Tuesday, December 01, 2009

On migration and justice

A recent post by Laura Agustin at her blog Border Thinking, "Undocumented migrants, inflexible employment systems", linking to an article of hers in the London Progressive Journal, has gotten me to thinking.

Many looking at the images of smashed camps around Calais would like to know why those sad young men insist, against every obstacle, on remaining there and continuing to try to get into Britain. One said, in response to a reporter’s question, that there is respect for human rights in the UK. He may really believe that, but the same sort of ‘respect’, for what it’s worth, exists in other European countries. Given the extreme difficulty now of getting through the Channel Tunnel and into non-Schengen Britain, it’s logical to wonder why they don’t turn left to Spain or right to Belgium or almost anywhere else in Europe.

Rather than believe that the UK is a human-rights paradise, we should understand that such migrants are trying to get here simply because that’s where their networks led them. When these men were thinking about leaving home they talked to everyone they could about the possibilities. If family, friends or paid smugglers had led them to another European capital, that’s where they would be. And that’s where they’d now be facing different problems, less interesting to media cameras than those in Calais. But their networks brought them to the north of France, and the same networks cannot now provide an alternate plan – particularly not from far away, back in Afghanistan or Iran.

At this point [. . .] to find that it’s near impossible to get across the Channel is staggering. One got this far on information that was paid for. Now the last few stages turn out to be much harder than promised. Those unable to swim for ten hours in cold water face options of paying an unknown local smuggler, hanging on in place, despite French police actions, or changing life-plans drastically without good advice. Even an environment as hostile as Calais can seem better than a complete unknown.

The story is similar for many women migrants described as trafficked in the mainstream media. When thinking about leaving home, they, too, talked to everyone they could about the possible options. They also followed routes known to family, friends and smugglers. If they passed the Schengen barrier and the water surrounding the UK, it helped that their methods were different – they didn’t try to hitch a ride through the tunnel. Now, of course, they can also be described as economic migrants, and, as such, be deported if caught – unless they can prove egregious enough treatment to qualify as victims of trafficking. But the prospects for being allowed to stay with a normal residence permit are slim.


A recent Chris Bertram post at Crooked Timber makes a related point about the extent to which the barring of migrants from a country may well represent a fundamental injustice. Agustin suggests that in an environment where, in her perspective, illegal immigrants are complicit with their employers in partaking in these non-legal networks, the best way to deal with these stresses is to legalize these migrants, who do play major roles in local labour markets.

In the harder context we see today, whether in London or Calais or Copenhagen or Amsterdam, the question is whether the availability of paid jobs couldn’t mean, in and of itself, that migrants can be employed legally. Forget governmental concepts like formal-informal economies for a moment. If a legal employer offers paid employment to a migrant, should that employment not allow him legal status? Why not? If he or she is paid a normal amount and taxes are paid by all, what’s the problem?

Thoughts?

3 comments:

Unknown said...

Thoughts?

Well, in terms of early warnings the Swiss vote on minarets is probably as clear as these people can hope to get before they reap the storm. In the 21st century we now have all across Europe massive anti immigration parties, the Swiss voters banning minarets, the most popular party in Holland led by a person who intends to ban the Koran, ban on headscarfs in France and such stuff, riots in banlieus and clashes in Birmingham. If it's not enough for some people to get the direction the things are taking, I can only assume that these people have probably graduated in social/political sciences in some Western university

:D :D

Anonymous said...

If a legal employer offers paid employment to a migrant, should that employment not allow him legal status?

Personally? Sure, provided that said legal status lapses with the end of paid employment, with swift and sure deportation when it does. If you want to make it slightly more humane you have a grace period until they run out of money, and if you want to make it a more economically sound system you discriminate in favour of those with the biggest value add to your economy/tax-base.

Why not? If he or she is paid a normal amount and taxes are paid by all, what’s the problem?

The "is paid a normal amount" is deeply misguided. People who work have an effect on the labour market. Demand and supply and all that. I believe there's been some work done on the impact of sg's guest worker policies on the prevailing wages for the low-skilled therein.

If I trusted my government to have as heartless and unbending a labour/immigration policy as Singapore's I would have no problem with a much, much more open immigration policy than currently prevails. It would be a huge Pareto improvement. We would get more taxes, more skilled people working here, basically more money to spend on citizens and like groups. The gastarbeiter would get the opportunity to get comparitively rich much, much faster than would be possible at home. Win all round.

In the real world these people would acquire some kind of quasi-residency status, and that is not something I want. Immigration and naturalisation should be a huge deal, because it means you're stuck with these people forever, e.g. medical care; I see no pressing reason to deny catastrophic healthcare to anybody on my country's soil, the benefits are huge and inarguable compared to the costs, chronic health care, well, let those who fall outside the circle pay for it themselves or let their native state's. Likewise for unemployment benefits, basically all transfer payments. Citizenship means something, its benefits should be reserved to those who are such, and there should be no gray areas between citizen and non-citizen.

Brett said...

A recent Chris Bertram post at Crooked Timber makes a related point about the extent to which the barring of migrants from a country may well represent a fundamental injustice.

I blame that on refugee-favorable systems, which are hard to verify and possess enough holes to drive a truck full of refugees through.

To be honest, I'm not sympathetic to the argument that people have some "right of movement" and to live in any area they want. When somebody moves into a new area, they implicitly and explicitly make demands on the society there - for police protection, societal benefits, employment, etc. Since the people already living there are recognized as having ultimate control of the territory in question, and pay for all that stuff, it's only fair that they get to decide whether or not they want to allow outsiders who technically do not possess a pre-existing legal "right" to those things to live there and get them.