Thursday, August 28, 2014

There's More to Illegal Immigration

Photo: Erik Brandt/ Typografika
The issue of illegal immigration is a complex one. One reason countries guard their borders jealously is that no country has infinite resources, hence there’s a need to ensure these resources are adequately managed and available to their citizens. 

There’s also the fear of the unknown that frightens people into rejecting those they deem ‘different’. As with social animals, we humans are innately weary of outsiders for fear that they may disrupt the existent social order, or worse, infect members of the group with a disease. But how far would we go to exclude foreigners – the ‘others’?

Consider company boards as an analogy. Diverse boards generally have more advantages than homogeneous ones. Not only are diverse boards more innovative and productive, they also spell profit for companies that are operating in an increasingly interconnected world. In a similar light, diversity has conferred a host of competitive advantages on countries like the US and the UK, over those countries with less diverse populations. 

That said, countries that have been historically open to immigration have become vehemently opposed, and understandably so, to the arrival of undocumented immigrants seeking a better life on their shores. But is illegal immigration merely a case of moochers looking to benefit from tax payers money? And should the issue of illegal immigration be treated as simplistically as black and white?

It is a fundamental human right to live peacefully, work and earn a decent wage, and these are what are at the heart of socio-economic migration. Being that we live in a globalized world, activities occurring in one country could create a socio-economic or political imbalance in another country. Case in point would be the demand and supply of illegal drugs plaguing the Americas.

Most undocumented migrants from Central America migrating to the States are simply seeking to earn a living and/or are escaping drug-related violence in their home countries, which is being indirectly fuelled by America’s deadly love affair with illegal drugs. Hence, it is not enough for America to ask the governments of these Central American countries to combat human traffickers; she also has to look inwards to determine how best to curb her drug appetite. It’s only when the demand for illegal drugs diminishes in America that Central America will be able to benefit from legal economic activities and growth, and then create job opportunities for the unemployed.

Another example of how one country can create an imbalance in another would be America’s invasion of Iraq. America’s invasion created more problems that existed in the Iraq prior to Saddam Hussein’s dethronement. The long, festering hatred between Sunnis and Shias that was suppressed under Saddam has reared its ugly head, while hardline jihadists have infiltrated Iraq threatening to rend it. 

Amid the turmoil and madness, Iraqis have been forced to flee their homes, thereby becoming refugees within and outside Iraq. Supposing Iraq was America’s next door neighbor, would they have considered invading Iraq knowing they’d have a refugee crisis to contend with at their doorstep?

Many countries in Africa have seen citizens flee the continent in search of greener pastures due to bad governance, oppression, war and lack of job opportunities. Notwithstanding the absence of leadership in Africa, it would be too simplistic to ask African governments to get their act together to stymy illegal emigration and brain drain, since these governments do not operate in a vacuum.

Part of Africa’s woes results from foreign interference. An example would be the government to government aid. This type of aid is detrimental to Africa’s economy as it corrupts and makes governments less accountable to their people and more accountable to their donors. It also disincentivizes African governments to find sustainable ways to build their economies, because at the back of their minds they know they can return cap in hand for more aid.

Indeed, donor countries are more interested in their economic interests and expect aid recipients to fully accept their conditions, even if it’s to their own detriment. These conditions may involve unfair trade practices like forcing recipients to open their nascent markets to foreign products, which in turn kills home-grown businesses and employment opportunities.

Foreign interference in Africa takes another form in the unhealthy relationship Africa has with her former colonizers. For example, France actively meddles in the financial and electoral affairs of her former African colonies. Francophone countries are mandated to deposit 85% of their foreign exchange reserve in France’s Treasury, and can’t access it as they please as there’s a limit to the amount they can borrow. 

Moreover, France is complicit in propping up corrupt and incompetent regimes, and will continue to support such regimes, regardless of how the electorate votes, so long as she has free reign over desired resources. Thus, this begs the question: If Francophone countries aren’t in control of their economy and growth strategies, how can they ever develop?

Off the coast of Somalia, large trawling ships from the West decimated the fish population and drove some Somali fishermen to resort to piracy to eke out a living. Some of these unemployed Somali fisherman turned pirates were recruited by the terrorist group, Al-Shabaab, who for a time utilized profits derived from piracy to finance its attacks within Somalia and neighboring countries. Amid the chaos and instability, it’s only natural for people to gravitate towards safety and to places where they think they can make a living.

Another factor that may contribute to a surge in illegal immigration in the near future is climate change. Low-lying countries, such as The Philippines and Bangladesh, are already suffering the effects of climate change as water claims more land. Considering this predicament, one wonders if those countries that have been dubbed major polluters will be keen to accept migrants with open arms when they come knocking on their door.

The world is more connected than ever before, thus events are no longer insular to one region and are liable to cause significant ripples in other parts of the world. In light of this, every government has to accept their involvement in fueling illegal immigration and actively work to mitigate it. Treating undocumented immigrants harshly for seeking a better life doesn’t solve the problem of illegal immigration. Perhaps it would be more productive to ask ourselves what role(s) we may have played in ruining their livelihoods.