The elephant-in-the-room in all current discussions of immigration is the question of ‘open borders’.
President Obama’s speech announcing executive action to grant temporary relief from deportation to about half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA contained some moving and highly accurate words. Much of what he said applies to Australia too. After all, there is a sense in which we are “a nation of immigrants” and “We were strangers once, too”.
The notion that we were all strangers once suggests its opposite – our common humanity. ‘They’ are ‘us’. ‘We’ are ‘they’.
Obama gave examples of heartbreak and anxiety experienced by decent hardworking parents who faced deportation and separation from their US-born children simply because “they didn’t have the right papers”. He suggested it was unfair (my word) when “circumstances of birth” determined who could and couldn’t be an American. These ‘illegals’ are here, working in menial jobs and paying their way through university, and he wants them given a legal status through a system of registration with the government and payment of a $500 fee, which will protect them from deportation for up to three years, as well as grant them work permits.
There are precedents for such protection under Reagan and Bush. It’s better than the status quo. Were I one of the 4.9 million ‘illegals’ eligible for the protection, then I would breathe a sigh of relief in the here and now.
But, there’s also something inconsistent in Obama’s position when he stresses that the temporary legal status he is offering does not “create a path” to citizenship or permanent residence or access to federal health care. Why not? – given that we are all strangers sharing a common humanity and that “these people” helped create America and keep America going.
And why the temporary nature of the protection from deportation? Why the prospect of renewing the “anxiety and heartbreak” in a few years time?
And why – if we were all strangers once – does the decree only apply to about 5 million of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants? Why should it matter whether they have been ‘illegal’ for more or less than five years?
A practicable policy, based on the principles argued by Obama, would open the way for citizenship for all 11 million of the undocumented immigrants. And it would be an executive order, which is binding, not an executive action, which isn’t.
To make the fine words and sentiments even shallower, Obama stressed that he wants more resources allocated for border control to stop illegals coming into the US and he wants to “speed the return of those who do cross over”. Why do this if you believe such people help build America and that “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger”?
Open the borders – share the chaos!
The elephant-in-the-room in all current discussions of immigration is the question of ‘open borders’. The undoubted benefits of globalisation are often lauded when it comes to trade, communications, cultural exchange and advances in air travel, yet many governments are imposing greater restrictions on who may gain permanent admission into their country.
On the other hand, in our lifetime, many borders have come down. The Berlin Wall is an example that tends to be taken for granted. Chaos ensued, with scores of thousands of east Germans flooding into west Germany. But the chaos was there anyway, and was now simply being shared in the interests of all.
The European Union nations have shared open borders for about 20 years – that’s 26 countries and 500 million people representing about 25% of global GDP. More recently, the Union of South American Nations representing 12 South American countries, have opened their borders to free movement of citizens of their member states. The United Kingdom and Ireland have allowed their citizens unrestricted movement between their countries for a long time, as do India and Nepal.
In 1973, Australia opened its border for the first time since federation in an agreement with New Zealand, the Trans-Tasman Arrangement.
The free movement of people becomes an issue as countries integrate their economies regionally and globally. ‘Free trade’ agreements could – and should – but don’t – provide a framework for the gradual development of open borders and the rights of workers to move as freely as capital, goods and services. The North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, USA and Mexico imposes restrictions on the right of workers to move freely between the member states. You’d think the trade unions would be protesting about this but they tend to be led by people who do not believe in Marx’s great slogan ‘The workers have no country’ and who instead actually believe there is such a thing as a ‘foreign worker’.
Marx nailed the way things were developing in The Communist Manifesto, in 1848:
“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood… In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production… National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible… The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate”.
Nationalism and xenophobia are the main factors working against proper consideration of ‘open borders’ and recognition and acceptance of us all as having once been ‘strangers’. The countervailing forces include classical liberals, such as those at the excellent Open Borders: The Case site, and internationalist leftists (of the kind who prefer ‘red’ to ‘green’ and are welcome at my blog, C21st Left).
Obama made the point in his speech that “mass deportations” are not “realistic” (or desirable). The reality is that immigration restriction itself is no longer realistic and becomes less realistic the more what’s left of the world’s national economies integrate into a global economy with advanced means of communications and travel.
Mr Obama: Bring down that wall!