Immigration is becoming the panic button of the 1990s. Last year, the World Bank estimated, 100 million people throughout the world moved within or across national boundaries, and such migration is accelerating. A sinister obbligato to this trend is the rise of xenophobic feelings, particularly in France and Germany but, as David Cole illustrates below, increasingly in the United States, where a lurid picture is being conjured up of thousands of aliens pouring into New York and other entrepots either to take jobs from Americans or exploit the welfare system or spread terror.
But looming over transitory panics about asylum-seeking sheiks and flotillas of Haitians or Chinese is the larger reality of the desperate movement of peoples all over the world, some 20 million of them refugees from wars and disasters, and many millions more from poverty, hunger, falling living standards, environmental degradation and lack of opportunity. This global migration is the theme of the 1993 "World Population Report," published by the United Nations Population Fund.
Much of the migration within the developing world is from the country to the cities. This current is driven by economic, demographic and environmental factors, but at the heart of it is a search for a better life. Most of the human stream flow to megacities like Mexico City, Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro. By the year 2000 seven of the world's ten largest cities will be in the developing world. This trend, with its potential to create misery and dislocation, can only lead to further emigration. Because the pace of urbanization today is far more rapid than it was in Europe and the United States in the nineteenth century, the new megacities have no breathing space to provide jobs and services for the denizens of their pullulating shantytowns.
World migration should not be seen as the destructive fallout of some "population bomb." Although the world's population is now increasing at the rate of 98 million people annually and 93 percent of these people are born in the developing world, the overall trend in fertility rates is down and family planning and contraceptive use are on the rise. Rather, the flow from South to North is a symptom of deepening inequities between the richest and poorest countries. In the latter, the labor force is growing twelve times as fast as in the industrial nations. The ability to create jobs has not kept up with the onrushing cohorts of young people, who are the likeliest immigrants. With the developed world in recession, the tendency to close the doors on these seekers can only agitate a volatile situation.
Stimulating economic development in the poorer countries, starting to redress economic imbalance between rich and poor nations and providing services and economic opportunities to refugees - as well as increased access to family planning and equal opportunities for women - are all needed to deal with long-term problems of which immigration is a symptom. One thing is clear: The current "Katie, bar the door" reaction in the West is no answer. Exclusion policies don't work: what's more, they are shortsighted. Recent studies show that immigrants contribute far more to the national wealth than they take from it, as Americans, of all people, surely ought to know.
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|Date:||Jul 26, 1993|
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