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Migration: World is on the move more than ever

Gordon Brown's rant about a "bigoted" voter sped his exit from the British prime minister's post. What punctured his cool? Her complaint about immigrants.

world Updated: Jun 29, 2010 02:04 IST

Gordon Brown's rant about a "bigoted" voter sped his exit from the British prime minister's post. What punctured his cool? Her complaint about immigrants.

When an earthquake shattered Haiti, Dominicans sent soldiers and Americans sent ships — to discourage potential immigrants.

The congressman who shouted "You lie!" at the US President Barack Obama was upset about immigrants. "Birthers" think Obama is an immigrant.

There was also the Hamas rocket that landed in Israel this spring, killing a farmworker. Not so unusual, except that the worker was Thai.

Perhaps no force in modern life is as omnipresent yet overlooked as global migration, that vehicle of creative destruction that is reordering ever more of the world.

Overlooked?

A skeptic may well question the statement, given how often the topic makes news and how divisive the news can be. Even people who study migration for a living struggle to fully grasp its effects.

"Politically, socially, economically, culturally — migration bubbles up everywhere," James F Hollifield, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University, said.

"We often don't recognise it."

What prompted Google to close an office in China, rather than accept government censorship? Many factors, no doubt.

But among those cited by Sergey Brin, Google's co-founder, was the repression his family suffered during his childhood in the Soviet Union before they immigrated to the United States.

One realm where migration has particularly powerful if largely unstated effects is school finance.

Political scientists have found that white voters are more likely to oppose spending plans when they perceive the main beneficiaries to be children of immigrants (especially illegal immigrants). The outcome, of course, affects all children, immigrant or 10th generation.

Still, rich, ageing countries need workers. People in poor countries need jobs.

And the rise in global inequality means that migrants have more than ever to gain by landing work abroad.

Migration networks are hard to shut down. Even the worst economy in 70 years has only slowed, not stopped, the growth in migration. And it is likely to grow, in numbers and consequence.