The Origins of Migration

The following thoughts don’t have much to do with our current day to day work as immigration professionals.  But from time to time, it’s good to look at the bigger picture.  It helps us clarify our understanding about often unmentioned and unexamined roots of the social/political/moral forces at work in our field.

Humans, like many species of animals, have migrated across the face of the planet since prehistoric times.  The ancestors of the “Native Americans” came across into the North American continent and then spread out to South America about 50,000 years ago.  They came from the current Russian region of Western Siberia to Alaska, when a temporary land bridge was created due to geological and climate changes.

Ancient Map

Of course the original migration started much earlier in Africa, and ultimately spread everywhere on the planet.  Over the course of many generations facial features and related changes came about as various groups settled in different geographic areas, and adopted to the climate and other regional conditions.  The point is that in all this time, the only limiting factors on migration were geographic ones.  There were no immigration laws, enforcement agencies, etc.  In fact, there were no borders at all.

As recently as 500 years ago, when the Europeans came over here, there were no borders, visas, immigration laws, etc.  But there was something else – power.  This power was demonstrated through the ability of one group of humans to impose its will over another group through the force of arms, utilization of more advanced technology, and superb organizational skills.

The foundation of all immigration laws today therefore come from the control exercised by the most powerful societies over the less powerful ones, the rich countries over the poor countries, the developed over the developing.  U.S. citizens can get on a plane and fly to practically any corner of the planet with hardly any impediments.  But most citizens of any “developing country,” which means all countries outside of Europe, North America, and a few European settled countries such as Australia, can hardly go anywhere.  Except for a tiny elite who have access to visas, the rest of the population of these poor countries are shut out.


Immigration laws and policies are like the tip of the iceberg of social injustice on a planetary scale.  In the future, as humanity advances to higher levels of social justice, immigration laws largely invented by the rich countries to protect themselves from being overrun by poor neighbors, will fall.  After all, laws protecting slavery, racial segregation, male dominance, etc., have fallen in the past and we hardly lament that fact today.  How far in the future this will happen, and whether it will be a gradual process or come in the wake of a revolutionary deluge, is hard to predict.  But just like the indiscriminate violence practiced by some anarchists of the 19th century turned out to be a prelude to the revolutionary movements of the 20th century, today’s activists may be harbingers of future social upheavals that will eventually render our immigration laws and infrastructure obsolete.

In another post, I intend to envision how migration issues might be handled in a future world that is more utopian (or dystopian) than ours.



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