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Last Updated: Friday, 2 April, 2004, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Ask the experts: Should there be open borders?


  • Transcript


    Many arguments within the migration debate focus on the benefits and drawbacks of people crossing borders.

    Those in favour argue it is essential in a global economy, while those against see it as a threat to nationhood.

    You put your questions to Brunson McKinley of the International Organization for Migration, who says the movement of people is necessary, and Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies in the US, who argues for tighter border controls.



    Transcript

    Jill McGivering:
    Hello and welcome to this interactive forum, I'm Jill McGivering. Today we're debating global migration - is the movement of people a good thing? Should we have open borders or should we have tighter rules governing migration? More people than ever before are crossing borders and embarking on sometimes long and dangerous journeys in search of a better life. Most leave by choice - economic migrants - but some are refugees, forced to flee their countries in fear of persecution.

    Joining me to answer your e-mails is Mark Krikorian from the Center of Immigration Studies who argues for tighter border controls. He joins us from our Washington bureau. Brunson McKinley of the International Organization for Migration who says migration is essential in today's world will be joining us shortly from Geneva.

    Mr Krikorian if I could talk to you first, we've received a huge response from our readers and viewers on this topic, if I could start from one from Jon Irwin in London. He asks simply: Why increase border controls and restrictions on the movements of people as immigration brings different peoples together, it can help different cultures and people to gain better understanding of each other?

    Mark Krikorian:
    [Gap in transmission] ¿ and if as the EU is seeking to lower its various border controls because it wants to create a more unitary system then ending border controls makes sense because it's national sovereignty that is being phased out. But if, as in the case of the United States, which our national sovereignty is not going to be phased out, border controls need to be effective and sustained and unfortunately they're really not all that good right now because a variety of interests don't want borders to be effectively controlled.

    Jill McGivering:
    But if we put it in a slightly more philosophical way if you like, there's an e-mail here come in from Theo Popma in Canada saying simply: International borders are unnecessary and wrong in this day and age, altogether we have to learn to accept immigrants from all countries? And asking what's your view on it.

    Mark Krikorian:
    Well there's - those are two different things. Accepting immigrants that have already been legally admitted into your country is something that is essential and something frankly that many countries in the world, other than the United States or Canada, don't do very well. In other words welcoming and embracing those people who you have already decided to let into your country. But the other question which is immigration policy - how many people to bring in and how to run the system is essential and in fact orders in that sense are not at all anachronistic because - or at least they won't be until the nation state itself is phased out. And those people who oppose border controls oppose the nation state as such and that's a perfectly appropriate position, it's one that I don't share and that very few Americans share.

    Jill McGivering:
    So you're saying essentially that border controls are necessary to maintain the nation state. If I could bring in now please Brunson McKinley who's joining us from Geneva and a question from Vinod Pandeky in Kathmandu in Nepal. He's asking you simply: Why do you think migration is necessary?

    Brunson McKinley:
    Well I think migration is necessary because all countries in the world need workers in one way or another. There's hardly a country that doesn't both send people to live and work in other countries and accept foreign born people to live and work in their own society, whether temporarily or on a permanent basis. It's just a fact of life that as the world is shrinking and globalisation we're getting into a kind of global market in work and in labour and that requires greater facilities and movement of people. Let me say, however, that there are plenty of problems associated with this and the secret is to find balanced policy approaches that allow the world and these countries and the migrants themselves to deal with this in an appropriate, fair, just, useful fashion. It can be done but much more work needs to be done in the policy framework.

    Jill McGivering:
    If I could just follow up on what you're saying though, in a sense you're talking about it largely from the view of the migrants, the need for free movement and there are lots of reasons in terms of globalisation of trade for example. But how would you respond to the views we were hearing from Washington that essentially you need border controls to maintain the integrity of the nation state - the whole system that we have at the moment?

    Brunson McKinley:
    Well I don't disagree with that, there is a place for border controls, I think it is important that people know who's on their territory, what kind of people. What we stand for at ION is a comprehensive approach, a comprehensive approach starts with a good analysis of the needs of the country, all of the countries involved in the process, these fit also with the individual needs of the migrants who want to improve themselves with education or better jobs. They may want to change countries or they may just want to accumulate experience, wealth, contacts and then return to their own country. So you start out with an analysis of the need and then you put it together addressing the other aspects that are also important and there is a law and order concern here. I don't believe in orders which are barriers but I do believe that countries need to know who's on their territory and they need to manage this, they need to get the right people, they need to address their own needs, they need to create a system in which the individuals prosper and the economy and the society prosper too. It can be done, many countries are beginning to do it very effectively and all countries need to do it and the ones who do it do it well, they profit from it.

    Jill McGivering:
    Well in fact we've got an e-mail that seems to be disagreeing with you to an extent on that, let me put that point to you Mark in Washington. It's an e-mail from Bill Raynor from Raleigh in the USA. He's saying: Allowing large numbers of poor foreigners in our country would tax our resources. If a family is rich and allows all the poor to move in with them it's only a matter of time before they become poor as well. What do you make of that?

    Mark Krikorian:
    Well that's a very real phenomenon and it's not a possibility, it's something that the United States and European countries are facing right now. The fact is that importing large numbers of people into countries that have well defined welfare states creates enormous pressures and Milton Friedman, the economist, noted that - he said - "¿it's just obvious, you can't have open immigration and a welfare state." And the fact is that a welfare state, however it is managed, and in the United States we have a much more limited one but we still have a welfare state, is a feature of modern life, it is simply not going to go away. And taking that into account is part of what's necessary in figuring what Mr McKinley referred to as the needs of the receiving country. The labour needs of a receiving country are really a political decision, there is no objective economic standard that says the US economy or the British economy needs this many workers in the next fiscal year, I mean this is entirely a political decision because the economy can adjust to a variety of different answers to that question. But any answer to that question has to take into account the enormous social cost imposed on the taxpayers of a receiving country by the importation of large numbers of unskilled poor people who simply don't pay very much in taxes and use a great deal in services.

    Jill McGivering:
    Okay let me stop you there and give a chance to Brunson in Geneva to give his view. Isn't it economic sense to basically ¿

    Brunson McKinley:
    I would like to respond to that. Let me respond to it. I think perhaps the question sets up the wrong analysis. The question is not should a country open its borders and let any number of poor people in. The question is should it have policies that address its own needs and at the same time address the needs of migrants? There is in fact a world market in labour developing and it's not just a political decision, it's also an economic decision. In fact all of the rich countries have declining population, that means in order to keep their industries, especially their service industries, going at strength they need new influxes of people and these aren't necessarily all poor people who start at the bottom, although as an American I know that many poor people started at the bottom and did very well climbing the ladder very rapidly. But the same phenomenon of migration for work exists at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum. I mean the people who are coming in now are managers of corporations, they're IT specialists, they're construction workers, they're skilled construction workers, they're healthcare workers - doctors, nurses, the people who manage shelters for old people in most of the developed countries tend to be from outside - why is that? It's because there are gaps in the employment structure of the richer countries and those gaps will continue to exist because of long term demographic trends.

    Jill McGivering:
    Can we pick up then on that issue of ageing population. Perhaps I could put this to you Mark in Washington. We've had a couple of e-mails making that point, one from Elemer Briceno in Finland saying: Ageing countries whose populations are getting older need immigration in order to boost their economies. Another one from Luc Giguere in Montreal in Canada saying: With birth rates falling in Europe immigration is essential to keep Europe alive. And he's asking what's the best model for Europe - the American melting pot or the Canadian multiculturalism? Isn't there an argument that actually we do need some regeneration from outside the developed world?

    Mark Krikorian:
    This is an assumption that people, pretty much universally, make and it's completely without foundation. The fact is that developed countries' populations are getting older overall because of lower birth rates but the same thing is happening in Mexico and China and everywhere else, it is simply a feature of modernisation that birth rates fall and that populations on average get older. The question is, and you have to think about this in the future, if the only solution to an ageing population is importing people from the outside what is China going to do in 20 years? China's population, if anything, is ageing quite rapidly and it's entirely possible within 20 or 30 years China will have a higher average age than the United States because the United States actually is one country whose population is not declining in the industrialised world and even without immigration it would not be declining. The fact is that a market economy in a large highly sophisticated economy can adjust to changes in the age structure through increased mechanisation and other ways of improving the productivity of the remaining workers and in fact the economy is likely to do better in the long run that way than through importing low skilled people to do labour intensive work in the way that it's always been done.

    Jill McGivering:
    Brunson in Geneva what's your view on that? Is ageing perhaps not the point and certainly not a developing/developed world divide in the way it's sometimes portrayed?

    Brunson McKinley:
    It's certainly very much the point today and in the decades to come. It may be that in due course when the large gaps exist between the rich countries and poor countries are narrowed that there will be other solutions. In the meantime I think it's inevitable that one of the solutions, but only one of the solutions not the only solution, will be some movement from countries with ageing and shrinking populations or two countries with ageing and shrinking populations from those countries where their population has not yet begun to reach normal replacement levels and where you have a lot of educated people. It isn't all people coming in at the lower end, that's one of the myths. A lot of the people who are coming in are highly trained, well educated people who get good jobs, make a lot of money and take it home with them or send it home to them. So it's an important contributor to the world economy in its present state. At some point, who knows, we may see an equalisation, we may see a balance. In the meantime lots of countries survive on the money which is sent back by the workers and the professionals who are outside their country and earning and saving and investing back home and supporting their families back home. So right now it's a very, very important factor in the entire world economy. And the best way to cope with this is to manage it properly, so that you maximise the benefits and you get rid of some of the disadvantages, you get rid of the abuses, you get rid of the illegality, you get rid of the smuggling and the rest, that's what you've got to do, you've got to find a way to manage this complicated system. It's not the be all and end all, it's not the only answer, but it is an answer and the way to do it is forthrightly and humanely and let's get on with the job.

    Jill McGivering:
    Can we move on to one of the issues that a lot of people are expressing concern about in this issue of migration and that's the terrorist threat, we've had a few e-mails on that. One from Jason Sexton in Las Vegas in the USA saying: Uninhibited movement between borders will hinder our efforts to catch criminals and terrorists. What do you feel about that? Another one from Lagos in Nigeria, from Tayo Adekoya saying: In view of all the terrorist attacks don't you think free movement of people will only make it worse? Brunson would you like to answer that first?

    Brunson McKinley:
    Well I'd like to comment on that a little bit. I mean the question of regulatory and monitoring the flow of people is very important, also in terms of national security and law and order. But the movement of people is also very important in terms of the operation of our globalised economies. So what you have to do is strike a balance. You have to find a way to encourage and facilitate the movement of people. Our economies are all often very dependent on the movement of people - managers, teachers, students and the rest. If you try to isolate yourself and make it very difficult to gain entry you're penalising your economy, you're penalising your society. That said, yes you do have to find ways to identify and cope with the one hundredth of one thousandth of one per cent of those travellers who pose a threat to the society and the country they're trying to enter. It's not easy but it can be done, using technology, using proper methodology, you can find ways to speed legitimate travellers on their way, it's very important for our economies, while blocking and stopping those that need to be kept out of your country.

    Jill McGivering:
    Okay, Mark in Washington how do you get the balance right between the dangers of isolation essentially and at the same time the need to try and cope with the very real threat of dealing with terrorism?

    Mark Krikorian:
    While let me first put in context the size of this issue. In the whole world there are only 175 million people who live outside the nation of their birth. That may sound like a big number but when we're talking about 6 billion plus people on the planet it really isn't all that great, it's almost the margin of error in calculating the world population. So this is an issue that's important for specific countries in very specific sectors but it is not frankly as big a deal as some people would present it. But as far as terrorism goes it is in fact pretty important because terrorism, the kind of Islamic terrorism that the United States and Europe is now confronting, comes from the outside primarily and there are two issues to consider here. One is the administrative capacity of various governments to actually do the kind of screening that Mr McKinley even supports. In the United States our immigration authorities are completely overwhelmed, I mean they are swamped in a way that almost defies description. And the idea that we need to continue admitting one million plus immigrants each year, in addition to hundreds of thousands of people who are called non-immigrants, in other words foreign students and what have you, the idea that we have the administrative capacity to continue that without penetration by terrorists is fantasy, I mean it is just not the case. The other issue is the fact that immigrant communities form, as Mao would have said, the sea within which terrorists swim. And this is an issue, even a bigger problem, for Europe than it is for the United States. The fact is that immigration - ongoing immigration - refreshes the ties and the networks that keep immigrant communities tied to sending countries and slow and inhibit assimilation. And a hundred years ago that may not have been that big a deal for the United States, in particular, because travel was difficult and slow and communication was very expensive. In a modern Europe of easy and quick transportation and communications ongoing ties between immigrant communities and their sending countries frankly is a real security problem that governments are not really wanting to confront for political reasons but they're going to have to.

    Jill McGivering:
    Mark forgive me for interrupting, if I could just move on to another area. We've been talking largely about the impact for the host country, if you like, for the developed world, we've just had an e-mail in from Avan Clarke in Tonbridge in England putting the point slightly the other way round, saying: Shouldn't migrants rather stay at home and help their own country? And could I put that question to you Brunson in Geneva?

    Brunson McKinley:
    Yes well migrants do of course, most of them, want to help their home country. The way they help their home country, if they choose the migration route, is by going, studying, working, living in a foreign country, saving some money, making some contacts, learning new techniques and then going back and investing in their own country. Now this happens much more frequently than you might think. If today you look at the typical migrant pattern it's not so much people who want to change nationality and go live permanently and raise their children in a new society and become citizens of that new society - that still exists, some countries continue to use that model and do pretty well with it - but more and more people want to go in order to improve themselves, save some money and then go home. And that kind of flow is becoming much more typical and I think it's very, very beneficial. It benefits everybody - it benefits the country of origin, it benefits the country of destination, it certainly benefits the migrant who has an opportunity that may not exist in his own home country and that's what it's all about - it's seeking new and better opportunities.

    Jill McGivering:
    Sorry to break in, we're starting to run out of time. Thank you very much indeed Brunson McKinley of the IOM for joining us from Geneva, thank you. And if I could just put one last question to you Mark in Washington, it's a question really about sharing, it's from Marcelo Kalil in London in the UK and he's saying: Isn't it only fair that Western developed countries share their wealth and land after centuries of exploration in other countries?

    Mark Krikorian:
    Well the answer is no. A nation does what's in the interests of its own citizens, not what's in the interests of people overseas, number one. Number two, even if that were advisable immigration simply cannot do that, there is simply no possibility for a significant enough portion of the poor or even of the new population growth in any developing country to leave and go to the developed world, it simply cannot be a vehicle for that kind of thing. And so the developing nations of the world, whether it's Mexico or Algeria or any other major sending country, need to improve themselves at home, if they're ever going to reach modern levels of development.

    Jill McGivering:
    Well obviously not everyone is trying to migrate but I suppose it also brings in a philosophical question and we did have one question essentially saying basically isn't this a human right, if the quality of your life is to a major extent determined by where you're born isn't economic migration a basic human right?

    Mark Krikorian:
    Well if it were then the logical conclusion would be that nations are not - there is no concept of a nation state, they're not sovereign and people are free to move wherever they want and that the economic standards in the developed world need to be lowered until they reach the standards of everywhere else in the world. You can take that position, I reject it and I'd have to say that the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the developed world reject that. So it's really a question more of democracy - do the people of the United States or the EU or Japan get to decide what happens to themselves or does someone else decide what happens to their societies? And I vote for democracy, people may vote in a different way.

    Jill McGivering:
    Thank you for joining us and I'm afraid that's all we have time for. Thank you for the many questions you've sent us on this issue and my thanks, in particular, to our guests - Mark Krikorian in Washington and Brunson McKinley in Geneva. You can keep contributing to our debate on migration by visiting our special site at www.bbcnews.com/migration but from me, Jill McGivering, and the rest of the News Interactive team goodbye.





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