Exodus: How Migration Is Changing Our World
Oxford University Press, 2013, 320 pp., $27.95
The Price of Rights: Regulating International Labor Migration
Princeton University Press, 2013, 272 pp., $35
Legal Integration of Islam: A Transatlantic Comparison
Harvard University Press, 2013, 224 pp., $39.95
The Politics of Belonging: Race, Public Opinion, and Immigration
University of Chicago Press, 2013, 272 pp., $85
On July 4, 1984, the Wall Street Journal called for a laissez faire immigration policy, allowing labor to flow as freely as goods. The editors asked, would anyone “want to ‘control the borders’ at the moral expense of a 2,000-mile Berlin Wall with minefields, dogs and machine-gun towers?” Answering no, the editors proposed a constitutional amendment: “There shall be open borders.”
The Journal has kept beating that drum over the past three decades, reflecting the views of American business, which generally believes that the more immigrants, the better. Most Americans, however, see things differently, as do the two major political parties. Republicans have been striving to heighten the already high barriers at the U.S.-Mexico border, while pushing to reduce rights and entitlements for immigrants living on U.S. soil. Not wanting to appear soft on lawbreakers, Democrats have generally played along, with deportations reaching an all-time high even under a President eager for Latino votes.
Similar challenges appear elsewhere. After 1945, Western Europe looked for workers abroad, only later to learn it had instead received actual people. Struggling to integrate the guestworkers’ children and grandchildren, the Europeans are now striving to tap into global flows of high-skilled labor while simultaneously keeping unwanted newcomers off the old continent.
While most Europeans and Americans are convinced that their borders are out of control, from the developing world the migration controls imposed by the U.S. government and the other rich democracies appear all too effective. Few Americans appreciate the fact, but one reason for increased illegal immigration from Mexico in recent decades was the tightening of U.S. border controls; there was less incentive to stay illegally in the United States when it was so much easier to just come and go more or less as one pleased and as the seasons and job opportunities rolled along. Doors to international trade in goods and services have massively widened, leading differences in international prices for goods to drop, but differences in international wages have grown immensely, making the economic incentive to migrate even greater than before. Although migration entails social and psychological costs that deter many potential movers, evidence indicates the ample readiness to migrate. One Gallup poll estimates that 700 million people wish to migrate permanently: among them, 6.2 million Mexicans and fully half of the population of El Salvador, Haiti, and Ethiopia. Of course, far fewer ever do leave.
Put in historical perspective, it is safe to say that more people, and people from a greater variety of nations, are crossing national borders today than at any time since the modern state system came into being, and that still more would do so if they could. The cumulative implications for global economy and comity are as enormous as they are generally underappreciated.
In restricting migration, governments of course do what their people want. Public opposition to open borders is near-universal; majorities want tougher, not looser, controls on the border in virtually all economically advanced countries, and even in many that are not as wealthy. Yet a growing number of economists echo the migration policy views of the Wall Street Journal, though not necessarily for the same reasons. Migration is good for migrants, too, and arguably for their home countries as well. The developed world’s difficult, dirty, and dangerous jobs yield wages far higher than those that could be made at home; the migrants’ children are also healthier, and better educated. These gains come at little expense to the native population: Years of research have shown that increased migration has little impact on native workers, since migrants tend to compete with prior migrants. And one could still do a lot better, since, as the Center for Global Development’s Michael Clemens recently put it, the obstacles to immigration are leaving trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk. Translation: Restricted labor markets are preventing factor endowments from attaining their most efficient matches, which raises costs and inhibits income gains over all.
As it turns out, there is no need to execute the Journal’s program in order to improve matters for the world’s poor: If rich countries would let their labor force rise by a mere 3 percent, the gains to poor country citizens, through a combination of remittances and the higher wages earned by immigrants, would exceed the costs of foreign aid by a factor of almost five. So why not open the doors even just a wee bit wider?
Paul Collier’s brilliant book, Exodus, explains why a migration doorkeeper needs to be kept in place. Though the immigrants moving from the developing to the developed world are responding to economic signals, focusing just on dollars or euros can’t explain why moving from one country to another can do so much good. Migrants are voting with their feet against one particular type of society and for another, one organized in a way that promotes economic growth, provides quality public services, invests in future productivity, and maintains public order. The combination of rules, norms, and institutions that constitutes what Collier, an Oxford development economist and author of the much-praised book, The Bottom Billion (2007), calls a social model varies from one developed country to the next, but, in his view, only in the details. What matters is that each one is a community, held together by the mutual regard that nationals have for one another. That idealized image of the nation—a broad, family-like group of people responsible for taking care of one other—invariably diverges a little or a lot from reality. But the resulting nations are successful enough, which is why the society, not just its economy, is what attracts the newcomers.
Hence, implementing the Wall Street Journal’s program may wind up throwing out the baby with the bathwater, since the same social model that attracts the immigrants depends on the stability and coherence of the same society that they join. However, the possibility that pro-migration ideologues might gain control of policy is not Collier’s chief worry; rather, his concerns stem from the fact that migration to the developed world has accelerated greatly. Because migration feeds on itself—migration tends to produce more migration—the rate of change is ratcheting up, possibly hitting a point where governments will take drastic measures that will serve no one well.
Ironically, the crucial variable involves the size and characteristics of the society of migrants—what Collier calls the diaspora. While numbers matter, even more important is the society and culture with which the immigrants identify: Is it primarily with the people left behind or is it with the country of adoption? Anticipating that the immigrants will remain firmly attached to their compatriots, he expects the initial wave of immigrants to help out newcomers, facilitating movement to a strange land. As numbers grow, the migrants then find it easier to stick together, making contact with the extant native majority increasingly infrequent. Not every group is as likely as another to cling to its own kind, but those from societies where the social model is especially foreign to their new home’s model are the least likely to assimilate. While many migrants are reacting against the dysfunctional social models that compelled them to emigrate, they also unwittingly import aspects of those social models, with negative consequences for the functioning of the society they join.
So far, migration has been too modest to yield truly dire consequences; indeed, Collier concedes that the evidence of migration’s social cost is at best ambiguous. But as he insists throughout the book, policymakers and voters should focus on the consequences of increases in the rate of new arrivals, not on the size of the migration that has occurred to date. For that reason, keeping doors open for migration, and possibly even widening them slightly, depends on finding the mix of immigrant selection and assimilation policies that will make for reasonably quick absorption.
Whether one should be as worried about the prospects for absorption as Collier suggests is not clear. Migration is not just good for migrants in a material sense; it transforms them in a deeper way, making them increasingly similar to the people among whom they live. The migrants come looking for a better life, and that search often compels them to adapt—and if not the original migrants, then certainly their children. They acquire skills and competencies that make their new world easier to navigate and produce the progress they sought from the start. For proof that absorption is efficiently underway, one can compare the migrants to the stay-at-homes they’ve left behind. As Collier shows, migrants export the lessons learned from life abroad—such as the experience of democracy—back to the people and places they left behind. That stands to reason, since the migrants themselves quickly perceive and appreciate the advantages of the social model that makes movement to a new country such a good idea.
Collier thinks of immigration policy as primarily a matter of determining numbers and types; no less important are the rights that migrants may enjoy, as insightfully argued by Martin Ruhs, another Oxford economist. In a sense, the word “immigrant” leads one astray, since the phenomenon doesn’t just entail the social experience of strangers moving to a strange land, but also the presence of foreigners, all of whom begin as aliens who lack full legal rights and entitlements. Unlike citizens, who are legal equals, migrants are legally underendowed. They may be refugees, temporary workers or undocumented immigrants as well as lawful permanent residents, and their pathway to equal citizenship is not the same in all cases. Even lawful permanent residents typically cannot vote. Refugees have an additional set of entitlements, as governments typically subsidize the initial costs of their settlement. By contrast, legal temporary immigrant workers—think Indian software engineers in Silicon Valley, Jamaican apple-pickers up and down the east coast, young Europeans working U.S. hotels and restaurants during the summer—have neither state-provided financial aid nor a full table of rights.
Whether called “non-immigrants” in official parlance or “guestworkers” in the colloquial of the migration policy debate, the logic underlying the policy is much the same: Get the economic benefits of migration without its social costs and political complications. Extra hands and brains can be sent home when no longer needed. To keep migration’s fiscal costs in check, even democracies limit access to social services and public benefits; those that recruit temporary workers to fill shortages often also curtail the right to change a job. Since flexibility declines with settlement and fiscal costs rise when dependents arrive, long-term settlement is often off the table and options for family reunion—enjoyed by lawful permanent residents and citizens—remain far out of reach.
Nor is eventual access to full rights guaranteed: Citizenship is discretionary and some states are a great deal more generous than others. Even in the United States, where tradition and history make access to citizenship relatively easy, most immigrants are still foreigners, remaining so for long periods of time. In the Persian Gulf, by contrast, where immigrant densities dwarf those found in the United States, citizenship is an impermeable barrier that virtually no foreigner can cross.
The title of Ruhs’s book telegraphs its uncomfortable message: Rights for migrant workers have a price. Like Collier, Ruhs understands that migration is good for the migrants; that migration does good things for the relatives and communities left behind through the monies that migrants remit; and that, when done properly, migration can help native workers rather than harm them by enlarging the economy, thus facilitating their upward economic mobility. Like Collier, he also realizes that the residents of the receiving countries are often wary of or explicitly opposed to expanded migration, and that those preferences demand respect—especially since what really draws migrants is precisely the national cohesion of the societies to which they come. Hence, there is no free lunch—not for migrants, nor for the countries that send them, nor for those that receive them.
Surveying temporary-worker programs around the world, Ruhs shows that rights are strongly correlated with skills. Countries can only attract high-skilled temporary workers when they treat them well. By contrast, a job suffices to attract temporary low-skilled workers, which is why, even under the best conditions, rights for family reunion and many other entitlements are usually off the table. For receiving countries there is also the peril of the temporary-worker mirage, since, as a wag once put it, there is nothing as permanent as a temporary-worker program.
The problem is finding the right balance. The idea that migrant workers should themselves bear the price of their decision leaves human rights groups understandably upset. But as Ruhs demonstrates, equalizing conditions is expensive, and has the effect of diminishing offerings to work. Sending countries face the dilemma in particularly acute form. They want jobs for their nationals and remittances for the families at home, yet they also seek to protect migrants from the type of exploitation that runs particularly rampant in the Persian Gulf. The balancing act is challenging: If, for example, exploitation in Saudi Arabia gets truly out of hand, labor exporting countries are sometimes willing to ban migration to the Kingdom, but usually not for too long, lest some other country grab its labor market share in a kind of race to the bottom.
Can one do better? The question is not academic, at least not for the United States, where comprehensive immigration reform, assuming it ever happens, is likely to involve an expanded temporary-worker program. Unfortunately, finding the right answer is tough and, as always, the devil is in the details. While there is no one identifiable sweet spot, there may be an acceptable balance that ensures core civil and labor rights, access to contributory benefits, and a transition process to permanent status but no more, along with incentives to increase the likelihood that temporary migrants actually go home.
The pity of Ruhs’s book is that something like it wasn’t available fifty or even forty years ago. Had it been, European policymakers might have managed their guestworker programs differently, or at least entered the process with their eyes wide open. But as usually happens, short-term thinking prevailed, with no Plan B to fall back on when Plan A went awry, which is why European Union countries now host millions of Muslims originally from North Africa and the Middle East along with their descendants. To one extent or another, these communities are problematic in every EU country, and so far not one of several approaches to solving these problems has worked very well, the main consequence being to increasingly pollute European politics with xenophobic sludge. In a sense, Joppke and Torpey’s book on The Legal Integration of Islam is an extended meditation on the consequences of that failure.
This tough-minded, well-written book by a German-American team of sociologists asks the key, difficult question: How can the liberal societies of the West accommodate Islam when that often requires the tolerant to tolerate the intolerant? This is why, as the authors point out, anyone wanting to immigrate to Holland must first watch a DVD with pictures of semi-nude women bathers and gay men kissing one another. Dutch authorities want to make sure folks know what they’re getting into. But if wearing a burka or a turban, let alone a rather modest, ever-so-fashionable headscarf is my preferred way of doing my thing, why isn’t that ok? Figuring out just where one person’s religious freedom impinges on the freedom of a society to define itself as secular turns out to be no small puzzle. It gets still harder when a small but determined groups acting in the name of Islam are willing to wreak vengeance on societies in which a growing number of Muslims have chosen to live.
These two philosophically inclined sociologists pursue these questions through a Transatlantic comparison, contrasting France and Germany on the one hand, with Canada and the United States on the other. The classical immigration states have found accommodation easier, the United States even more so than its neighbor to the north. Both have enjoyed the good fortune of getting a selective migration from Muslim lands: Unlike the Europeans, who recruited illiterate peasants concentrated in national groups to work in coal mines and assembly lines, North America became home to well-educated Muslim professionals of diverse national backgrounds, equipped with the skills that have generally made for successful assimilation. While the attack on the Twin Towers raised the specter of an anti-Muslim backlash, in the end the response was highly tempered. Since being religious is still as American as apple pie, the fact that Muslims attend mosques rather than churches or synagogues simply makes Islam another faith to be woven into the ever-diversifying U.S. religious tapestry. If public school districts can suspend classes for the Jewish high holy days when large numbers of students or teachers are Jewish—and if New York City can adjust its sacred alternate-side-of-the-street parking for the same purpose—why can’t the same be done for Ramadan or the Eid in comparable circumstances?
The adjustment has proven a bit rockier in Canada, in part, because Canadian multiculturalism commits the state to accommodating and possibly protecting not just individual but also group rights—not entirely unlike the French laïcité or German system, where, despite their different origins, religious groups are expected to be organized in such a way as to deal with the government as corporate entities. That approach can work, but things get complicated when one can’t determine whether a person in question is acting under his or her own free will or not. Faith-based family law arbitration had been quietly enforced under Ontario law until 2004, when a Toronto-based Islamic organization announced that it would begin conducting arbitration in accordance with Islamic law and the province’s 1991 Arbitration Act. Might that include or open the way to the female circumcision of minors, for example? No one quite seemed to know. What had until then been good for the goose—Orthodox Jews, Ismailis, and even some Christian groups—turned out to be bad for the gander as controversy erupted.
The protest revealed that Canadian Muslims were hardly a monolith, as some of the fiercest opposition to Islamic-based arbitration came from other Muslim groups, contending that state acceptance of group rights would threaten vulnerable individuals, notably women and children. In the end, the province simply banned religious-based arbitration, regardless of faith. But if that decision solved the immediate political problem, it left the underlying issue still on the table: how to protect religious freedom when religious views are themselves illiberal and lead to authoritarian coercion within delimited religious communities.
Joppke and Torpey’s chapters on France and Germany demonstrate that both have struggled mightily to resolve these issues and on far more difficult terrain. Since each starts off with a radically different history of church-state relations, each has attacked the problem in a different way. Separating the state from religion, France has sought to keep the state free from all traces of religion, going so far as to ban the wearing of burkas in public space. This is an action that French courts—ultimately overridden by the Parliament—viewed as an unacceptable limitation on individual freedom.1 The integration of religious communities into society takes a different form in Germany, where established religions have public status and functions, raising the question of whether and how Islam should be admitted to that club. So far, those doors remain closed, though the authors suggest that a side entrance may soon open, especially since adding instruction in Islamic doctrine to the religious teaching in public schools that the state has long supported is seen by Catholic and Protestant church leaders as protection against the secular alternative of teaching “mere” ethics.
Joppke and Torpey find no “best way” of integrating Islam, though they are willing to give these four countries a modest pat on the back: in a relatively short and troubled time, they have all come a long way. And despite the various noisy controversies they survey, the reader takes away an important and fundamentally optimistic message: All four countries are seeking, however stumblingly, to include Islam as a full, religious equal. That might help Islamic communities to feel more at home, to assimilate more readily, and, perhaps, even to export a more tolerant form of Islam back to their lands of origin.
But one could say that this question is relatively easy to solve. After all, Muslim citizens—like their Jewish, Christian Scientist, atheist, and vegetarian counterparts—are all one of “us”, legally entitled to the same set of rights once they or their offspring cease being nationals of another country. One may not look favorably on the many different flavors of the American people, and no one says that one has to partake or enjoy, but there is near universal support for ensuring that the same rules of the game apply to everyone. Not so for foreigners on the wrong side of the border, who have no such claims to make on “us.”
The U.S. Constitution protects anyone’s right to move from Bangor, Maine to San Diego, California, no questions asked. While it’s just a stroll from Tijuana to San Diego, not a six-hour flight, foreigners enter California only at Uncle Sam’s discretion. It may look hypocritical when the “anything goes” society tells the aspiring peasant from southern Mexico “no.” Yet as Collier and Ruhs insist, countries are moral as well as political units; citizens committed to helping out one another are not obligated to expand their fellowship of citizens merely upon heartfelt request. Let’s be blunt: Discriminating against one’s fellow citizens is verboten, but, as long as one avoids race or national origin as criteria, one can legitimately select just those foreigners one wants to admit into the “country” club.
Picking and choosing at the border is the one broadly acceptable form of discrimination, yet that doesn’t get one very far: Since zero immigration is neither in the realm of the possible or the desirable, the relevant questions remain those asked by Collier and Ruhs: How many foreigners get in, by which criteria, and with which rights? The former is the issue at the center of Masuoka and Junn’s insightful book, which argues that tastes for discrimination among Americans of different types—whites, blacks, Latinos, and Asians—affect their tastes for discrimination among the foreigners seeking to become Americans.
Masuoka and Junn, who are political scientists teaching at Tufts University and the University of Southern California, respectively, hypothesize that views toward immigration correspond to the U.S. racial hierarchy, which still puts whites at the top, Asians and Latinos at intermediate rungs, blacks at the bottom. All four groups share an American identity and therefore affirm that not every foreigner who seeks the advantages of living on U.S. soil can enter. In general, they contend, those Americans with a strong sense of national identity, whether they be members of the majority or of a minority, tend to want less rather than more immigration. But as social outsiders within the United States, Blacks, Asians, and Latinos are more likely to be accepting of those seeking to gain entry. Therefore, minority Americans with a strong sense of linked ethnic fate—the belief that one rises and falls with others in one’s own group—tend to be more accepting of immigration generally, and particularly so when their own ethnic communities are at issue. For whites, the process works in reverse: Those whites with the stronger sense of linked fate are the most likely to oppose immigration.
To test these ideas, Masuoka and Junn collected a treasure trove of surveys. They cleverly plunder the data set, but not convincingly so. The correspondence between the racial hierarchy, as understood by the authors, and attitudes toward immigration is hard to see. Yes, whites generally prefer less rather than more immigration; otherwise, outsider status seemed to have little consistent bearing on immigration attitudes toward immigration levels or side-issues like the English-only policies.
In any case, as the other books reviewed in this essay tell us, the dilemmas produced by population movements across boundaries appear in similar form across the developed world; hence, focusing on the peculiarities of the American case can only get us so far. Moreover, the core problem is intractable: Immigrants are picking up the normative message endorsed by the developed world; namely, that they are free men and women with a natural right to use mobility to get ahead. And who among us can quarrel with that, since in this world where you live is empirically more important to your well-being and fortune than what you do?
Unfortunately, freedom bumps up against the needs of community: The bounty that immigrants find in the developed world is the product less of rich countries’ boundaries and more of the institutions and ethos that they enclose. Since many are ready to move in search of a better life, but only a small fraction can enter, most are left to make the best of a bad business. As Collier, Ruhs, Joppke and Torpey all tell us, there are better and worse ways of managing this dilemma, even if no one can fully solve it. But first one has to face up to the realities that neither most political leaders nor publics are ready to accept: While immigration must be controlled, manageable and economically beneficial levels are higher than most citizens want. And whether immigrants are desired or not, once they cross the borders they put down roots very quickly, which means that most are here to stay. As things stand, all the shouting makes it impossible to figure out which way to go. Should what passes for debate ever settle into a moment of quiet reflection, these four books will provide a valuable guide to the perplexed.
1See Olivier Roy, “Liberté, Égalité, Laïcité?”, The American Interest (January/February 2007).