Man is an animal suspended in webs of significance that he himself has spun...

Friday, January 29, 2016

Why are Migrants Coming to Your Country?

And we all think we know the answer to that.

It's because my country has opportunity, jobs, a good social welfare network, the best political system, the most comprehensive system of rights, the highest respect for human rights, the nicest culture, the finest cultural artifacts, the most logical language, and the best weather.  Furthermore,  migrants come from terrible places that are clearly inferior in all ways to our little paradise that we (the ethnic/civic geniuses that we are) have created right here on earth.

May I ever so gently suggest that it's just a tad bit more complicated than that?

The first two weeks of class have filled my brain to overflowing with different theories that all seek to answer this deceptively simple question:  Why do people move around?

Because most people don't.  97% of the people on this planet will never leave their countries of origin - may not, in fact, ever leave the city or region where they were born.  That right there should sober everyone up. Most of the people in the world are not going anywhere, and however lovely your country may be, they will never come knocking on your door asking to come in.  Perhaps it is because they can't, but it is just as likely that they don't want to.

The theories of international migration are concerned with that 2-3% (3.3% in 2015 says the UN) of people who do move - the people we call "migrants."  The United Nations definition of that term is as follows:  "an individual who has resided in a foreign country for more than one year irrespective of the causes, voluntary or involuntary, and the means, regular or irregular, used to migrate." (International Organization for Migration website.)

So what have some of the best and the brightest come up with to explain the phenomenon of international migration?  Here are three theories I find interesting.  Bear in mind as you read that this is my modest attempt to simplify some very complex theories and I invite you to read more about them and not just take my word for it.

Push/Pull Models:  In this model you could think of countries and people as magnets with poles that repel and attract. In these models, people feel "pushed" to leave by difficult conditions  (economic, environmental, political or demographic) in the home country, and they are "pulled" by the powerful qualities (jobs, freedom, opportunity) of the host country.

This, I think, is the model that most people have in their heads.  If a migrant is here in my country, then it must mean that things are pretty bad (or inferior in some way) where he came from, and isn't he lucky to have escaped?

It might surprise you to learn that the push/pull models can't even explain economic migration very well.  For example, most migrants do not come from the poorest countries and move to the richest countries.

Look at this Key Fact from the United Nations 2015 International Migration Report:
"Most migrants worldwide originate from middle-income countries (157 million in 2015). Between 2000 and 2015, the number of migrants originating from middle-income countries increased more rapidly than those from countries in any other income group. The majority of migrants from middle-income countries were living in a high income country."  
Oddly enough, sometimes emigration really gets going when things improve - when a country goes from a poor to a middle-income country.

Neoclassical theory:  This one says that it's all about supply and demand for labor.  Migrants go where they can find jobs and good wages.  Every migrant is a "rational actor" who looks at the costs and the benefits of leaving one country for another and makes an informed decision about where he/she will do well or better.

Sounds plausible until we start counting the ways that human beings can be very irrational.   How many of you who are migrants sat down and did a formal risk and cost/benefit analysis before buying that plane ticket?  How many of you based your decision to move on the advice of friends, a job offer, a charming lad or lass, a short stay as a tourist, a nicely written expatriate biography or social media?

And for those who think that a migrant is in your country because he/she has made a cold-blooded calculation to exploit some feature of your world (social welfare, healthcare, jobs), consider this:  the first class healthcare and fine social welfare networks in France do not trump the impression (not perfect knowledge) that France has no jobs, (something that is not true by the way) and is therefore not a choice destination for migrants (not even refugees).

Migration Network Theory:  This one says it's all about how people are connected.  A migrant network is a web of relationships between people in the home and in the host country who make it easier to migrate.   Family, friends, recruiters, clubs, professional associations and the like are all important because they create a support structure for migrants that helps them navigate the immigration bureaucracy and find jobs, schools for the kids, a doctor that speaks the home country language, and a place to live. And I note here that this is exactly how I found a place in Brussels - through a personal cross-border migrant network.

How do these networks get started in the first place?  The Age of Migration by Stephen Castles, Hein de Haas and Mark Miller have a fascinating list of obvious and no-so-obvious things that they say can kick off a migration network:
"warfare, colonialism, conquest, occupation, military service and labor recruitment, as well as shared culture, language and geographical proximity..." (Castles et al: 40)
So this theory says that very plausible reason that a migrant might be in your country is the existence of  a support structure that has made it easier for him to be where you are as opposed to somewhere else.  Which, to put it another way, means that's it's not really about you or your paradise on earth.

Three different theories and there are, I assure you, many more - World Systems Theory, Globalization Theory, Segmented Labor Market Theory and Migration Systems Theory. Each one looks at the question from a different angle and there is no one theory that explains it all, or has the definitive answer to the migration equation.

I realize that this is not terribly helpful for a voter or anyone who is being asked to make decisions about immigrants to and emigrants from his or her country.  

However, I do hope that the next time you are thinking about migration that you reflect on how very hard it is to answer the question:  Why did they move here? 

Because the theorists don't really know and neither do you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Americans Abroad as Unofficial Ambassadors

When Americans abroad talk to the homeland, we often use term 'Unofficial Ambassador' to convey the idea that while we are living in foreign lands we play an informal but important role representing the United States abroad.

We claim this role repeatedly in part because it does resonate with Americans in the US.  As Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels notes in the conclusion of her book about American in Europe, in 2008 both candidates, John McCain and Barack Obama, nodded in the direction of Americans abroad saying how important we were as the "first contact other nationalities have with our country." (McCain).

'Unofficial ambassador' is a wonderful term because it's just brimming over with goodwill. When a country wants to maintain peaceful relations and contact with another it sends an ambassador (otherwise it would send troops, right?) It's a terrible term because while it sounds so benevolent, it's precise meaning is elusive. And it might be a dangerous term because there may be a disconnect between what we, the civilian Americans abroad, mean in the context of resolving our grievances, and what the US government and the American people hear.

I raise this question because there is a very good book out there called Unofficial Ambassadors:  American Military Families Overseas and the Cold War, 1946-1965 by Donna Alvah.  In that era the US military had a very clear vision of what was meant by an 'unofficial ambassador.'  This was a role assigned primarily to the wives and children of soldiers living abroad on US bases in countries like Germany or Japan.  Alvah herself spent part of her childhood on Okinawa.

How important was this to the US military?  Very.  "As burgeoning numbers of family members joined servicemen overseas in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s, and as the Cold War developed, official prescriptive literature encouraging wives and children to act as 'unofficial ambassadors' in their everyday activities among local people in foreign countries." (Alvah: 39)  The role, in a sense, was a military asset because the goal was to have good relations with people in the host countries so that they would have a favorable opinion of Americans, American bases and American military and foreign policy objectives.

In 1960 there were 462,000 dependents of members of the armed forced living outside the United States. That is not just a few women and children, that's a veritable army of 'unofficial ambassadors'.

What were those 'unofficial ambassadors' (mostly wives) expected to do?  Alvah says: "the demonstration of courtesy and good will to local people, respect for the customs and obedience to the laws of host nations, the promotion of 'human understanding' and the countering of bad impressions made by other Americans." (Alvah: 74)

Yes, part of the job was to counter the behaviour of  'Ugly Americans' by showing that not all Americans were flashy, crude, and loud. In the Philippines American military wives were told to dress appropriately:  "not to wear clothes that were too casual or revealing..." to "cover their heads and shoulders in church... and to "wear modest dresses..." (Alvah: 77).  In France, they were told to mimic the style and fashion sense of the local French women.  Everywhere those American women went, they were encouraged to volunteer at local organizations or to start clubs and friendship associations.  And, above all, they were asked to be respectful and learn the local language, customs and values.

And doesn't this all sounds a bit like an exercise in integration?   Yes, but Alvah points out that there was a real contradiction here:  American women were being asked to partially integrate into the host country culture with the goal of "creating international alliances that ultimately served the economic and political interests of the United States." (Alvah: 102)

I personally don't see anything nefarious about this (feel free to disagree) but I would like to point out that these 'unofficial ambassadors' worked from the late 1940s to the end of the Cold War with an objective that I doubt very much is shared by civilian Americans abroad in the late 20th/early 21st century. If that is the meaning the US government places on that term - Americans abroad as the "softer" side of foreign policy - than we are not being entirely honest when we use it.

And I note that these informal 'lady ambassadors' in the Cold War era were only very rarely recognized or compensated for their work. Certainly the US military , the US government and perhaps even the American public appreciated their contribution, but that appreciation ended with purely symbolic gestures.

When we claim this title for ourselves, we are asking for a lot more than just a gesture (something that Obama and McCain were more than happy to give us because it cost them nothing);  we are claiming that we've earned through service the right to be heard, and to have some of our grievances addressed. That, I think, is a rather unrealistic expectation.

Because, from what I can see, those 'unofficial ambassadors' in times past never got anything more than a "Thank you for your service."

And that, mes amis, would be nice but it's not nearly enough.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Other Ways of Looking at Integration

In a previous post I talked about migrant integration and I asked readers to help me with a thought experiment that went like this:
Think about your home country and the immigration/integration debates going on there.  Determine what you think successful integration by immigrants would look like in or back "home".  For example, you might agree with the following statements "they should learn the local language"  or "they should not have a negative impact on the natives" or "they should be respectful of the people who already live there" or "they should avoid conspicuous expressions of religiosity." 
And then turn around and apply the exact same standards to a fellow citizen from your home country who lives as part of a migrant/expat community outside that home country.  Do you find that you can apply your integration standards equally to immigrants in your home country versus emigrants from your home country living abroad?  Or do you feel that you can't because the situations are simply not the same?
A few brave folks were kind enough to comment and it made for a very interesting discussion, though I note that no one really directly answered the question.  

Back in 2013 I wrote this piece which was my take on migrant integration from the perspective of a migrant (me) in France.  I reread it this morning and, frankly, I wouldn't change a thing.  I still have the same questions - I still feel that sense of confusion.  Here it is again for your reading pleasure this morning.

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In all the countries I've lived in there is an on-going discussion about the migrants and their integration into the host country.  It's a hard discussion to have because "integration" is a very broad term and a moving target.  When a native argues that the migrants must conform (or at least give lip service to) to his values that begs the question of which ones?  All of them or just the ones that particular native at that point in time thinks are important?  People change their minds (and their values) all the time.   Societies are not static.

Saying that migrants should act like natives, talk like natives, and share their values is a nice general principle but often breaks down in practice.  When a society is at war with itself over certain issues, migrants are left not knowing which foot to dance on.

Take something like the "Mariage pour tous" in France (know as Gay Marriage in the U.S.)  So what do the natives think about this?  Well, some are saying that this is going to literally change French civilization for the worse and that nothing less than the French Family, the composition of which is a strong part of traditional French culture, is at stake here.  Talk to others and they'll tell you that this about equality, fairness and the separation of Church and State and that it is against the values of the French Republic to not allow gays full marriage rights.

However a particular migrant comes down on this issue, when talking about it with the natives one must summon all one's powers of diplomacy so as not to offend.  Why?  Well, if the native in front of you disagrees with you he's very likely to tell you, "Well you're American/Algerian/Brit/German and we don't care what you think, you immigrant.  If you don't like our values, you should go home."  Of course, there is a completely different reaction if you agree.   Then they congratulate you on how well you've integrated because you clearly understand "true" French values.  It makes for an interesting conversational dance.

So when natives talk about values, all I can say is that the day you all agree on what French values you truly share, send me the memo.

As for behavior, may I gently suggest that people need to be very careful what they ask for because they just might get it.  There are circumstances where clearly the natives do not want immigrants to act like them.  In fact the whole reason that many got in the first place is because they offer something the host society wants and needs.

A good example of this would be a highly qualified migrant from a very entrepreneurial culture with a strong work ethic and a high level of educational achievement for him or herself and high expectations for his children.

Do they really want this person to act like a native?  Let's say he decides to not start a business and be a taxi driver or a public intellectual instead.  Or he decides to go on unemployment or disability because he sees that an awful lot of the natives are on it.  If he qualifies, why shouldn't he?  He may have a STEM diploma (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) but since the natives don't get those degrees in high numbers, he might as well go with the flow and encourage his kids to do something else.

Hard to see how anyone could complain about this since the migrant is simply conforming to the behavior he sees on the part of the natives.  He's not doing anything different.  In fact he's made a decision to be just like them.  Can we say then in that case that he is "well integrated?"  Or would everyone be much happier if he held onto the values and behavior that he brought from his native land?

Migrants can't fix what ails a society.  If a society cannot produce a sufficient number of people who know how to do X and are willing to do it, then that's not a problem with immigration, it's an internal problem.  Where natives use social welfare networks, can't balance their national budgets, and then refuse to have enough children to keep it going, that's solely within the power of the native population to change.  It's a bit cheeky to say to the recent arrivals, "Integrate or else" but "Do as we say, not as we do."  And it's a really unfair to ask immigrants to take sides in the "culture wars" and then get angry with them when they give an answer the natives don't like.

What migrants can do is to add their human talent to the pool and offer a different perspective that might further the debate.  I'd even argue that everyone has an interest in considering some of the values migrants bring from their homelands like, for example,  a strong sense of family or deep respect for elderly people.  The French might be really surprised to know that these two things are deeply held values that some North Africans and Japanese find a bit lacking here in France compared to where they came from.  Might be worth having a conversation with them to know why they feel that way and why they don't want to integrate a French interpretation of those values into their worldview.

Just a few things to think about from where I sit.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

The Magna Carta and The Right to Leave One's Country

Every immigrant is also an emigrant.  Every migrant has a country or territory of origin and so the first step on any migrant's journey is to leave his or her country. I don't think nearly enough attention has been paid to that first step - emigration.

We, the enlightened cosmopolitan humans of the 21st century, look at this as a human right enshrined in international law.  After all Article 13(2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says: "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."

But the UDHR was only signed in 1948. So does that mean that the "right to leave" is some modern newfangled right that bureaucrats and politicians pulled out of their hats at the end of World War II?

Maybe.

In a 1981 article called "Citizenship and the Right to Leave" a fellow named Frederick  G. Whelan looked at where this right originated.  Strangely enough he found it (or something that closely resembled it) in the very first version of the Magna Carta - the one King John of England assented to in 1215.
"Liceat unicuique decetero exire de regno nostro, et redire, salvo et secure, per terram et per aquam, salva fide nostra, nisi tempore gwerre per aliquod breve tempus, propter communem utilitatem regni, exceptis imprisonatis et utlagatis secundum legem regni, et gente de terra contra nos gwerrina, et mercatoribus, de quibus fiat sicut predictum est." 
"It shall be lawful in future for any one, keeping loyalty to the Crown, to leave our kingdom and to return safely and securely, by land and by water. This is except in time of war, when men may go, only in the public interest, for some short period. (This excludes, always, those imprisoned or outlawed in accordance with the law of the realm, natives of any country at war with us, and merchants, who shall be treated as previously stated.)"
But, as Whelan explained, it disappeared from all further versions including the final one issued by Henry III.  He, in fact, "required any subject leaving the country to obtain a license, and other monarchs down to James I regularly issued prohibitions on the exit of important classes of subjects (e.g., clerics, noblemen, soldiers, skilled artisans). Otherwise the restrictions were relaxed in practice, and it came to be understood that anyone could leave unless specifically forbidden, so that travel and emigration were permitted to English subjects as a matter of policy. But the legal authority of the government to forbid this was not doubted, nor did the exercise of this privilege obliterate the allegiance which the emigrant continued to owe to the king."

Roughly 700 years later the "right to leave" gets put on the post-WW II agenda and included as a fundamental right in the UDHR.  How did that happen?

Whelan wasn't sure how it came about but he did see Articles 13(2) and 15(2) as something new and radical:
"A right of emigration as a human right is something new in world politics, a claim to which the laws and practice of many states, past and present, have been opposed. It is not only new; it is a radical claim in the fundamental challenge which it at least implicitly poses to the prevailing conception of the authority of the sovereign state and to the world order based on sovereign states, which is legitimized in traditional international law." 
"This right in particular, however, by its content, seems to pose a more specific challenge, in that it entirely releases individuals from binding ties of allegiance to their countries, conferring on them full liberty to abandon their nationality at will and assume a new civic identity on a voluntaristic basis. This claim, now put forward as a human right, raises important and basic questions about the nature of a political society and the individual's place within it." 
Yes, and for these reasons and many many others we need to take emigration as seriously as immigration.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Flophouse Book(s) of the Week

If it weren't for Goodreads I wouldn't be able to keep track of my reading.  I am a fast and furious reader; a lover of bibliographies and reading lists.  As I go through the syllabi for my classes, I am coming across authors and their articles and books and I have to stop and think, "That name sounds familiar. Didn't I already read that?"  And then I have to go to Goodreads to confirm.  If I'm lucky, I will have the book on my e-reader and I can bring it up and look through my notes and highlights to jog my memory as to why I read it in the first place and what I liked (or didn't) about it.

Isn't technology grand?

Alas, it isn't everything.  I'm back in school and those notes and highlights are not enough.  My professors expect not only more critical thinking about my reading but that I retain something of what the authors had to say in active memory.

So what I propose to do is to take the best book(s) I've read eachweek and give you synopsis of the arguments and information contained therein.  This will help me as I do extra reading for my classes and my dissertation, and I'm hoping it will be helpful to you as well.  There may be some titles here you will enjoy.

There are two books I read this week that I found well worth my time.

The Politics of Immigration:  Contradictions of the Liberal State by James Hampshire (2013)

Hampshire is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Sussex (UK) and he has degrees in Modern History and Political Philosophy.

This book looks at immigration policy in modern, rich, liberal democratic countries.  He argues that at the core of the controversies over immigration in places as diverse as the US, France, or Australia are contradictory values and institutions that make it very difficult to come up with acceptable, effective immigration policy.  The immigration "problems" are not, he says, a failure of government, but rather a failure to resolve issues at the very heart of what it means to be a liberal democracy.

Take family reunification migration, for example.  In countries like the US and France, this is how most migrants legally enter those territories.  There have been moves to restrict it (and the recent attacks in San Bernadino in the US have certainly given ammunition to those who want more regulation/restriction of this category of migrants)  but it continues in spite of,  and I don't see anyone in the US or France or any other developed nation seriously arguing that it should be banned completely.

Note that these nations have signed agreements that they will respect Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which says that human beings have a right to family life - to be with their families.  Furthermore, it seems really wrong to us that a state could say that a husband and wife or parents and children can't be together.  And yet, states are now nibbling at the edges of this right with new restrictions and requirements.  In 2012 the UK implemented a minimum income requirement for British citizens and legal UK residents who want to bring their spouses or their children into the UK from a non-EEA country.  This has been very controversial.  Since when has the right to a family life become "You have a right to family life IF you have a certain income"?

So there is this fundamental human right enshrined in international and domestic law that most people in liberal democratic countries take for granted.  (Would it even be possible in states like France, the US or New Zealand for the government to set a minimum income for couples who want to marry, live together and have children? Of course not.) But in the context of migration the UK did just that - passed a very illiberal law in a country that considers itself to be a liberal democracy. Not hard to see the contradictions here.

Hampshire has many more examples.  An interesting book and he argues his case lucidly without a lot of academic jargon. Note that this LSE review disagrees with me.  The reviewer liked the book but thought it was not as accessible as it could be to a non-expert.

Entangling Alliances: Foreign War Brides and American Soldiers in the Twentieth Century by Susan Zeiger (2010)

I looked and could not find a lot of information about this author.  But I must say that she wrote a fine book.

To continue the theme of family reunification migration in the previous review, this book is a survey of the different 20th century family reunification policies of the US military and government that were applied to women that soldiers wanted to marry.  Wherever American soldiers were sent (France in WW I, Germany post- World War II, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam) some found spouses who they wanted to bring back to the United States.  Sometimes they could, and sometimes they couldn't.  It depended on so many things like the nature of the conflict or how the US public perceived the women (and their countries/cultures) or the rules the military itself set to hinder soldiers from marrying local women.

It was a real shock to me to read about the American Expeditionary Force in World War I and how some soldiers struggled to bring their French wives to the US - wives that were not always warmly received by Americans.  There were serious questions raised during and after the war about the desirability of Frenchwomen and if they could be assimilated.  One journalist at the time (the 1920's) talked about the "fundamental gulf between Latin and Anglo-Saxon society" - a statement that is positively surreal when read through our 21st century eyes.  Americans in that era were still unsure whether or not an American identity could include, say, Catholics.  And that's something to think about as the debate rages today over the integration/assimilation capacities of newer migrants.  If Americans could over time come to include French Catholics and Eastern European Jews in an American identity, then why wouldn't the same thing happen with migrants arriving today?

As I was reading the book and arrived at the "foreign brides" of more recent conflicts like Iraq or of the soldiers based in Germany, Japan, Korea, and the Philippines, I rather naively said to a former member of the US military sitting across from me in my living room, "Well, they can't really stop men (or women) in the military from marrying someone..." He laughed at me. And he was right to do so. Members of the US military need permission to marry a foreign national, and there are background checks and the like for the spouse. So the military does have a say in whether or not a soldier or a Marine can marry his or her fiancee. I had no idea.

A fascinating book and I liked it so much that I put another title Zeiger wrote on my to-read list:
In Uncle Sam's Service: Women Workers With the American Expeditionary Force, 1917-1919.  

A reminder, folks, that women have served in the US military for a very long time and that fact raises a question in my mind about "foreign grooms."  Surely these women also met and married foreign nationals while they were serving abroad.  And where, pray tell, is the research on that?

Friday, January 22, 2016

The GOP Has a Problem with Immigration

There is a theory of international migration (one among many) called Dual Labor Market Theory.  This theory says that there are two very different labor sectors in the economies of developed nations.  One sector is characterized by stable employment, skilled labor and high wages.  The other sector is all about non-skilled or semi-skilled labor, people who work under much worse conditions with lower wages and a higher chance of being un- or under-employed.  Migrants, say the neo-classical economists historical-structural theorists, tend to be recruited for and work in that second, unstable sector.

The above is, I'm sure, a gross over-simplification of the theory but the key point for me is the idea that in that second sector employers in developed countries want migrant labor to fill those jobs.  And that means that business and native-born workers in the very same country will have very different views of immigration.  Business wants to bring them in (or keep them in even if they are undocumented), and workers and unions want to keep them out (or kick them out) so that wages don't fall and employment doesn't become even more precarious than it already is.

The result of this conflict of interest is a kind of schizophrenia about immigration in the heart of a developed nation-state.  The loud and strident calls of the native-born for restrictions on immigration are countered by powerful voices in favor of more immigration.  Talk about mixed messages.

In David Frum's article The Great Republican Revolt he makes the case that the business versus labor conflict over immigration in the United States is being played out in one of the two major political parties just before the next US national elections.  The Republican, the Grand old Party (GOP), is suffering, he says, because it cannot reconcile the very different interests of their party members when it comes to immigration.

On one side, says Frum, are the "Middle Americans" who are not happy with the state of the nation.  These are Americans of European origin who don't have a college degree, who suffered greatly during the Great Recession, and who don't seem to be recovering from it as fast as their college-educated compatriots.  Frum describes them as "middle-class" which I think is overly generous of him.  There are fewer and fewer stable high-wage jobs available to Americans who have only a high school diploma (or less), and many do end up working unstable, low-paying jobs where the chances for social mobility are small. It should surprise no one that there is nostalgia in the US for a time when someone could do very well without having to go to community college or university.

Frum is absolutely correct when he notes that this phenomenon is hardly unique to the US.  In France older members of my family loudly lament the passing of an era where a young person could aspire to a perfectly decent working life with nothing more than the bac (and in some cases just a brevet).

The argument is that this sense of precariousness ("losing ground") leads straight to support for right-wing parties with anti-immigrant platforms.  That seems intuitively true but there is also solid evidence to back it up.  A 2015 Pew poll found that Republicans strongly agree (53%) that immigrants have a negative impact on US society.  A whopping 71% believe that immigrants have a negative impact on the economy.

So a clear majority of the Republican base thinks that immigration is a bad thing for America.  They want fewer immigrants and they support better border control and the deportation of the undocumented.

But does the majority rule here?  Not really.  Frum points out that the Republican party also includes: "Owners of capital assets, employers of low-skill laborers, and highly compensated professionals..." who like immigration, or who aren't particularly bothered by it because they work in that stable high-paying sector of the American economy.  They generally support immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented migrants, though there are differences of opinion about whether immigration should increase or remain stable at current levels.

Whatever the polls say, Republican politicians have to listen to the pro-immigration contingent because it includes party members who make substantial political contributions AND because some of those politicians run for office in regions that have large numbers of naturalized citizens or second-generation migrants. And to muddy the waters further, some of those right-wing politicians are themselves the product of very recent immigration to the US.  In 2013, Frum notes, "A bipartisan 'Gang of Eight,' including Florida’s ambitious young Marco Rubio, agreed on a plan that would create a path to citizenship for millions of illegal immigrants and substantially increase legal-immigration limits for both high- and low-skilled workers."  In the end it didn't go anywhere, but they did try.

So the question is: How will the Republican party come to a consensus on immigration?  How can it reconcile the interests of its working class (former aspiring middle-class) native-born base with the interests of the business community and the professional classes?  One side has the votes, the other side has the money.

And, yes, it's starting to look very much like a class war.

And a hat tip to Curtis Poe for the link to Frum's article on Facebook

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Hämäläinen v. Finland: Passports and LGBT Rights

There is a lot of buzz right now among Americans abroad concerning a new provision in US law that allows the Internal Revenue Service to ask the State Department to revoke, or refuse to issue, a US passport for non-payment of US taxes.

This is one that deserves some thought before getting out the pitchforks and prodding the behinds of the politicans who voted for it.  My visceral reaction is that this is a bad move on their part because it is perceived as yet another agressive move by the US government against the American disapora - the 7+ million Americans living abroad.  Where this population is already disgruntled and upset (and in some cases almost violently angry), this is not going to improve matters since many Americans abroad see this as a direct attack on them.  The US government should (in my view) be taking that very seriously.  Clearly they aren't. I invite you to read  Americans Abroad: A Disillusioned Diaspora? by Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels which has a fine summary of the situation.

How people feel about this is one thing;  what recourse they have is another.  Before I post I would like to answer some questions I have about whether or not this is legal from either the standpoint of international human rights law or US domestic law.  That means reading cases.  And the core question I have as I read is this:  Can a state of citizenship deny an individual a passport thus preventing him/her from leaving or returning to that country of citizenship?  If so, on what basis can a state do this?  I will post when I feel that I have answered that question to my satisfaction.

However, sometimes the journey to answer a question reveals cases that would never ever have occurred to you because you didn't even know there was an issue that needed to be resolved by a court.

 Hämäläinen v. Finland was heard by the European Court of Human Rights in 2012 and the Court issued its decision in 2014.

The plaintiff in this case claimed that there was a violation of Article 8 of the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by the Finnish government.  Here's the background:
Finnish citizen Heli Maarit Hannele Hämäläinen, who was born a man and married a woman but later underwent gender transformation surgery to become a woman, wanted her personal identification number changed to reflect that she was now in fact a woman and not a man. To do so, she needed her wife’s consent in order to legally become a woman, since that procedure would automatically have transformed their marriage into a legal civil partnership. 
The wife, citing her strong religious conviction that marriage lasts forever, refused to have the marriage turned into a civil union and therefore did not sign Hämäläinen’s application for change of legal gender. Hämäläinen was then left with two choices: to remain legally a man or to divorce her wife. Unwilling to do either, Hämäläinen turned to the courts, arguing that denying her a female personal identification number because she continued to be married to her wife constituted a violation of her human rights as guaranteed by article 8 of the Convention.
Under Finnish law a married person cannot legally change his or her gender without the approval of the spouse.  Finland does not have gay marriage, only civil partnerships for gay couples.  Because the spouse refused to give her permission for the gender change and Hämäläinen didn't want to get a divorce, Finland refused to legally recognize Hämäläinen as a woman - something the Finnish state would have done if Hämäläinen had been single (unmarried). 

The European Court of Human Rights ruled in favor of Finland and you can follow the link above or google the case to read why they ruled the way they did.

So how did I stumble on this case while looking up instances where the state revokes or refuses passports to citizens?

Because one of the not-obvious consequences of Finland's decision (which now has has been blessed by the ECHR) is a problem with her passport.   Hämäläinen says that she can no longer travel because her passport continues to say that she is male and she cannot get that changed legally.

Fascinating....

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Integration: They Will Change Our Way of Life!

A Flophouse reader responded to yesterday's post where I talked about fear of migrants and migration with some arguments of his/her own:
"I don't think people are afraid of migrants. They're afraid migrants will change their way of life if too many of them come. It's all about integration and respect of the people who were there before you. It's also about the fear that they're taking the local's jobs or have a negative impact."
A great comment and a very good place to start talking about migrant integration which is a very sensitive topic everywhere that migrants go.  Migrants negotiate the terms of their acceptance into the host country and culture.  They have to because even if they come in large numbers there is no guarantee that the "people who were there before" (the majority) will accept them and to some degree migrants' happiness and economic success depends on that acceptance.

"They Will Change Our Way of Life!"

Absolutely they will and I think it's very human to fear this.  In a sense migration is one of the great Cosmic Crapshoots of Life because neither the host country citizens nor the migrants themselves can know what will come out of the encounter.

Chiang Mai, Thailand, for example, has a large "international community" (code word for "migrant population from the West") estimated at around 30,000 people in a city with a population between 300,000 and 400,000.  The foreign community is clearly a minority so one would think that some sort of negotiation had to occur.  It's worth asking the question  How has life in Chiang Mai changed because of the presence of these people?  And how do the people of Chiang Mai feel about that?  Is there a minimum level of integration into Thai society that the local community expects or can impose on these migrants?  Or is it the other way around where the migrants have the power to decide to integrate (or not) as they like?

These are fascinating questions for which I have no answers.  I used this case deliberately because 1. I knew an American who lived there long-term and died there not too long ago and in our email conversations he admitted that he was not as integrated as he would have liked to be and 2. it seems to me that an awful lot of the conversation about integration is about people from the Global South moving into the Global North which completely ignores the presence of large communities of Europeans and North Americans living in Latin America, Asia and Africa.  

Why is it normal for us to question the motives and the capacity to integrate of immigrants to OUR countries, while at the same time idealizing our very own migrant communities abroad (often referred to as "expats" even when they have lived in those host countries 20+ years):  French in Tokyo,  Americans in Kenya,  Canadians in Cambodia, British in rural France?

So, Flophouse readers, let's do a thought experiment just for fun.  Think about your home country and the immigration/integration debates going on there.  Determine what you think successful integration by immigrants would look like in or back "home".  For example, you might agree with the following statements "they should learn the local language"  or "they should not have a negative impact on the natives" or "they should be respectful of the people who already live there" or "they should avoid conspicuous expressions of religiosity."

And then turn around and apply the exact same standards to a fellow citizen from your home country who lives as part of a migrant/expat community outside that home country.  Do you find that you can apply your integration standards equally to immigrants in your home country versus emigrants from your home country living abroad?  Or do you feel that you can't because the situations are simply not the same?

Please let me know what you come up with and leave a comment.  There are no right or wrong answers here, folks, it's just a thought experiment. No grade and no pressure. :-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

On the Move Again

Susan Ossman, a professor at UC Riverside, has done some fascinating work on a migrant phenomenon that she calls serial migration.

A serial migrant is a category of migrant who immigrates once and not having suffered enough the first round, chooses to migrate again to a Third (or Fourth or Fifth) place. Think about that for a moment. The usual narrative is one where the migrant takes that great leap, casts him or herself on a distant shore, integrates insofar as she can in this new homeland, and then gratefully becomes a citizen of this new and wonderful place that she has learned to love as her own.

This idea and many others have been on my mind a lot lately.  When I last posted in this blog I was writing at a coffee table in front of my big blue chair on the 14th floor of a high-rise apartment building in Osaka, Japan where I had been living for about a year.

Today I am writing this post at a desk  in my room on the 4th floor of an apartment complex in the Schaerbeek neighborhood in Brussels, Belgium.

What happened?  Well, like most of my cross-border moves this was a happy accident.  I turned 50 this year and spent the entire year in Osaka thinking about what I wanted to do when I grew up.  And the one thing that kept popping up in my mind was the idea of taking what I have been doing with this blog for several years now (thinking and writing about migration) and taking a year or two to do formal studies in that subject.  

Once I decided that I wanted to be a scholar of migration I looked around for programs in Asia, Europe and North America and I finally applied to a Masters program at a British university here in Brussels.   I chose this program for many reasons but probably the most important for me personally was the opportunity to study under someone whose work I greatly admire, Dr. Amanda Klekowski von Koppenfels, the author of Migrants or Expatriates?  Americans in Europe.

To my delight I was accepted.  I attended my first class as a graduate student yesterday morning and it was everything I was hoping to find.  I have a great deal of reading to do (no hardship there) and writing.  And here I have a lot to learn because writing for a blog is not at all the same as writing formal papers in academia.  I will spend a term here in Brussels and then I will return to Osaka for the summer to start on my dissertation.  Then it's back to Brussels in the fall for more classes.  If all goes well, I will graduate in 2017.

Now that I have a plan which essentially divides my life between three countries, Japan, Belgium and France,  I will return to posting regularly here at the Flophouse.  I hope to share with you some of the topics that come out of my studies, and I'm sure that my International Migration and Citizenship reading list will be greatly extended as I do my reading and add worthy titles to the list.

And speaking of serial migration, I noted the first day of school that many of my classmates fall into this category.  These are young people (about the same age as my Frenchlings) for whom Brussels is their second, third or even fourth country.  And my housemate too - a woman about my age who was born in Canada and whose parents returned to Ireland when she was a child.  Since that return migration she has lived in France and now Belgium.  Needless to say, we have a lot to talk about every night at the dinner table.

And all that is what I think will be the very best part of this experience - talking to other migrants, learning about their lives, how they ended up in country X or Y and why they stayed (or didn't).  For all the media attention focused on the cosmopolitan globe-trotting elite, the refugees fleeing conflict or the undocumented immigrant, there are many other categories of migrants who don't make headlines:  students, teachers, tech writers, IT workers, nurses, small business owners and so much more.

In the media frenzy over this or that migrant "problem" what is lost is how migration is fundamentally just about People Who Move Around.  And those people come from every country, every culture, and just about every socio-economic class.  Migration is an incredibly complex phenomenon which has in our time certainly been enhanced by globalization and technology, but has always been part of the human experience.

If there is a larger and loftier goal in my ambition to became a scholar and writer on this topic, it would be simply this:  to communicate and convince the homelanders that migrants are people, and that just about every human being on this planet today is potentially a migrant, too - their co-workers, their friends, their children, their grand-children, or even their precious selves.  If more people could see in themselves the potential for a life lived upon a distant shore, I would hope that there would be much more empathy, and a lot less fear, about migrants and migration.