Opinion | The Case for Immigration as Reparations

One of the most provocative articles I have recently read, pointing out some of the double standards in immigration policy and debates. But one that has no chance of influencing policy given the implications:

There is a lot of debate these days about whether the United States owes its African-American citizens reparations for slavery. It does. But there is a far bigger bill that the United States and Europe have run up: what they owe to other countries for their colonial adventures, for the wars they imposed on them, for the inequality they have built into the world order, for the excess carbon they have dumped into the atmosphere.

The creditor countries aren’t seriously suggesting that the West send sacks of gold bullion every year to India or Nigeria. Their people are asking for fairness: for the borders of the rich countries to be opened to goods and people, to Indian textiles as well as Nigerian doctors. In seeking to move, they are asking for immigration as reparations.

Today, a quarter of a billion people are migrants. They are moving because the rich countries have stolen the future of the poor countries. Whether it is Iraqis and Syrians fleeing the effects of illegal American wars, or Africans seeking to work for their former European colonial masters, or Guatemalans and Hondurans trying to get into the country that peddles them guns and buys their drugs: They are coming here because we were there.

Before you ask them to respect our borders, ask yourself: Has the West ever respected anyone’s borders?

A vast majority of migrants move from a poor to a less poor country, not a rich one. Immigration quotas should be based on how much the host country has ruined other countries. Britain should have quotas for Indians and Nigerians; France for Malians and Tunisians; Belgium for very large numbers of Congolese.

And when they come, they should be allowed to bring their families and stay — unlike the “guest workers” who were enticed to build up the postwar labor force of the colonizers and then asked to leave when their masters were done exploiting them.

The Dominican Republic, where the United States propped up the dictator Rafael Trujillo for three decades, should be high on the American preference list. So should Iraq, upon which we imposed a war that resulted in 600,000 deaths. Justice now demands that we let in 600,000 Iraqis: for each death we caused there, someone should get a chance at a new life here.

Some 12 million Africans were enslaved and carried across the Atlanticby European powers. Should not 12 million people from Africa be allowed to live in the countries enriched by the toil of their ancestors? Both will be better off: the African still suffering from what slavery has done to his country, and the host country that will again benefit from African labor, but this time without enormous pain and for a fair wage.

Just as there is a carbon tax on polluting industries, there should be a “migration tax” on the nations who got rich while emitting greenhouse gases. The United States is responsible for one-third of the excess carbon in the atmosphere; Europe, another one-quarter. A hundred million refugees fleeing hurricanes and droughts will have to be resettled by the end of the century. The United States should take a third, and Europe another quarter.

A huge bill would come to the West, but it is one it should look forward to paying. Without immigration, America’s economic growth would have been 15 percent lower from 1990 to 2014; Britain’s would have been a full 20 percent lower. Immigrants are 14 percent of the American population, but they started a quarter of all new businesses and since 2000 earned over a third of the American Nobel Prizes in chemistry, physics and medicine.

Migrants are 3 percent of the world’s population but contribute 9 percent of its gross domestic product. Their taxes prop up the pension systems of the wealthy nations, which are not making enough babies of their own.

If you want to help the poorest people in the world, the fastest way to do so is to ease barriers to migration. Migrants sent back $689 billion in remittances last year, which amounts to three times more than the direct gains from abolishing all trade barriers, four times more than all the foreign aid given by those governments and 100 times the amount of all debt relief.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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