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Push and Pull: the Forces that Drive Immigrants to Risk Everything to Come to the United States

I have had the pleasure of giving immigration presentations to many different groups since I began practicing immigration law. These groups include lawyers on both sides of the issue, law enforcement, business leaders, and just regular Joes and Janes looking for insight into this divisive and emotional topic. My background as a state criminal prosecutor, federal immigration attorney, private attorney representing criminal defendants and immigrants facing deportation and finally as the husband of an immigrant has provided me with a unique and balanced perspective on the issue. I am neither pro-amnesty nor pro-deportation, I believe that we have to live by the laws that govern us all, but if we do not agree with the laws, we have a duty and obligation to change them. This is especially true when we have a broken system and broken laws that do not work–as is the case with our immigration system in the United States.

Estimates have our population of people in the U.S. without lawful immigration status somewhere north of 10 million. Regardless of your political beliefs as to what we should do with this large group–grant them amnesty or deport them all–we should all be able to agree that a legal system that has at least 10 million people actively violating it every day, is not working well.

There no single answer for how to fix our broken immigration system and as long as we live in the greatest country in the history of the world – the United States – people across the globe will risk their money and lives to come to the U.S., legally or not.

Lets take a look at the factors that greatly contribute to the hundreds of thousands of people who attempt to enter the U.S. every year without proper documents. There are multiple causes that have their genesis in the U.S. that encourage people to risk it all to come here, I have coined them pull factors. There are also strong influences present in almost every country in the world that encourage residents of those nations to want to leave, these are push factors. So in countries where there are strong push factors and similarly strong pull factors to the U.S., we see the largest migration of people seeking to enter the United States legally or otherwise.

The push factors that encourage and drive people to leave their native countries are universal and have existed throughout human history. Violence, war, poverty and famine create personal and economic insecurity driving people to leave their homes seeking a better life wherever they can find it. These are the two primary push factors that encourage people to flee their counties. In countries where there is either personal or economic opportunity and security, there are far fewer people seeking to come to the U.S.

I have identified the following pull factors that generally act to encourage people outside of the U.S. to come here legally or not. Family, economic and personal security, educational opportunities, health care, our welcoming immigration laws and misinformation.

I will provide a more detailed explanation and examples of each of the push and pull factors that drive immigration in blogs to follow. I will also provide examples for how this dynamic works in specific places like China, Cuba, Haiti, Central and South America. Please check back regularly for more.

John Gihon is an immigration and criminal defense attorney with the law offices of Shorstein, Lasnetski & Gihon. John is a former Assistant State Attorney and Senior Attorney with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. He now helps people defend themselves against criminal prosecution and deportation. You can follow John on Twitter at @JohnGihon, or reach him at john@slgattorneys.com