This blog is written by Canadian journalist Donna Laframboise. Posts appear Monday & Wednesday.
Economic migrants are distinct from refugees running for their lives. But the two are increasingly blurred.
Immigration activists think people living in affluent countries need to be more compassionate. Welcoming bona fide refugees – people whose lives are genuinely imperiled in their homeland – is no longer good enough.
These days activists think sanctuary should be given to those merely trying to escape poverty. When a 7,000-strong caravan of people from Honduras and other Latin American countries massed on America’s southern border in late 2018, the media emphasized the impoverished nature of their lives back home, studiously ignoring the elephant in the room.
To her credit, CBS reporter Adriana Diaz acknowledged that elephant at 43 seconds into this report. In her words: “Most tell us they’re fleeing extreme poverty. But that’s not a condition for asylum or refugee status in the US.”
Poverty can’t be solved via immigration. The math doesn’t work.
Extreme poverty has diminished dramatically in recent decades. We’re on the right track, headed in the right direction. But transformations of this magnitude take time.
An estimated 4 billion people – half the world’s population – still live on less than $10 a day. By Western standards, that’s dismal. Nevertheless, all of those people can’t move to America.
Despite being the largest country in the world by population after China and India, the US is currently home to only 327 million human beings. Its infrastructure couldn’t possibly support a population 12 times the size.
Nor is the US a slouch. For the past 30 years, it has generously granted citizenship to roughly 1 million new immigrants each year. (Back in 1980, the total was half that. In 1960, it was one quarter.)
So let’s get serious. Even if every newly minted US and EU citizen came from the poorest regions of the globe, 1 million + 1 million each year doesn’t begin to make a dent. Solving poverty that way will take hundreds of years.
The video at the top of this post does a brilliant job of illustrating these ideas. Please note, however, that its numbers are wonky.
A recent World Bank publication says 1.9 billion people were living on less than $1.90 per day (its definition of extreme poverty) in 1990. It’s unclear when this video was recorded – perhaps as early as 1996.
Presenter Roy Beck’s claim that 3 billion people were living on less than $2 a day therefore appears to be an exaggeration. But in this instance, precise figures aren’t required. The big picture argument remains valid – and the visual presentation is powerful.
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