Name the country whose highest court recently declared it unconstitutional for authorities to continuing jailing illegal migrants for automatic three-year terms.
It’s Israel. The Jewish state has long struggled with immigrants from Africa who enter through Egypt. Many of those coming across the border are children, and a lot of them ended up in overcrowded detention centers in the desert without charges. The court ruling should end that practice.
Israeli society has struggled with the dilemma of migrants in political dialogues that might sound familiar to Americans. Many politicians and citizens worry about security. Much is made of the racial, religious and cultural differences of the newcomers. Some see erecting giant walls as the only solution.
And you might have thought America’s immigration problem was another thing that makes it exceptional.
As hope of accomplishing comprehensive immigration reform fades for this U.S. Congress, it is instructive to broaden the view. North America’s issues with immigration are not unique, not by a long shot. People do not stay put after they are born. They never have and they never will. Throughout human history, large parts of the world’s population have been uprooted by wars, famines and natural disasters. Others have moved seeking better opportunities elsewhere.
The conditions that make migration possible, and in some cases necessary, are only accelerating. Demographic trends are diverging around the world, with the populations of many advanced nations aging and facing decline in decades ahead, while other countries strain to accommodate burgeoning populations. Economic globalization has created a global labor market, in which skilled and unskilled workers in one country or region compete with those in others. Deindustrialization, brain drains and exploitation have intensified as a result. So has migration.
A series of papers by the Migration Policy Institute is trying to enlighten policy makers on the evolving nature of population migration. They were published in advance a meeting of the United Nations High-Level Dialogue on Migration and Development next month. It’s an effort to align immigration policies globally in ways that will benefit nations economically while not exacerbating conflict, suffering and threats to security.
Begin by understanding that the global population has increased a remarkable fivefold in the last 100 years to 7.2 billion people. The number is expected to grow until about 2050 when it will plateau at under 10 billion.
The problem is that all those people are not distributed in ways that match commerce and labor needs. Currently, more than 230 million of the world’s population are immigrants.
Rainer Munz, a senior fellow at the Hamburg Institute of International Economics, summed up some baseline facts in this way: “People will continue to move from youthful to aging societies, and from poorer peripheries to richer urban agglomeration.”
Munz explains that many of the world’s wealthiest nations, Europe and North America in particular, have aging populations. They also have declining birthrates, which will eventually result in not enough people of working age to maintain economic growth. Meanwhile population growth will continue in South Asia, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.
China is expected to see a decline in its labor force soon, by 2020. For all the current angst in the U.S. about undocumented Latino migrants, realize that by 2045, Latin America’s supply of workers will also begin to decline.
Doing the math, demographers can see trouble ahead, with some nations being more dependent on migrant labor at the same time they are bearing the costs of an older population.
One answer suggested by Munz is for the countries that receive immigrants to begin developing smarter policies for migration, integration and nondiscrimination. He also advocates “crafting migration policies at bilateral or regional levels should become a standard approach. In this context, countries should view migration policy not only as a tool to bridge labor market gaps, but also as tool of global development.”
In other words, do immigration right.
Of course, human nature, fear of what is different, allegiance to one’s own group and desire to protect turf always complicate any effort to admit immigrants in any large numbers.
Significant attention to labor laws, fair immigration policy including asylum for the world’s political refugees, and attention to social policies that ease assimilation, instead of blocking it, can have a beneficial impact.
Governments all over the world need to think more broadly about immigration, understanding current and future global trends that will influence who arrives in their countries. It’s fruitless to pretend that global migration can be halted; a much more prudent approach is to figure out how it can be managed to avoid conflict and disruption.
The Israeli Supreme Court, in reaching its 9-0 decision on the jailing of African migrants, used language that should be the guiding ethical principle for all the world’s migration challenges: “We can’t negate basic and fundamental rights, while … solving a problem that requires an appropriate diplomatic and systematic solution.”
(Mary Sanchez is an opinion-page columnist for The Kansas City Star. Readers may write to her at: Kansas City Star, 1729 Grand Blvd., Kansas City, Mo. 64108-1413, or via email at email@example.com.)
Photo: A Georgian woman cries after arriving in Israel from war-torn Georgia, Tuesday, Aug, 12, 2008/Brian Hendler via Flickr.com