America’s long-running argument about immigration has reached a boil this summer, and as usual the political discussion has focused on domestic issues, including border security, the impact of immigrants on American jobs, and the proper way to deal with people who have come to the United States illegally. Proposals for reform are weighed with one question in mind: How will they help or harm our country and the people who live here?
But the American immigration system, which at last count had led to around 40 million foreign-born individuals living inside our borders, also has a huge effect on the rest of the world—something most of us don’t tend to think about at all. Part of it is driven by remittances, the billions of dollars sent back to friends and relatives every year; part of it is more personal, with families abroad split by restrictions on who can work in the United States, and for how long. Returning immigrants can also change their home cultures by carrying back American habits, values, and ideas.