If either Buddha or Christ were to set out on the path of enlightenment today, what would be their fate? Would some immigration officer thwart their itinerant wanderings or would they travel underground to meet the mass of humanity?
Modern nations are devoted to an anti-immigration policing of borders that flies in the face of the fact that our greatest civilisational triumphs originate in a global intermingling of ideas and peoples. Far from curbing the tide of human migrations, this trend has heralded increased incidences of human smuggling and trafficking.
Failure in fencing
Last April, 60 Indians who had paid $35,000 to their "travel agents" were arrested while sneaking into the US via Canada. By and large, however, policing agencies are not able to net either the smugglers or their clients because the former are too elusive and organised. If the rising price of a given service is any index of a growing demand, we can learn much from the fact that the cost of illegal migration from India to the US has gone up by more than 180 percent since 1994.
And this demand seems positively correlated with the strengthening of borders. An American Immigration Law Foundation report notes that between 1986-2002, the number of border patrol officers tripled and the time they spent patrolling the US border grew eight times. At the same time, not only did the organised smugglers get more and more business, they also jacked up their prices. To illustrate, the cost of smuggling from Mexico averaged around $400 per crossing till 1992 but rose to $1,200 by 1999.
Even in Europe, not only are the human smugglers and traffickers playing for higher than ever stakes, they are arguably winning: one third of the foreign born population within the EU is residing within its “fortress” illegally. Similarly 40 per cent of the foreign workers in Japan and 40 per cent of the foreign workers in Korea are unauthorised.
A world on the move
Illegal immigrants might be the most demonised challenge to national borders, but the global economy is hand in glove with their quest for better jobs and wages. And they are just one of the many symptoms of the world shrinking around us. Add to them all the people travelling to study or attend a film festival or get medical help or simply shop.
And more turbulence lies ahead, with many studies predicting tidal waves of environmental refugees in the near future. For instance, the Earth Policy Institute anticipates that a mere one-meter rise in sea level will inundate half of Bangladesh’s rice fields, a third of Shanghai, large portions of Lower Manhattan and so on. When such predictions finally come to pass, what option will nations have but to open up their borders?
Mode 4 of the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS), with its liberal vision of freer movement of “natural persons,” represents a step in the right direction. In their paper supporting this vision, Alan L. Winters et al point out that such mobility potentially signifies huge returns: a flow equivalent to three per cent of the developed countries’ workforce would generate an estimated increase in world welfare of over $150 billion, shared fairly equally by the entire world.