December 22, 2006

Immigration: look at economic causes, human rights

By Juan Blanco Prada

Monday, Dec. 18 was International Migrants Day, a day to honor the rights of migrant workers around the world.

Migration has greatly increased with the recent trend of globalization, according to a May 2006 U.N. report.

It has also greatly changed. To think of migrants as mostly poor and uneducated men who leave developing countries for jobs in the developed world is no longer an accurate description.

Today, approximately the same number of people migrate from a developing country to a rich one as those who migrate from a developing country to another developing country. Also, an increasing number of migrants hold higher education degrees.

For many developing nations, migration is both a blessing and a curse.

On the one hand, it has caused a significant brain drain, as many of those who can afford to leave often belong to the highly educated professional classes.

This is particularly acute in the field of health care, as the aging population of the developed world needs more and more skilled doctors and nurses to fill the gaps of their own labor forces. But the developing countries themselves need to tend to their own populations.

On the other hand, the economies of many of these countries rely heavily on the remittances of those who have left.

Some of the most vibrant and fastest growing economies of the world rely on the flow of immigrants.

One in five of the world’s migrants lives here in the United States.

Immigration has benefited the American economy, where cheap labor has fueled some of the most important sectors of the economy — from low-paying jobs in agriculture, food processing and services to many construction jobs.

It has even played a significant role in the tech boom of the last two decades, with American companies gobbling up talent from Asia, Europe and Latin America.

But our immigration policy is a failure. Immigrants continue to arrive — legally and illegally — and are subject to unfair labor conditions, restricted rights and abuses.

In 2006, Congress failed to pass any effective legislation on the issue. Instead, it created a bill calling for the construction of a 700-mile fence along the southern U.S. border. But every wall that is meant to keep people from migrating has failed before. If they can’t come by foot, they will swim, sail, dig or fly over it.

America needs to recognize the futility of its current approach to immigration and acknowledge that as long as economic conditions in impoverished countries continue to deteriorate, the tide of migrants will continue to rise.

Only by addressing the growing inequalities of the globalized economy will any effort to reduce migration succeed.

Juan Blanco Prada is a writer and activist living in California. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org. Reprinted from “The Progressive Media Project.”

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