11 June 2024

Myths and Political Realities of the ‘Migration Wars’

Jose Miguel Alonso-Trabanco

Immigration is often portrayed as a grassroots phenomenon driven mostly by the spontaneous human agency of individuals in the pursuit of better opportunities and higher living standards. It is believed that the involvement of states in the governance structure of international migration should be limited so that formal migratory restrictions are either abolished or substantially diminished. Based on this logic, the opinions of NGOs, activists and companies that need either cheap unskilled labor or a qualified workforce matter more than what governmental authorities have to say. In today’s interconnected world, widespread immigration is a benign hallmark of globalization, a solution for the issue of manpower shortages and a source of cultural syncretism.

The idea that migrations are somehow apolitical is historically illiterate. For centuries, the proliferation of migratory waves has been symbiotically interwoven with conquests, wars, the organic conformation of national states, the development of international mercantile networks, the management of imperial bureaucracies, the diffusion of religious beliefs at gunpoint, expansionist ideological projects, the rise of distinctive collective identities and the exchange of populations. Throughout recorded history, intrepid migrants have left their mark as settlers, merchants, soldiers, statesmen, invaders, pioneers, innovators and frontiersmen. And in this age, this demographic phenomenon is indeed —for better or worse— a key vector of complex interdependence as a result of its sheer volume and dynamism.

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