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Migrant Solidarity

Migrants should not to be held to blame for Britain's economic difficulties, Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour Party leader, warned. Syrian refugees did not trade in credit default swaps and crash the economy. East European builders and technicians did not slash funding for children's centres and libraries. What we need is leadership that does not stoop to preying on those anxieties and blaming people who look differently, talk a different language or dress differently, for the mess that we're in.”

The immigration debate has become mired in myths, falsehoods and half-truths, with little clarity among liberals or conservatives alike. Conservatives think there’s nothing wrong with defending the border because, after all, every sovereign nation should have that right. Liberals concede the point, but modify it a bit by claiming exception for the good immigrants such as bonafide asylum seekers. Both like to say, “I’m for legal immigration, but against illegal immigration.” What is going on? Why have so many countries turned so anti-immigrant despite often being nations of immigrants.

There is nothing new or exceptional about human migration. The earliest humans ventured out from Africa to populate the planet. Today, there is one fact that stands out: A growing number of desperate people are fleeing violence and starvation. According to a 2015 UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report, 65.3 million people were forcibly displaced by conflict or persecution in 2015, the most since the aftermath of World War II. It is the highest percentage of the total world population since UNHCR began collecting data on displaced persons in 1951. Of those currently displaced outside their countries of origin, Syrians make up the largest number, at 4.9 million.

Most who have no direct experience with the immigration system are easily misled by xenophobic claims that often sound commonsensical, such as the false notion that immigrants drive down wages and make natives lose their jobs. They passively accept the myths. What many don’t realize is that each time a right is taken away from immigrants, with implied consent, it eventually affects citizens’ rights too. To remain distant from the issue is no longer an option for any of us. Once we go down that path and create two regimes of law, one for citizens and one for everyone else, then it is inevitable that the regime created for immigrants will start affecting citizens as well, and constitutional rights will become restricted for all, as indeed has been the case in the last few decades. We cannot pretend anymore that what happens to “them,” as immigrants, does not affect “us,” as citizens. In every area of law, from the rights of consumers against corporations to the rights of citizens against the police, we have seen a drastic diminishment. Much of that has to do with our callousness toward immigrants. Migration is a human right. A person anywhere in the world has the right to migrate, just as there is a right to free speech or association. In fact, most other rights follow from the right to migrate. If governments are allowed to lock people up behind walls, then it’s only a matter of time before other rights will dissipate too. If we do not recognize migration as an inviolable human right, and if we do not give up the idea of the wall, we are bound to lose human rights for all of us.

Many people often compare the nation to a house, arguing that immigrants who enter without permission or overstay their visas are like trespassers (Netanyahu's Israel describe migrants as infiltrators) whom we have every right to detain and expel. But a country, or even a state or a city or a neighbourhood, is not a house (just as it is simplistic to compare a country’s budget to a household’s). The nation is an abstraction.

Today immigrants are treated as criminals for their violations, with deportation as the ultimate life-altering penalty, and yet immigrants are not provided the rights due to a criminal defendant. Immigration is and always has been a civil matter; it is not a crime to be present without authorization. We have in essence two sets of laws, one for immigrants, who do not have the rights of defendants when charged with “crimes,” and one for everyone else. The only solution to this anomaly is to cease treating immigration violations as crimes, and for there to be a complete end to detention for immigration. If an immigrant commits a crime, he or she should be prosecuted under normal laws, as a criminal defendant, not as a “criminal alien.” Ultimately, the only solution is to reduce the complexities, to end the web of regulations and exceptions — which, just as in corporate law, favor the powerful at the expense of the weak — and finally to do away with immigration laws altogether. Immigration should become a purely voluntary affair. As soon as a person steps on our soil, he or she should have full constitutional rights, so that he is not subject to exploitation. Why can’t we visualize immigration without government regulation? We certainly did very well with that regime before the introduction of passports and visas.

 Why scapegoating is common and why it works is that it is easy to distract people from what is truly harming them by pointing to the obvious outsiders. Scapegoating immigrants absolves the true culprit—neoliberal capitalism 

As long as open borders for capital to move freely exist, taking jobs and bringing predatory capitalism wherever it wants with total freedom, then labour should have the freedom to move freely between borders in response. If capitalism leads to people losing jobs, and immigrants being discriminated, and hated…then why not do away with capitalism?


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