Migration controls: the new apartheid?

Paul Raven @ 07-01-2009

border control signIf you pay attention to the tabloid media in the US and the UK, you’ll be familiar with the idea that immigration is a terrible problem that must be stemmed at all cost, with hordes of desperate foreigners waiting beyond our borders to steal away scraps of our hard-earned prosperity and run our public services into the ground. [image by mockstar]

According to Fred Pearce of New Scientist, however, there’s another way of looking at the present system which doesn’t portray those of us in the richest nations as the victims: it’s a form of legitimised apartheid.

It has always struck me as odd that we are so keen to allow the flow of cash and goods across borders without let or hindrance, but try so hard to deny the same rights to people. That is both unfair and a denial of the free-market theories on which much of the world’s economy is built.

Surely if free trade and the free movement of capital is so good for an efficient global economy, then the same should apply to the free movement of labour?

I can’t see the fault in that logic. And for the apostles of the free market to deny it reeks to me of racism and xenophobia. Worse, the stench is disguised by a cheap perfume of do-gooding development theory and environmental hand-wringing.

Pearce goes on to suggest that strict border controls actually give us what we really want – economic disparity, and an easily cowed pool of illegal immigrant labour to do the jobs that no citizen will take for the money we’re willing to pay.

There are definitely some big holes in Pearce’s theory behind the rhetoric, but he’s also pointing at some rather uncomfortable truths. So here’s your challenge for the comments: argue against Pearce without falling back on arguments such as “why not make your own country as great as the one you want to move to”, and without making sweeping generalisations about people based on their race or nationality. Go!

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3 Responses to “Migration controls: the new apartheid?”

  1. Ian Sales says:

    The existence of economic disparity is aspirational: it provides a target for individual, family-unit and/or social group ambition. And economic disparity requires that the movement of labour is controlled. Only in prosperous regions can migrants “make good”, and only through control of labour migration can we efficently determine that the needed labour is permitted into the prosperous region. The cycle then becomes self-sustaining, as migrants move to prosperous regions, become economic providers, and cycle their wealth back into the prosperous region’s economy. Think of it as a form of economic Darwinism.

    (I don’t believe this for a moment – I’d sooner an economic region worked to provide for the lower layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs before targetting “esteem” and “self-actualisation”.)

  2. Julian H says:

    I entirely agree with this article. These books are both pretty good on the subject:

    Let Them In

    Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them

  3. tychoish says:

    As the current recession treads into the territory of depression, the risk of xenophobia/racisim/fascism balloons. And I thinkt he needless teeth gnashing over immigration in America seems to exist mostly as a way of normalizing these kinds of views.

    So your guidelines for discussion are *great*. Thanks paul!