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The World’s Third-Largest Country

April 27, 2007

I read an interesting story in the New York Times today:  “A good provider is one who leaves.”  It’s a long, fascinating article about Filipino immigrants (10% of Filipinos live outside of their country) that’s worth a read if you have 15 minutes; the article appeared on April 22.

Near the beginning of the article, the author notes that if all of the world’s immigrants and their families were to comprise a country, it would be the third-largest country in the world.  I find that amazing.  Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and the United States are some of the most coveted destinations, but immigrants will and do go anywhere they can earn wages in a currency that is at least slightly above the value of their home currency.  Bolivians will go to Argentina; Guatemalans will go to Mexico; Indians will go to South Africa; and so on.

Here is another interesting tidbit of information from the article:

“Migrants worldwide sent home an estimated $300 billion last year — nearly three times the world’s foreign-aid budgets combined. These sums — “remittances” — bring Morocco more money than tourism does. They bring Sri Lanka more money than tea does.

“The numbers, which have doubled in the past five years, have riveted the attention of development experts who once paid them little mind. One study after another has examined how private money, in the form of remittances, might serve the public good. A growing number of economists see migrants, and the money they send home, as a part of the solution to global poverty.”
I’m not sure if immigration in its current form (which is often characterized by exploitation and abuse) is the solution to global poverty, but I do think it is somewhat of an equalizer.  One of the reasons I am such a strong supporter of immigration in the United States is because by welcoming the world’s less privileged workers into our borders, we are forced to confront reality in so many ways:  we are forced to recognize the extent to which poverty and inequality exist; we are forced to recognize that there are countries and cultures very different from ours; we are forced to recognize, nonetheless, that there are people all around the world who are very similar to us in the most essential of ways (people who love, fear, hope…); and we are forced to confront the consequences of OUR country’s foreign policies both past and present.  The USA is and has been a world leader for nearly a century, and if there are hundreds of millions of destitute workers in the world, then we hold at least some responsibility for the situation and we cannot simply close our doors and our eyes to it. 
Citizens of countries who receive immigrants should make sure that their governments create and enforce laws that guarantee basic rights to immigrant workers and that ensure immigrant workers are not exploited and abused.  Not only does our world need immigration in order to better balance its wealth, we also need immigration in order to better experience and understand life in all of its marvelous forms, languages, and cultures.  Interacting with immigrants is joyful and enlightening, and something that everyone should look forward to with eagerness, not trepidation.


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