By Ahmed E Souaiaia*
David Frum’s cover story, callously titled, How Much Immigration Is Too Much, is an illustrative example of crude opinions rooted in alternative facts
David Frum’s basic argument is this: The Global South is a shithole, from where all people, especially the “strivers” want to escape to the developed world. The developed world cannot accommodate them and for this reason mainstream politicians should act, or else fascists will rise. The author willfully ignores two basic facts that are the root causes of migration, the uncertain journey to the unknown some people undertake, leaving behind their homeland and their relatives. First, people, like most animals, seek places with concentration of resources. Concentration of resources often result from hoarding and monopolies. Second, mass migration is directly proportional to severity of violent conflicts, corruption, and instability. In other words, people migrate to escape war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, crime, instability, insecurity, and absence of rule of law.
Hoarding is achieved through legal, political, and military instruments. For instance, many poor countries can develop medicine, technologies, and products domestically and with a fraction of the cost of US counterparts. However, patent and intellectual laws prevent indigenous scientists for producing them domestically. People in Bangladesh, for instance, have died because they could not afford to buy US made malaria medicine and because Bangladeshi scientists were prohibited from producing it, though they can do so affordably. There should be a fair arrangement that protects innovation rights while accommodating underdeveloped countries through creative licensing schemes. The side benefit of such accommodation will be few Bangladeshis needing to move to the Global North to escape malaria-caused deaths for example. If Global South countries are not forced into unfair trade deals, their people would not be forced to seek resources and stability elsewhere.
Considering the role played by United States governments since the world wars of the first half of the 20th century, it is easy to see that the largest waves of migrants to the US came from countries that were destabilized through US (and/or allies) military interventions or clandestine operations. Mass migration from Vietnam, for example, was caused by US war in that country. The same applies to people from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Iraq (after the early 1990’s war), Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (after the 2003 invasion), Syria, and Libya. And expect the same if the politicization of humanitarian aid in Venezuela persists.
Frum claims that the Global North is disproportionately burdened by the migration waves. That claim, too, is false. According to the most recent data, the least developed countries provided refuge to one-third of the global total of these displaced people–6.7 million. Consider Lebanon, for example: It is hosting as many Syrians as nearly a quarter of its population. Wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE are hosting none.
Here are some facts, to put the above points in context.
According to reports by the UNHCR, in 2017, 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to violent conflicts; the top five countries are places destabilized directly or indirectly by the Global North:
- Syria — 6.3 million refugees
- Iraq — 3.1 million refugees
- Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees
- Yemen — 2.5 million refugees
- Libya – 1.2 million refugees
- Somalia — 986,400 refugees
Frum’s argument, is similar to the popular rhetorical narrative that says, people come to America because America is the greatest country on earth and people want to benefit from all the social and economic welfare programs in America. In other words, people migrate because they want free stuff. That is far from the truth. If social and economic welfare is the primary motive behind migration, people, including some Americans, would be lining up to migrate to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, and/or Netherlands because all these countries have standard of living, healthcare, and entitlements programs that are better than those in the United States. But migrants, if they must migrate and if given the choice, will come to America to escape the uncertainty and instability (tariffs, sanctions, sabotage, military action) that America can unleash around the world, including on those European countries with better social programs. Logically, if one must leave their home to escape instability, would it not make sense to move into the home of the source of that instability and the place least likely to be made unstable by other countries. US administrations’ propensity to shut down the economy and normal life in any other country is the main reason it is desired by the peoples whose countries are destabilized by US administrations’ actions. No one wants to leave a home where the fruits of their labor can be safe and secure for them and for their children. However, if there is a bully who can and does turn the controls of normal life on and off at will, it is only reasonable for one to seek refuge where that bully is unlikely to tinker with people’s life and livelihood: in the bully’s home. This truth is self-evident and that is why some anti-immigrant extremists, like Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions, embraced broad new policies that included making life for immigrants hellishly undesired to not only shutdown immigration but also to force recent migrants out of the United States of America.
Here are a couple of ideas to limit and or even stop migration. First, the wealthy Global North should stop hoarding resources and exploiting other peoples. Share. Second, the Global North should stop waging wars on, interfering in, and destabilizing the Global South countries.
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.