After two weeks at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service in Qatar, I have noticed a stark contrast between how Qatar and the U.S. treat their immigrant workers. From this, I have decided that America’s acceptance of its melting pot tradition truly makes it a stronger country.
I know it’s cliché to say we are a melting pot, and I know that our current immigration policy leaves much to be desired. But while Doha is a glittering city being built as fast as humanly possible, almost all of the work is done by foreign laborers who have no chance of a future in Qatar. They primarily come from Nepal, Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and the Philippines.
According to Human Rights Watch, Qatar has some of the most restrictive sponsorship laws in the region. This sponsorship is considered a version of modern slavery, in which foreign workers must pay fees for the privilege of working in Qatar, a portion of their monthly wages goes to their sponsor, and the sponsor controls the workers’ ability to leave the country. Even if you start a small business, part of your earnings go to your Qatari sponsor. Simple labor laws regarding worker safety and quality of living are rarely enforced, or don’t apply to immigrant workers.
Foreign workers cannot obtain citizenship in Qatar. To become a citizen of Qatar applicants must be born of a Qatari man, have lived in the country for at least 25 years, or been married to a Qatari man for five years. Human Rights Watch estimates that only 50 naturalizations are allowed in a year, although this is not stipulated in the citizenship law. This is why Qatar has only a citizen population of around 250,000, despite the fact that it has over one and a half million residents. Although it is not easy to obtain a green card in the United States, at least the time requirement for naturalization is only five years. The bulk of Qatar’s foreign workforce will never have contracts long enough to earn citizenship.
I interact with these workers everyday. Across the Doha campus, foreign workers clean buildings, drive buses, serve food, guard entrances, and build foundations for a metro line. As part of student orientation, all the incoming freshmen had lunch with the service staff, something that many students had never experienced. One woman I met talked about her sons and how much she missed them. They live with their grandmother in the Philippines. She can only visit them once a year and works hard so that they might have a future in the Philippines—not in Qatar.
After that conversation I started thinking about the differences between the opportunities present in Doha and America. Yes, they both take in foreign workers to do jobs the locals do not want to do. (Honestly, I have yet to see a Qatari in a position other than law enforcement or as an immigration officer.) But, for the most part, Americans welcome immigrants – as long as they follow the system. According to recent Pew polls, 49 percent of Americans think immigrants strengthen the country and 52 percent said increasing numbers of newcomers strengthen our society. According to a poll conducted in May, 75 percent agreed something must be done to fix our immigration system.
I hope that the the House of Representatives will take up a serious immigration bill before the end of the year. When they do they should bear in mind that we are a country of immigrants. Nearly all Americans can trace their lineage to another country.
This weekend, leaders in Catholic churches are planning to encourage parishioners to pressure House Republicans for change, with masses focused on immigration and visits to Congressional offices. Along with their moral motivations, Catholic leaders know that part of the Church’s future is with the growing Latino population. It’s a shame Republicans can’t seem to realize the same can be said about America as a whole.
Immigration reform will make our economy stronger, our democracy more vibrant, and our future brighter. I don’t want America to be like Qatar, with workers toiling away so that their families can have a better future elsewhere, separate from them. I want immigrants to come to the United States, to bring their families, to add to our economic strength and social diversity, and to pursue their dreams. Some of our greatest minds such as Albert Einstein, Madeliene Albright, and Sergey Brin came from somewhere else but pursued their dream in America and made it a better place.
Doha is as ethnically diverse as anywhere in the United States. But it is not a melting pot. It is a bucket filled with Pakistani sweat, stirred by Filipino cooks, and served by Sri Lankan waiters. Looking at Doha, I see the worst of what our immigration policies could be, and this highlights the reasons why embracing immigrants must be a vital part of the United States’s strategy for success in the 21st century. I hope opponents of immigration reform can see the difference between our melting pot and the Qatari bucket.
“Looking at Doha, I see the worst of what our immigration policies could be, and this highlights the reasons why embracing immigrants must be a vital part of the United States’s strategy for success in the 21st century.”
Is this what passes for serious argument within Georgetown? The US would never be like Qatar. Immigration reform (and let’s be blunt about what it is) is really a way for 11 million or so people who came here illegally (or overstayed a visa) to get citizenship, even though many have evaded taxes, have committed crimes, have taken far more in social welfare than they have returned to stay and to, by the way, bring 50 or so million more of their family members. Why can’t those who support having millions more Democratic votes simply be honest about what they want?