Ever since our ancestors first migrated out of Africa about one hundred thousand years ago, we humans have continued our search for a better life elsewhere. Sometimes that meant a place nearby, but often enough it meant some far off place where we were strangers in a strange land.
In the last few centuries, migrants in large numbers from Europe and other parts of the world started crossing the Atlantic Ocean, displacing sparse indigent populations in the Americas. Eventually, and often via wars and conquest, immigrants ended up outnumbering the native population and the United States of America was born. The US is a country made up almost entirely of immigrants and their descendants, and as such, its population is like no other large country on the planet. It is a melting pot of nationalities, races, and cultures from all over the globe. It derives its unmatched strength and creativity from its large heterogeneous population comprising practically every ethnicity, race, and religion on earth.
Today, the challenges of dealing with immigration and the endless flow of humanity on the move has become a major social and political concern. As is demonstrated by the formation of the United States, movement is our heritage, it is in our very DNA. As with many other aspects of modernity, it will be this country which will be called upon the lead the world in finding a just solution to this developing crisis.
From an economic point of view, the evidence is clear: Migration is economically beneficial to both the immigrants and countries accepting them. In fact, some countries like Finland for example, which in the past had more emigrants than immigrants, is today transformed. Formerly a relatively poor country tucked away in the far north of Europe today is a technologically advanced economic haven with high living standards, offering opportunities for self-betterment to thousands of residents and immigrants alike.
Globalization and the economic forces it has unleashed, aided by demographic imbalances, are pushing toward greater and greater levels of migration throughout the world. Today migration is one human activity where the fault lines of mankind’s strengths and weaknesses are revealed. The political, social, and moral imperatives involved in migration are likely to create more conflicts and upheavals in the coming years.
Open borders could release the vast potential of many people currently trapped in countries convulsed by war, oppression, climate change, or governmental dysfunction. From a moral point of view, that is the direction mankind needs to move in order to reduce injustice and to create opportunities for global advancement.
However, an orderly society also needs rules and regulations. Security issues, potential for cultural and religious conflicts, and enormous disparities in wealth and education all must be taken into account in seeking to address the challenges of migration.
Open borders without any controls and under current conditions would result in instability and chaos. Migration needs to be managed, but it has to be done fairly, intelligently, and compassionately. The current system in place focuses on border enforcement, detention, and deportation. The vast majority of the world’s population are cut off from the opportunities afforded to those lucky enough to be born in the more affluent countries of the world.
That is the challenge of our times. The tone and content of the discourse in this season of American elections is not very encouraging. As immigration professionals and advocates for migration, we have our work cut out for us: how do we uphold humanity’s natural prerogative to migrate and at the same time ensuring human rights and equal opportunities for all, while at the same time regulating the undesirable consequences of unchecked movement?