Immigration should not be a dirty word. It is because of mankind’s restless spirit that homo sapiens ventured out of Africa all those years go, that America was discovered, and that man will one day live on another planet.
But, it has become a dirty word because of the way that it has been managed by politicians. And so this week the White House announced that Barack Obama’s program, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), would expire from March 2018. Not long after, leaked documents revealed that the UK government intends to end the system of free movement after Brexit, giving priority to skilled immigrant workers.
Neither of these revelations are surprising. Donald Trump was elected on the symbolic slogan of building a wall along the Mexican border, while the Leave Campaign during the EU Referendum (2016) promised voters the restoration of control over borders, laws and money. As has now been registered the world over, both Trump’s election and the Brexit vote constituted a backlash against the current tide of globalisation and the priority it gave to so-called citizens of nowhere.
The simple truth is that immigration has to be managed. If it isn’t then the free movement of people has disastrous consequences on both the migrants themselves and the communities they enter. Take the case of when African-American slaves were freed following the American Civil War – the Great Migration away from the South. Because it was not properly managed from the outset, African Americans confronted far worse poverty and racism in the North, thus fuelling the racial conflicts of the 20th century.
Something similar has happened in Europe in recent years. In response to the refugee crisis spreading from the Middle East and Northern Africa, the European Union mandated its member states in southern Europe to accept quotas of up to 160,000 migrants. This “open door” policy has led to an unmanageable migratory flow, a sharp rise in crime and the rise of Far Right hatred in those countries.
So, it’s time for the West to stop treating immigration as something that merely exists on paper. The free movement of people is a fact of life – not a political programme. But it is the job of elected representatives to make sure that migration works for the native and the newcomer alike. The UK and the US have now figured that out.