A World Without Borders
|March 13, 2003||Posted by Staff under The Progress Report|
Can a Human Being Be Illegal?
A World Without Borders
If you cross a border, have you abandoned all your civil rights? Are borders sacred, or arbitrary? Did you ever sign a contract agreeing to borders? Can an illegal immigrant be a human yet have no human rights?
Here is an article circulated by inequality.org
by Wole Akande
The cliff-hanger vote in the latest Swiss referendum regarding stringent new asylum laws, and the uproar caused by Haitian boat migrants landing in Florida, confirm that there are few issues more controversial or provocative on both sides of the Atlantic than mass migration from poor countries and the restrictive border controls of the prosperous nations. The right to leave countries was proclaimed by the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but nothing was said of the right to enter another country.
Perhaps it is time for the idea of international migration to be rescued, enshrined in international declarations as a normal and natural human right. People should have the right, internationally as they do within the countries of the European Union, to choose freely either to stay where they are or to migrate. Despite increasingly tight immigration controls, the numbers of migrants, including asylum seekers and refugees, has remained roughly constant over the past 20 years. Migrants and those who facilitate their migration resort to staggering feats of ingenuity, courage, and endurance to avoid immigration controls.
So, is migration in the interests of the peoples of the Third World? If it is damaging to the countries they leave, the argument goes, immigration controls are useful to protect the Third World. However, in reality, immigrants’ remittances form one of the largest flows of resources in the world today. The amounts involved are difficult to estimate because remittances are often made through unofficial channels and not recorded in the statistics. However, the World Bank official figure for remittances is higher than the figures for foreign aid. Consider this: President Bush has proposed to increase by 50 percent, to $15 billion over three years, the amount of U.S. foreign aid for worldwide development. This year alone, private remittances to Latin America likely will exceed $24 billion.
Colombia, the leading recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the region, received more from remittances last year ($1.6 billion) than it did in U.S. foreign aid ($1.3 billion) during the record first year of Plan Colombia. For tiny El Salvador, remittances totaled nearly $2 billion in 2001 – more than was received by any other country in the hemisphere except Brazil and Mexico, and, significantly, 33 times the amount of U.S. foreign aid it received.
Although not perfect, remittances have several benefits. They are not the result of any ‘charity’ from rich countries, but are the product of the migrants themselves. They are unconditional, unlike aid from the World Bank and IMF. They do not have to be repaid. In the current unequal state of the world, remittances are possibly one of the best mechanisms currently available for redistributing the world’s income in favor of poorer countries. On that basis, there is a case, on moral grounds, for doing away with immigration restrictions that impede this transfer, just as there is a case for debt-forgiveness.
Sooner or later, I believe governments will get rid of immigration controls. In an increasingly globalized world with the free movement of goods and capital, it is quite contradictory to stop the free movement of people. The cost of trying to stop people moving around the world is escalating, and these attempts are not actually stopping movement. If there were no immigration controls, there would probably be more migration, but not much more. Open borders is neither a new or original idea. Look at America, the most well-known nation of immigrants. The American idea springs from its early ideal of open migration (no longer a reality). The dominant cultural myth sees the Statue of Liberty beckoning in the huddled masses, urging newcomers on as pioneers out in the great Wild West. The myth is that anyone can come in and anyone can make it with hard work in a free and ruggedly independent country.
On the whole, most people do not want to uproot themselves, abandon their families, country and culture, and suffer the hardships and risks of migration to a strange and possibly hostile country to do the dirty work of the natives.
While some people move because there are jobs and the possibility of higher pay in rich countries, this does not mean that the entire population of the Third World would do so. For example, when Britain reluctantly offered 20,000 visas to Hong Kong citizens, only 10,000 were taken up.
During the post Second World War period, when there were no immigration controls on Britain for citizens of its colonies and former colonial territories, migration was only from a small number of areas, and it rose and fell in relation to the number of job vacancies – in response to information from already established communities.
Economic migration occurs in response to labor demand in richer countries. Europe and America need foreign labor to do jobs that the natives have ceased to be willing to do. This need is likely to increase because of the static or declining aging populations in Europe. Immigrants, whether legal or not, can be useful to employers because of their willingness to work for low wages and long hours. Immigrants tend to take jobs which are shunned by the natives, and thus help to prevent industries from dying out. Accordingly, immigrants enable industries and services to survive creating more jobs for the population as a whole. Because migration of labor is potentially a means of increasing the productivity of labor, an international free market in labor and the abolition of all immigration controls could cause a doubling in world incomes.
Obviously, immigration clearly has never been just about jobs, housing or even cultural enrichment; it is also about identity, race, resentment and (for the right) a potent source of political mobilization. Still, it is worth getting the facts of the immigration story straight. Theory says migration increases the labor supply, depressing wages while bumping up returns to capital. That ought to make free marketeers passionate advocates of open borders.
Immigration controls stop people coming to work or finding refuge for short periods and leaving again. Accordingly, these restrictive policies are partly responsible for the fact that immigrants are unable to consider any alternatives to permanent settlement and invariably need to bring in their families.
Writing in her thought provoking book Open Borders, Teresa Hayter passionately advocates with interesting facts and figures the removal of immigration. For instance, she argues that immigration controls are expensive and are becoming more so. More is probably spent on the administration of current restrictions against citizens of poor countries than is transferred in overseas aid or foreign investments. Immigration controls push people into the hands of criminal gangs and the Mafia.
The predominant fear of governments in rich countries is that there will be an unstoppable movement of immigrants across borders if immigration controls are removed. If this is a problem, it is one that these governments have imposed on themselves by demanding cuts in public expenditure in poor countries in order to service crippling foreign debts which have led to unemployment and extreme destitution for millions in poor countries.
Wole Akande, a former opinion columnist with Ireland’s Irish Examiner newspaper, is a freelance journalist. He also maintains www.abeokuta.org, a Nigerian community website.
Also see Fred Foldvary on Immigration
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