On the 30th of May, 2019, the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump threatened to apply a 5% tariff on all imports from Mexico. This threat which must have caused a significant amount of trepidation in Marcelo Ebard, Mexico’s Secretary for Foreign Affairs, comes as a direct follow up to Mr. Trump’s vow of ‘punishing’ Mexico for their ‘migrants.”
Hard retribution, if any. But can this harsh measure be even termed retribution? A topical subject that has spawned a vertical divide amongst policy makers, policy experts, economists and the common man is that of migration. This chasm has at one end of its continuum, fierce advocates rooting for the benevolent effects of migration, while at the other end of the continuum stand equally ferocious opponents who bemoan the ill effects of allowing foreigners into their territories. There does not seem to be any modicum of moderation between the two extremes of magnanimity and xenophobia. For example, according to economists Giovanni Peri and Vasil Yasenov of U.C. Berkeley, immigrants induce a positive effect on the local job market since they create a demand for services, from supermarkets to repair shops. However, economists such as George Borjas of Harvard, nurse a diametrically tangential opinion. According to Borjas, immigration is responsible for cutting the wages of American high school drop outs by 3 to 5 percent, an average of $1800 a year.
In his new and blistering book, “This Land Our Land: An Immigrant’s Manifesto”, Suketu Mehta, Associate Professor of Journalism at New York University and best-selling author disembowels the received wisdom and popular ideologies forming the backbone of the immigration issue. Dissecting the problem of migration, Mr. Mehta polemically rails against the countries that take an extremely negative approach towards the influx of migrants. Mr. Mehta should know, himself having made the journey from India to the United States many years ago. He has had the mixed fortune of having had to endure both the wrath of racism and enjoy the munificence of a welcoming brotherhood. Departing India with eighteen bags and a steamer trunk, Mr. Mehta’s family found themselves in a studio apartment in Jackson Heights where the television was broadcasting The Six Million Dollar Man. The building super disconnected the power to the apartment the very first night of the Mehtas’ stay on account of ‘too many people in one room.’ Mr. Mehta does not enlighten us as to how long his family had to endure this bout of induced darkness.
According to Mr. Mehta, migration is not the fly in the ointment. The pernicious prelude that birthed many an exodus is the cause that needs dissection, distillation and dissemination. A prelude that has at its core, the rapacious lunges and thrusts of a colonial blade, a prelude that ravaged otherwise peaceful lands, plundered resources, pilfered wealth and pillaged unsuspecting people of their hard earned nest eggs. It is these same colonists who are crying foul when migrants make their arduous way to their shores. As Mr. Mehta compellingly argues, the travelers are merely “following their money.” No wonder Alexander Betts of Oxford University terms human mobility as “survival migration.”
Multinationals awash with money such as Rio Tinto and the hedge fund Och-Ziff Capital have been steadily exploiting the envious bauxite reserves, gold and diamonds that used to be the preserve of Guinea. The Guineans on the other hand are forced to lead an existence that is mired in poverty and deprivation. Even a 2017 Securities and Exchange Commission Report acknowledges the extent of corruption in Guinea. Och-Ziff was forced to pay a criminal penalty of $213 million to the US Justice Department in addition to a fine of $199 million to the SEC for bribery and corrupt practices.
If one is trying to come to grips with the shenanigans of Och-Ziff Capital, then he better ready himself in attempting to fathom the chicanery of the British during their two-odd centuries of ravaging India. As Mr. Mehta elucidates to his readers, the former United Nations undersecretary-general for communications and public information, politician and orator par excellence, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, provided a flavour of the colonial atrocities, as part of an arresting and eloquent Oxford Union speech. Consider these damning facts: “India’s share of the world economy when Britain arrived on its shores [at the beginning of the eighteenth century] was 23 percent. By the time the British left in 1947, it was down to below 4 percent. Why? Simply because India had been governed for the benefit of Britain. Britain’s rise for two hundred years was financed by its depredations in India.”
Forced famine, coerced import of raw materials from India and export of finished goods, manufactured using the very own raw materials back to India, and that too, at brazenly high prices, ensured that millions of Indians starved to death. The tally when the dust finally settled was an unimaginable 40 million! The writer Mike Davis termed it “the late Victorian Holocaust.” The most deified, revered and lionized icon of Britain, Winston Churchill was in reality a remorseless and ruthless butcher (reviewer’s own words). Nursing a feeling of revulsion towards India and Indians in general, he infamously remarked, “I hate Indians. They are a beastly people with a beastly religion. The Indians deserved the 1943 famine because they were breeding like rabbits.” It is these very rabbits towards whose expertise Brits now swarm like locusts beseeching a cure for otherwise incurable illnesses and even to put on a false tooth unable to bear the monetary burdens imposed upon them by their own doctors at home! Britain left her ungainly imprints across the globe and not just on the sub-continent. Divvying up Jordan and Iraq and thereby creating a headache in perpetuity was again the brainchild of the presumptuous and egregious Churchill according to Warren Dockter, a Churchill scholar.
Britain also found able allies and perpetrators in crime in the company of France and Belgium. After milking Haiti of all its money by imposing extortionate payments, France reduced this nation to a failed state. In the year 2003, when the Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide demanded $21 billion in reparations, Napoleon’s beloved country feigned indifference.
According to Jason Hickel, an anthropologist in the London School of Economics (and I have to confess, one of my favourite authors), the amount of silver forcibly extracted by the Europeans from Latin America would tantamount to a gargantuan debt of $165 trillion at a nominal interest rate of 5% in today’s dollar terms! Hickel exclaims that “Europe didn’t develop the colonies. The colonies developed Europe.”
Migration is also an involuntary offshoot of the ubiquitous multinational corporation as per Mr. Mehta. Spreading its tentacles wide and deep, the multinational enterprise makes use of clever and esoteric tax structures devised by even cleverer tax professionals to siphon funds from the developing to the developed countries. As Mr. Mehta highlights, “The UK and its overseas territories host one in five of the world’s tax havens…They hold a combined pile of 1.4 trillion pounds that’s sheltered from taxes, according to a recent study by the University of California, Berkeley economist, Gabriel Zucman.” So naturally the people whose pockets have been forcibly picked will try to retrieve the same from the place where the robber resides!
Migration is also a direct consequence of displacements due to bloody civil wars and violent internecine conflicts. At the Munich Security Conference in February 2017, the UK defense secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, justified the ongoing, albeit limited, British presence in Afghanistan on the following plain speaking and matter-of-fact grounds “We here will feel the consequences, very directly,” he claimed. “There could be three to four million young Afghan men sent out by their villages to migrate westwards, and they are heading here.” However, as Mr. Mehta brilliantly points out in his book, these nations that fear an exodus of homeless people heading their way, are in many cases directly responsible or indirectly complicit in robbing the poor souls of their very homes. Take for instance, the United States’ support for the capricious regimes of Efrain Rios Mott and Somoza in Guatemala and Nicaragua respectively. Or the Reagan backed coup in El Salvador in 1981 where the Salvadoran army ran riot slaughtering approximately 1,200 men, women and children. It is only logical that such displaced Haitians, Salvadorans, Guatemalans and Yemenis will flee for their safety.
The West is not merely responsible for criminal complicity. Crony capitalism has wreaked havoc upon the only Planet that currently has been known to sustain and source life. The International Organization for Migration estimates that at least 200 million will be displaced by climate change by 2050. Aromar Revi, The Director of the Indian Institute for Human Settlements says, “in some parts of the world, national borders will become irrelevant. You can set up a wall to try to contain 10,000 and 20,000 and one million people, but 10 million.” As Mr. Mehta poignantly asks about the displaced populace, “And where should they move to? To their former colonizers, or to the country most responsible for the heating of the planet? Americans are only 4 percent of the world’s population but are responsible for one third of the excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.” It is America which stormed out of the Paris Agreement in a huff when asked to curb emissions. Island states are in danger of being submerged on account of rising sea levels.
On the 20th of October 2009, the Maldives government made a spectacularly ingenious plea for climate change action by conducting the first ever underwater cabinet meeting. Politicians clad in scuba suits with oxygen tanks attached dove into the Indian Ocean ahead of December’s UN climate change conference in Copenhagen. The then president Mohammed Nasheed expressing concern over a potential swamping of the archipelago, courtesy rising sea levels, appealed for action on part of the industrialized economies. Ministers communicated using hand signals and white boards as they signed a document calling on all countries to cut their emissions. It read: ‘We must unite in a world war effort to halt further temperature rises. Climate change is happening and it threatens the rights and security of everyone on Earth.’ As President Nasheed exhorted the developed world, “you can drastically reduce your greenhouse gas emissions so that the seas do not rise much. Or when we show up on your shores in our boats, you can let us in. Or when we show up on your shores in our boats, you can shoot us. You pick.”
Incidentally, as Mr. Mehta educates us, in the 1800s approximately five million Bavarians fled the vagaries of climate change into the welcoming arms of America. Among the new emigrants was an illiterate sixteen-year old who spoke no English. He went by the name of Friedrich Trump. His grandson goes by the name of Donald Trump.
Thus the artificial fear mongering over migrants stealing the jobs of the local population, lusting after the refined women in a show of animal savagery and barbarity, and most of all, demonstrating a hopeless ineptitude to assimilate themselves to the culture of their host country is total hogwash, and bunkum. Such balderdash and malarkey obfuscate the follies of some of the richest regimes and detract from the public perspective, the need to analyse the question of migration in a holistic and untainted perspective.
These startlingly extreme narratives as Mr. Mehta points out have not been a conception of the present. The civilized world has been a silent witness to a raft of eugenicists and racists whose only avowed objective seems to have been the preservation of an unchallenged status of the imperial ‘white man.’ Leading the preponderance of the creatures have been the likes of Paul Ehrlich, an environmentalist and Stanford biologist and arguably the most infamous doyen of anti-immigration thinking, Jean Raspail. Raspail, a Frenchman and author of “The Camp of The Saints” reserves his choicest and vilest feelings for migrants. His despicable book imagines a boatload of eight hundred migrants setting sail from Kolkata (then Calcutta) in India, planning to disembark in France in the year 2000. On the way, they fornicate indiscriminately, including with their own children and eat each other’s excreta. As they prepare to land in France, the country faces a conflicting choice between liberals preparing to welcome the new arrivals and “the gallant native whites who have the moral fiber to fire on the unarmed men, women and children of the boat.”
While one would sensibly suppose that this reprehensible book would be relegated – and rightfully so – to the trash cans, the exact opposite happened. An ophthalmologist and a reprobate going by the name of John Tanton in Michigan not only reprinted the work but also went on to found the anti-immigration hate group, Federation for American Immigration Reform (“FAIR”), the Centre for Immigration Studies, and numbers USA. To complete the circle of insult and incredulity, a signed copy of this deplorable work sits on the desk of Marine Le Pen.
The Raspail Brigade seems to have garnered an unceasing legion of fans. The biggest proponent today of the anti-immigration movement is none other than the ever fulminating, tirade hurling grandson of an immigrant and the irreverent President of the United States, Donald Trump. “Haiti? Why do we want people from Haiti here? Then they got Africa. Why do we want all these people from all these shithole countries here? We should have more people from places like Norway.” People like Trump, his equally voluble advisor Stephen Miller and the motor mouth Fox TV host Tucker Carlson are all involved in setting off a dangerous game playing the poor against the middle class, the middle class against the upper middle class and the upper middle class against the rich. The unwitting scape goat in this game of snakes and ladders is the immigrant who is sandwiched in between. With no shelter in his home country and unwelcome in the host country, the immigrant is torn between the devil and the deep blue sea – literally.
According to Mr. Mehta, these ordinary migrants are the truly extraordinary heroes toiling away in the face of adversity and animosity to support entire families back home. “They send back some $600 billion in remittances every year, which amounts to three times more than the direct gains from abolishing all trade barriers, four times more than all foreign aid given by those governments, and 100 times the amount of all debt relief.”
Such remittances are sent by mothers who in the event wish to touch their child, do so through a double mesh – an arrangement at the Friendship Park along the US-Mexican border – that facilitates the passage of just the little fingers of the two people standing on either side of the fence. “This dance of the fingers, the pinky kiss, “Amargo y dulce” is how the migrants describe the experience.”
Meanwhile eight prototypes of a “wall” solely designed to keep people out are being readied.
“This Land Our Land” – a clarion call for humanity to dwell deep into their collective conscience. The Trump administration would do well to gift a copy each to every member constituting it.