The seamy underbelly of migration

More opportunities for legal immigration reduce dangerous alternatives.

by Uttam Das

Mr. X, whose name is withheld for confidentiality, is an immigrant from Burma who now holds a green card and permanently resides in California. He has a wife and three children between 2 and 10 years old. Mr. X had become interested, over the years, in bringing his only sister to America to facilitate her higher studies. Unfortunately, Mr. X found he could not sponsor his sisterâÄôs immigration to the United States until he became naturalized, which could take three or four years. Motivated by risky success stories, Mr. X arranged for his sister to âÄúmarryâÄù a Burmese immigrant in America to facilitate her journey. The so-called bridegroom received $20,000 for the service. While the two traveled through Bangkok on their way home, immigration authorities smelled something wrong and eventually unearthed the arrangement. The âÄúcoupleâÄù had to serve detention there for traveling with forged documents. Mr. XâÄôs sister never made it to the U.S. Mr. Y of Bangladesh is in his mid-20s. He has attempted six times to go to Italy, paying human smugglers almost $15,000. He is still waiting. Stories like these are all true realities in developing and underdeveloped countries âÄî countries that have yet to recognize the economic benefits of globalization. I attended a two-day conference on migration issues in New York last month. It was jointly organized by the International Organization for Migration and the Center for Migration Studies. It was aimed to âÄúexamine legal and policy perspectives on irregular migration.âÄù A lot of the discussion between attending senior diplomats, U.N. officials, academic experts and advocates centered on U.S. immigration. When talking about immigration, we need to remember this country needs migrant workers for its own economy. According to IOM, human mobility that takes place outside the procedures established by a state is irregular, or undocumented, migration. However, immigration restrictions and backlogs force individuals to risk their own lives or pay significant amounts of money to enter the U.S., causing some to fall into an exploitative situation. According to press reports, desperate youth from impoverished Chinese territories pay $40,000 to human smugglers just to facilitate entry into the mainland U.S. This is also true for migrants from other Asian, Eastern European, African, Central and Latin American countries. As a destination country, the U.S. holds all rights to manage its own borders, immigration and naturalization systems. Surely, the economy and national security dictate parts of immigration policy. Gabriela Villareal, Immigration Advocacy Policy Coordinator of the New York Immigration Coalition, could not control her emotions when she explained that as a U.S. citizen, if she applies today to sponsor her siblingsâÄô emigration from the Philippines, it would take 20 to 22 years, despite the fact that our country has immediate need for migrant workers. There was no one to give a logical answer to Villareal, but all underscored the need for an immigration overhaul. The New York conference recommended the formulation and implementation of comprehensive policies, laws and administrative arrangements to address immigration issues progressively given national, regional and international priorities. Consistency with international legal and human rights norms and practices is needed. A 2009 study of the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs showed that increased opportunities for legal migration could curb riskier migration. At the conference, United Nations Development Programme Administrator and former Prime Minister of New Zealand Helen Clark commented, âÄúIf there are legal options for migration, that makes a choice. If not, that drives one to migrate in an illegal way.âÄù Uttam Das welcomes comments at [email protected]