The coming need for immigrants
The controversy over Arizona’s new immigration law throws a spotlight on the nature of migration worldwide. Fred Pearce, an environmental and development consultant for New Scientist, has taken a hard look at worldwide demographic trends in “The Coming Population Crash and Our Planet’s Surprising Future,” published this month by Beacon Press. If trends continue, the world’s population will be declining by 2040 for the first time since the Black Death almost 700 years ago. As a result, migration is expected to rise as countries with lower birth rates will need workers. Here Pearce explains the consequences for migrants and communities.
By Fred Pearce
Hasan Omar is the tall, slight and gentlemanly head of the Somali Community Association on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, where some 40,000 Somalis from the failed East African state have settled in the past 15 years.
Somalis? Columbus, Ohio?
Well, why not? Wasn’t Christopher Columbus the first transatlantic migrant? Anyhow, Hasan told me over American coffee and Somali samosas, “We are not destitute. We have skills: we are engineers, economists and teachers. We run shopping malls and car dealerships and health centres.”
Today’s migrants are the advance guard of an increasingly globalized workforce of transnational citizens. And we are going to need them.
Native-born workforces in Europe, North America and parts of Asia will implode in future, because women in these countries are today having fewer than the two children needed to replace numbers. Meanwhile, surplus people in dozens of other struggling nations with still-growing populations are eager to fill the gaps.
I see nothing to fear and a great deal to be gained. Who else will pick grapes in California, clean hotel rooms in Italy, gut chickens in England and look after babies in Washington? In any case, argue economists, if capital can travel the world, why not people?
And, like it or not, in the coming decades the world’s demographic imbalances are going to produce a surge in migration. On current trends of falling fertility, the world’s population will likely be falling by later this century. Stocking up on Homo sapiens now may be a smart move for the people-famine to come.
The United States is a nation of migrants -- a marvellous advertisement for the virtues of migration and a living condemnation of the world’s xenophobes, racial purists, cultural imperialists and ethnic cleansers. As a Brit, I love its diversity.
Of course even Americans can be ambivalent about newcomers. Even in the 19th century, golden age of migration, the “keep out” signs were never far from the welcome mat. The melting pot sometimes boiled over.
African Americans had long known that the white northern Europeans’ sense of openness and freedom had distinct bounds. And when the Chinese arrived in California for the gold rush, they soon faced the Chinese Exclusion Act and pogroms against the “yellow peril”.
After the 1917 Russian revolution the fear was that Bolsheviks would infiltrate America’s nascent labor movement. The Quota Act of 1921 welcomed Anglo-Saxons, Scandinavians and Germans but limited other Europeans severely. Hispanics were encouraged and thrown out as labor demands in the south and west rose and fell. Africans and Asians were all but banned until quotas were ended in 1965.
Today, migrants to the United States are approaching the numbers of a century ago, and everyone from rednecks to greenies are fearful of their impact.
But the truth is we need them as much as they need us. In Columbus, the old German village may now be a tourist spot with no sign of any Germans, but Koreans run dry cleaners, Indians own motels and Cambodians trade diamonds. There are Ghanaians and Ethiopians, Hmong tribals from southeast Asia and Rwandans from central Africa. Suddenly the Somalis are no longer the new kids on the block.
My cab back from Hasan’s suburban office was driven by an Eritrean called Abraham, who worked for the Irish-owned Shamrock Taxi company. In town, the Columbus Italian Festival was starting.
This is America, I thought. This is the new world. We should not fear it.
Steven E. Levingston
May 3, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories: Guest Blogger | Tags: anti-immigration law, arizona immigration law, migration trends
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