Saturday, June 03, 2006

Immigration and Development: The View From Spain

Over the course of the last several weeks, the politics of uncontrolled immigration has been brought home to Spaniards. The Canary Islands has seen a large wave of people coming in from Sub-Saharan Africa. Newspapers are full of stories about immigrant smugglers operating out of Senegal who run around Western Africa taking what little money the poorest segments of African society may have in return for a promise to transport them to Europe, usually through the Canary Islands. The governor of the Canary Islands has appealed both to the National Government and to the institutions of the EU in Brussels for help. In the meantime, the press emphasizes the ethnic and national origins of criminal elements captured by the police.

In response, the Spanish government has sought to strengthen its diplomatic efforts in sub-Saharan Africa. The government has put forward a "plan Africa" that consists of providing some small amount of money to the governments of certain "front line" African states, to be overseen by a roving Ambassador. In addition, the presence of Spain will be expanded in these states through the addition of more personnel to the various Spanish embassies doting the African landscape. The hope is that some combination of political pressure, talk, and a little cash, will induce African states to curtail immigration out of their countries. Thus approach has been criticized by the conservative party (the PP), that suggests that this sort of coddling is no substitute for more effective police action and punishment of those seeking to enter Europe through Spain.

All the while, the United Nations intensifies its "the answer is development" campaign. Quite sensibly, the UN argues that the solution to global migration does not necessarily lie principally with enforcement, but with the creation of conditions in the home countries that would relieve emigration pressures. For the UN, the real solution thus involves a tremendous investment in states that produce emigrants principally by states that receive immigrants. This is tied to the long running efforts to create an international norm of development, leading eventually to the recognition of national development as a form of human right. It would follow that developed states would face an international ob ligation to transfer a substantial amount of wealth to developing states, and that the instrumentalities of these developed societies, principally its economic agents--multinational corporations--would be obligated to act directly to aid in the development of states in which they operate. The developed world resists all but the rhetoric of this approach. The Chinese used to enjoy playing the developed world against those seeking wealth transfers from the West. Ironically, as it has become clearer that the Chinese would likely be grouped among the states being made to transfer wealth to others, they have become less interested in pushing this development as a human right campaign. Instead, like the Europeans and Americans before them, they have sought to lace the governments of developing states with strategically placed gifts of aid.

Listening to all of these perspectives reminds one of the great Indian parable of the blind men seeking to understand the elephant, each touching a different part of the animals and generalizing from this partial, and ultimately blind, endeavor. Immigration is no longer understandable as a manifestation of purely economic stimulus. People the world over are moving. The free movement of capital that has been the hallmark of current economic globalization is actually only part of a much larger and more complicated pattern of globalization, involving labor as well as capital. The global migrations, following fairly precise patterns of movements by ethnic groups all over the world is not likely stoppable either by the feeble efforts of states through the application of its police power, or by the efforts of transnational organization through the transfer of wealth from receiving to immigrant producing regions. This is not about money, or even merely about economics. All of these perspectives miss the far bigger picture--the world's map of ethnic distribution is being dramatically altered. Wealth, population, warfare, threats to existence all effect the character and form of the movement but not the fact of the movement itself. Not since the 3rd century in Europe have we witnessed a similar pattern of behavior. And like economic globalization that occurs simultaneously, it is unlikely that any one government will be able to control its effects or even predict its ultimate shape.

The world will be very different, demographically at least, a century from now than it is today. These results are neither good nor bad. They cannot be avoided, and should not be lamented. The survivors should worry more about culture and the dynamics of assimilation in its normative aspects, than in the effectiveness of the police power of any state.

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