Thursday, 30 August 2012 22:43

"The right to go where you want should be a principle in a decent world."

Noam Chomsky

Yesterday, an intelligent young woman asked me, “What is the purpose of a country if its citizens can't decide who gets to move here?




She argued that we will be better off if we don't let too many poor people move here. I responded that governments already are constrained about what they can and can't do to people under their control. Governments cannot with impunity allow slavery, slaughter minority ethnic groups, restrict the rights of women, or constrain free speech. Yes, they sometimes do these things, but the world and their neighbors pressure them to change their behavior and over time they do.

Since the 1970's—owing largely to the great work of US Senator Henry Jackson—it has been generally accepted that countries cannot restrict who leaves (emigration). A right to emigrate presumes a right to immigrate somewhere else, and this simple truth means that governments should be compelled to allow a reasonable level of immigration. But this does not, however, fully answer my young friend’s concerns about being overwhelmed by poor people. This is why we propose that countries strive to allow immigration at about one percent of their population each year, a small number that can change the world because the best people tend to leave the worst countries. Countries like Cuba and North Korea will be compelled either to change their bad behaviors or merge with better-run, more just countries, as happened after the fall of the Berlin Wall. One percent is a manageable number, especially if we direct our resources to help new immigrants acculturate and settle in their adopted home, rather than building walls to keep people out. Such a rational immigration policy will help us reclaim the principles that from the beginning have made our country great.  Next week How to keep the new immigrants from being a burden?