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Immigration divides our globalizing world like no other issue. We are swamped by illegal immigrants and infiltrated by terrorists, our jobs stolen, our welfare system abused, our way of life destroyed—or so we are told. At a time when National Guard units are deployed alongside vigilante Minutemen on the U.S.-Mexico border, where the death toll in the past decade now exceeds 9/11's, Philippe Legrain has written the first book about immigration that looks beyond the headlines. Why are ever-rising numbers of people from poor countries arriving in the United States, Europe, and Australia? Can we keep them out? Should we even be trying?
Combining compelling firsthand reporting from around the world, incisive socioeconomic analysis, and a broad understanding of what's at stake politically and culturally, Immigrants is a passionate but lucid book. In our open world, more people will inevitably move across borders, Legrain says—and we should generally welcome them. They do the jobs we can't or won't do—and their diversity enriches us all. Left and Right, free marketeers and campaigners for global justice, enlightened patriots—all should rally behind the cause of freer migration, because They need Us and We need Them.
"Mr. Legrain performs an invaluable service; he makes a good case for the unpopular cause of free flows of people. The book is a superb combination of direct reportage with detailed analysis of the evidence."—Martin Wolf, Financial Times
"Mr. Legrain has assembled powerful evidence to undermine the economic arguments against immigration."—Economist
"In all important respects Legrain is right on target. In the context of the fearful chatter that surrounds the subject, sense as good as this needs cherishing."—Guardian
"Immigrants boldly challenges the conventional thinking at every turn. [Legrain] makes a powerful case that free movement of people is just as beneficial as the free movement of goods and capital. The book is carefully written; the argumentation is never slapdash stuff of the xenophobes. [A]n extraordinary book, making the best case I have ever read for an open-border policy."—George C. Leef, Regulation Magazine
War on Our Borders
The hidden costs of immigration controls
The slaughter of some and the disablement of others is not an act of nature, such as an earthquake, a typhoon or a flood. It is not the result of wars or civil disorder. It is a regime constructed and maintained by the deliberate action of governments, by the calm, sensible and apparently liberal–even kindly–men and women who constitute civil authority. They do not intend the disasters. They probably regret them. Some of them no doubt espouse moral codes that forbid them to kill, that affirm the sanctity of life, that propose compassion for those in need. Yet the laws they have put in place turn all this to hypocrisy.
Nigel Harris, Thinking the Unthinkable
The question should not be: 'How can we be cruel enough to enforce the law on the border?' The question should really be: 'How can we be cruel enough not to enforce it?' ... Any parent confronted with a two-year-old at bedtime is familiar with the human truth: 'There are times when you have to be cruel to be kind.'
Peter Brimelow, Alien Nation
Lasso Kourouma's bloodshot eyes still burn with indignation. 'I thought Europe was the promised land, but I have been treated like a dog. I had to eat Europeans' rubbish to stay alive. I almost drowned trying to get here. I was put in prison for forty days and then dumped in the street with nothing to eat and nowhere to live. It's not right.'
Lasso earned a decent living as a car salesman in Côte d'Ivoire, but when civil war broke out in 2002 he fled the violence to seek refuge in Spain. He made his way north to Morocco, to the border with Ceuta, a tiny Spanish enclave perched on the northernmost tip of Africa, a mere eight miles from the European mainland across the Strait of Gibraltar. Now that Spain and fourteen other European countries that have signed up to the Schengen agreement have abolished border controls with each other, Ceuta (along with Melilla, another Spanish footprint on African soil) is in effect the southern gateway to Europe.
Dominated by a military fort on Monte Hacho, a hill that some claim is one of the Pillars of Hercules of Greek legend, Ceuta is a beautiful colonial town of windswept palm trees and gorgeous sunsets over the sea that nestles behind vast medieval walls. But beyond the city walls in Morocco the scene is rather less picturesque. Thousands of Africans live rough in makeshift refugee camps in the hilly woodlands, preparing their desperate nightly assault on Ceuta's border defences.
Only a lucky few succeed in breaching them. At a cost of some £200 million, the Spanish government has erected two six-metre-high barbed-wire fences punctuated by watchtowers and fitted with noise and movement sensors, spotlights and video cameras. The two walls are separated by a road along which armed border police patrol frequently. Each night, the police fend off would-be immigrants with truncheons, tear gas and rubber bullets.
'I tried to climb over the fence. I tried cutting through it. But every time I got through, I got caught by the Spanish police,' Lasso recalls. 'I must have been caught and thrown out fifteen or twenty times.' He spent six months living rough outside Ceuta. 'I survived by eating the rubbish that Europeans throw away. Eventually the Moroccan army chased us away.' The Moroccan authorities cooperate with the Spaniards to keep migrants out, but only sporadically, pointing out that if Spain returned Ceuta and Melilla to Morocco, they would no longer need such elaborate defences.
After Lasso was forced to leave the outskirts of Ceuta, he made his way to the nearby Moroccan city of Tangiers, and from there to the capital, Rabat, and finally to Layoun, in the Western Sahara on the west coast of Africa. There, with money sent to him by his brother, who emigrated to Italy many years ago, he paid &8364;1,500 (around £1,000) for a place on a boat to smuggle him across the notoriously treacherous waters of the eastern Atlantic to Fuerteventura, the Spanish Canary Island nearest the African coast. 'It was a small boat, big enough for only ten people, but there were twenty-five of us on it. We sailed for two or three days. The sea was very rough,' he says. 'Then the boat sank. I thought I was going to drown. Most people did. But I was rescued by the Spanish coastguard. They took me to Fuerteventura and threw me in prison.'
Lasso is lucky to be alive, but there is something perverse about forcing migrants to risk their lives, then rescuing them, before finally arresting them. Spain's border police return most unwanted migrants to their country of origin, but Lasso did not have a passport or any other identification on him, and in any case Côte d'Ivoire does not have an agreement with Spain to take back its unwanted migrants. So he was locked up in a detention centre instead. 'I spent forty days locked up in a cell, and then I was dumped in the street in Malaga in the middle of the night,' he recalls. 'I had no money, nowhere to stay, nothing to eat. I had no papers so I couldn't work. Nobody would give me black-market work. I slept rough for two years. I got called "negro de mierda" [black shit] in the street. The police often asked me for my papers, and then arrested me for not having any, but after a day or two they would release me again.'
Lasso reached breaking point: 'I was so tired that I didn't want to know anything any more.' But then his luck turned: 'Finally, I got a break. Friends got me a job as a security guard at a disco in Torremolinos. Now I work in several nightclubs and I can afford to rent a flat.'
Lasso earns &8364;800 (£533) a month; hardly a fortune, but enough to live decently. He is now married to Maria, who is also from Côte d'Ivoire and works as a cleaner. 'When I met her, she was a fifteen-year-old girl,' says Lasso. 'She had nobody to look after her. If I hadn't met her, she might have had to become a whore.' They have a lovely daughter, Sara, who was ten months old when I met them. Because she was born in Spain, she will become a Spanish citizen when she reaches her first birthday.
Although Lasso's life has finally taken a big turn for the better, he has suffered more than most of us in the West could possibly imagine. He has every right to be angry. 'Look how dangerous the sea is. People die every day,' he fumes. 'They rescued me but then they threw me in prison. And then they threw me out on the streets. They refused to let me work. They wouldn't even give me somewhere to sleep.'
Death on Europe's borders
Lasso's story is far from unique. Look around you in any big city: no doubt many of the anonymous people whose existence you barely acknowledge–those who clean the streets and offices, or who stand guard outside bars or inside shops–have similar tales to tell. We just never bother to ask.
But despite their often-terrible suffering, the migrants who make it to rich countries are comparatively lucky. Many are caught and turned back; others are injured trying; some die.
Europe's border policy is in crisis. A continent that prides itself on being compassionate and civilised seeks to repel in increasingly inhumane ways people whose only crime is aspiring to a European way of life.
Violence against migrants trying to cross from Morocco to Spain is escalating, according to a report published in September 2005 by Médecins Sans Frontières, the international humanitarian-aid organisation. MSF doctors treated 2,544 migrants for violent injuries–such as gunshot wounds, beatings and attacks by dogs when trying to escape Moroccan security forces–between April 2003 and August 2005. According to MSF, this increasing violence, along with illnesses related to poor living conditions, are the biggest risks to migrants' health. 'MSF is concerned that these findings reveal systematic violence and degrading treatment which only serve to increase the suffering and marginalisation of people who are already exposed to extremely precarious and often inhumane conditions,' the charity said.
In late September and early October 2005, at least fourteen people were killed and hundreds injured during violent clashes between Africans trying to force their way into Ceuta and Melilla and Spanish police determined not to let them pass. The Moroccan government said that the violence of the attacks forced its security forces to shoot migrants in self-defence. Amnesty International has accused both Spain and Morocco of violating migrants' rights. Several hundred migrants made it onto Spanish territory, where they plan to seek refugee status, but more than a thousand were flown back to Senegal and Mali. 'We go in a group and all jump at once. We know that some will get through, that others will be injured and others may die, but we have to get through, whatever the cost,' one African refugee said. Official figures put the number of foreigners who died trying to reach Spain in 2004 at 141, but the Association for Human Rights in Andalucia claimed the death toll was 289, up from 236 in 2003.5 Most recorded deaths occur when boats carrying immigrants are intercepted or challenged by Guardia Civil patrol boats, but many more occur because migrants now take longer, more dangerous routes in a bid to avoid the patrols.
Although we scarcely notice it, death is becoming commonplace on Europe's borders. Over the few months when I was writing this book, here are just a few of the other tragedies that occurred. In September 2005, the bodies of eleven African migrants were found on the coast of Sicily, while a fishing boat carrying thirty-nine migrants sank off the coast of northern Cyprus, leaving one person dead and thirty-three others missing. In October, six corpses were discovered floating off the coast of Malta, while nineteen African migrants died after their rickety boat capsized twenty-six miles off the south-eastern coast of Fuerteventura–just as Lasso's had. In November, the bodies of nine migrants were recovered near Ragusa, on the southern coast of Sicily, after their boat ran aground in stormy weather, while twelve people drowned and a further eighteen were missing after a boat carrying migrants to Greece capsized off the resort town of Cesme on the Turkish coast.
Most of the deaths occur in the Mediterranean, but British readers may remember the horrific case of the fifty-eight Chinese people discovered dead by customs officers in the back of an articulated container lorry in Dover in June 2000. On one of Europe's hottest summer days, the truck's cooling system was turned off, leaving its human cargo to be slowly asphyxiated. According to the two survivors, the victims shouted and clawed at the sides of the container as they suffocated on their macabre ferry journey from the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. The ill-fated Chinese had travelled for four months from Fujian province, via Moscow and the Czech mountains. They were heading for restaurants in London's Chinatown, where there is a shortage of workers because the British-born children of Chinese immigrants prefer to go to university. But although those fifty-eight died, many more keep coming.
United, a European non-governmental-organisation network, has documented over seven thousand deaths caused by Europe's border policies between 1993 and May 2006. Most of the migrants died trying to cross the Mediterranean from North Africa in rickety boats on the way to Italy, Spain, Greece and, more recently, Malta, which joined the EU in 2004. The Economist reckons that around two thousand people a year drown in the Mediterranean on their way from Africa to Europe. These are shockingly high numbers, but the true death toll is probably much higher: most of those who drown in the Mediterranean Sea are never found.
Failing to hold the line on the Mexican border
It's a hot sunny day in October and the Rio Grande looks pretty small from where I'm sitting. The 'Big River' that separates the US from Mexico is actually a thirty-metre-wide concrete gulley overgrown with shrubs and vegetation. On one side is El Paso, Texas, an urban sprawl of 750,000 mostly Mexican Americans.
On the other is Ciudad Juárez, where the Hollywood blockbuster Traffic was filmed, a much bigger and poorer urban sprawl of nearly 1.5 million Mexicans. The twin cities live cheek by jowl–and yet unnaturally separated.
I'm safely ensconced in a patrol van on the American side with Michelle LeBoeuf, a charming third-generation American from Louisiana and a field agent for the US Border Patrol. 'Once you've done this job, you don't want to do any other,' she exclaims. 'You get all the excitement of law enforcement and you get to help people. If you find people who are dying of thirst in the desert, you take them to the hospital and save their lives.' She points to the canal that runs along the Rio Grande on the American side. 'That's the most dangerous place when it's full of water. It's twelve feet deep with slippery walls. The current runs at thirty miles per hour. See that metal rescue box: in there we have ropes we can throw to save anyone who is drowning. We are all trained at swift-water rescue.'
She points to nearby Juárez. 'It's a completely different world over there. I don't know how we can be so close and yet so different,' she remarks, again without noticeable irony. 'I thought it was kinda sad first time I saw it.' As we drive along the border, we pass big white vans with green stripes on them every quarter-mile or so: Michelle's colleagues, who lie in wait to pounce on any Mexicans foolish enough to try crossing in the midday sun. None are, so the Border Patrol sit there looking vaguely bored, their vans lurking menacingly.
Driving along the border is something of an anticlimax. As you head west out of El Paso along a gravel road into New Mexico, the natural border disappears altogether. All that separates the richest country on earth from its much poorer southern neighbour are a few rocks, a scrabble of broken bricks and the odd signpost. But the continuity of the brown dirt and infinity of the desert sky are deceptive: man has drawn an invisible line here–and the Border Patrol are desperately trying to hold it. As well as the vans, they have planes and helicopters at their disposal; noise and movement sensors, nightvision equipment, surveillance cameras and floodlights; dogs, batons and guns. Twenty-five miles in from the border, they man permanent checkpoints on every major highway, with the power to search every vehicle. Their budget has soared in the past ten years as America has sought to clamp down on illegal immigration–and dramatically so since 9/11 made securing the country's borders a priority. In the El Paso sector alone, over three hundred new Border Patrol agents have been recruited in the past year, swelling their ranks to over 1,250, with more reinforcements expected this year and next. 'Most of our agents are Hispanics,' Michelle remarks.
The El Paso sector was the birthplace, back in 1993, of Operation Hold the Line, the Border Patrol's strategy of concentrating their efforts on preventing people crossing in built-up areas. Within the El Paso city limits, seven miles of reinforced chain-link fencing now runs along the US side of the border. 'We used to be overrun,' says Doug Mosier, the spokesman for the El Paso sector. 'Once they get into downtown, you don't know who's who.' Quite deliberately, Operation Hold the Line drives migrants away from the safer crossing points in metropolitan areas, in effect forcing them to take more dangerous routes through mountain and desert areas, where they risk drowning or freezing to death in winter and dying from thirst or heat exposure in summer. As a result, the number of deaths on the borders has soared. The Border Patrol recorded thirty migrant deaths in the El Paso sector alone in fiscal 2005, and rescued nearly fifty people in distress.
The Border Patrol's top priority, Doug says, is preventing terrorism. Curbing illegal migration comes next, followed by combating drug-smuggling. I ask him if the Border Patrol had apprehended any terrorists in the El Paso sector. 'I'm not aware of that,' he replies, although they have caught some people from 'terrorist-watch' countries–the likes of Iran and Syria that are suspected of fomenting terrorism against the US. Some might call people escaping such awful places political refugees.
The Border Patrol may not catch any terrorists, but they do catch some migrants: over 122,000 in 2005 in the El Paso sector alone, up a sixth on the previous year. Those apprehended were nearly all Mexican–and most were repeat offenders. The majority were simply photographed, fingerprinted, added to the Border Patrol computer database and returned to Mexico within a couple of hours. The only impediment to trying again is the $1,500 to $2,000 a head that smugglers, known as 'polleros' or 'coyotes', charge. Migrants who have a criminal record, are not from Mexico or refuse to leave voluntarily are detained until a judge determines what to do with them. But many of those who post bail never show up to the hearing. 'You can't detain 122,000 people a year,' says Doug. 'You have to be practical. We're trying to make the best of a very challenging situation. Is our job difficult? Yes. It's all about manageability and control.' Inevitably, many migrants eventually make it. 'I have no estimate of how many people get through,' he says. 'Different studies come up with different figures.' Indeed, they do: estimates range from as 'few' as 300,000 to as many as a million each year.
Excerpted from Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them by Philippe Legrain. Copyright © 2006 Philippe Legrain. Excerpted by permission of PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Introduction: MIGRATION ISN'T JUST FOR THE BIRDS 1
It's time for fresh thinking about immigration
Chapter 1: WAR ON OUR BORDERS 23
The hidden costs of immigration controls
Chapter 2: BORDER CROSSING 44
How migrants got to where they are now
Chapter 3: WHY WE NEED THE HUDDLED MASSES 61
The case for low-skilled migration
Chapter 4: THE GLOBAL TALENT CONTEST 89
The pros and cons of high-skilled migration
Chapter 5: COSMOPOLITAN AND RICH 117
The economic benefits of diversity
Chapter 6: STEALING OUR JOBS? 133
Do immigrants displace local workers?
Chapter 7: SNOUTS IN OUR TROUGH? 144
Are immigrants a burden on the welfare state?
Chapter 8: OUR HEROES' 161
How migration helps poor countries
Chapter 9: BRAIN DRAIN OR BRAIN GAIN? 179
The costs and benefits of skilled emigration
Chapter 10: IT NEEDN'T BE FOREVER 198
The case for temporary migration
Chapter 11: ALIEN NATION? 207
Does immigration threaten national identity?
Chapter 12: HUNTINGTON AND HISPANICS 226
Is Latino immigration splitting America in two?
Chapter 13: STRANGER, CAN YOU SPARE A DIME? 245
Does immigration threaten social solidarity?
Chapter 14: LEARNING TO LIVE TOGETHER 258
How to integrate immigrants into society
Chapter 15: ILLIBERAL ISLAM? 289
Do Muslim immigrants threaten our security and our way of life?
Chapter 16: OPEN BORDERS 318
Let them in