakh and risking one’s life, costs a fortune.
“I was deported in March this year from USA after spending one year there and in that period I earned Rs 24 lakh by doing labour work,” said a 27-year-old from Begowal town in Kapurthala district, adding that he had paid Rs 22 lakh in December 2017 to go to the US, and repaid half of his debt in just a year after meeting his expenses in the USA, including his court case.

“I am not very educated, yet I earned around Rs 24 lakh in the US in just a year’s time. Here I cannot earn even Rs 1 lakh in a year by doing hard labour,” he further said, adding that he is trying to go there again.

“Itthe labour di koi kadar nahin hai, te parh likh ke bhi Rs 10,000 to Rs 12,000 di hi naukri milani hai oh bhi shifarish naal, uss vich kehra gujara hunda hai, utthe tan ik din da hi inna mil janda ha (Here there is no dignity for labour work. One will get a job that pays Rs 10,000 to 12,000, too only after requesting and doing professional courses. How one can lead a good life with this amount while in the US one can earn this much in a day?” asked another youth of Talwandi Chaudharian village of Sultanpur Lodhi Subdivision in Kapurthala district.

“In US life is better. People respect even those who wash utensils. People here will treat you according to the status of your job,” he added.

“My son has done his B.Tech but I want to send him to my brother in the US otherwise drugs will eat him up here,” said a farmer of Jalandhar, adding that his son had started taking drugs but he managed to save him in time.

What were the rules before?

Before the new rule, illegal immigrants would simply hand over an application seeking asylum protection to the US border security officials who would then take them to a refugee camp or a detention centre where illegal immigrants had the facility to hire legal counsel to contest their asylum case in court. After spending a few months there, they would get permission to live in the US till the time their case is pending in court. Cases run in courts for years and immigrants have the right to work during that period.

A youth from Talwandi Chaudhrian village who had gone to the US in 2017 via Mexico by spending Rs 50 lakh said his asylum case is pending in a US court but he is working and has repaid all his debt in just two years and is now earning well.

What experts say

Migration from Punjab is considered a lucrative alternative. “They think that the solution to all their miseries lies abroad,” said educationist and retired principal Dr Satish Kapoor, adding that it is not poverty which is driving them, but their nature to earn more than their neighbour so as to have a big house, big SUVs, organise big fat marriages, wear diamond-studded watches and thick gold bracelets. “It has become a rat race which has no end,” he added.