1. The problem of illegal immigration can be described in different ways. From the viewpoint of countries supplying the emigrants, migration represents a loss of people, often those who are motivated and might have made a contribution to their countries of birth. Receiving countries consider illegal migrants to be similar to goods smuggled into the country. These countries typically have an immigration policy that has an annual total and a screening procedure to admit those desired. Illegals, represent persons who have bypassed the formal process requiring some kind of policing measures to deter entry or to deport. The details of how persons arrive and what they do after arrival means that the problem is much more complex than the above description suggests and is partly illustrated by the following discussion.
2. The issue of illegal immigrants is common to all developed and some less developed countries, namely attempts to reduce the impact on recipient countries. In eras when there were no sovereign states, populations were nomadic, people did not travel far, and there were no processes of formal immigration. People would wander into each other’s territories and either co-exist or fight each other for control of the land area. Today the world is divided geographically into sovereign nation states that try to exercise sovereignty over their borders. Some achieve it better than others but the entry and presence of illegal immigrants illustrate where failures exist.
3. Three background factors to consider are population size, the number of countries and the pressures for people to move between countries both legally and illegally. The increase in world population and in the number of countries with sovereign borders has resulted in more crossborder migration. The wealth disparities between rich and poor countries provide a strong incentive for people to move from poorer to richer places, either by being screened through the approved processes or by bypassing these procedures. The increasing number of illegal immigrants arriving in richer countries suggests that more people are bypassing formal application channels.
4. Global population has almost tripled from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 5 billion in 1985 and almost 7 billion now. There were about 100 countries in 1945 when the UN was formed (about 50 joined) and about 200 now. Where did the new countries come from? Some emerged from decolonization and the demise of the British and other European empires. Fifteen countries became independent with the dissolution of the USSR after 1989. Yugoslavia split into five countries. To see how country boundaries in Europe have change from 1AD to 2000 AD, check http://www.euratlas.net/history/europe/index.html . History shows that national boundaries are constantly changing and there is little reason to expect that this will stop in the future.
5. While the size of the world has not changed, the land area is split up into more sovereign countries each of which seeks to control what crosses its borders by way of people, trade and investment. Migration has similarities to trade. Those on the move are exports from one country and imports to another. If people enter without formal permission they are similar to smuggled goods.
6. The direction of current migration flows is from poorer countries in Asia, Central and Latin America and Africa to wealthier countries in Europe, North America and Australasia. This is the case for flows of both legal and illegal immigrants and for refugees. However generous the policies are of those countries receiving immigrants, because of global population pressures demand will continue to exceed the supply of places officially available and the problem of illegal immigrants will persist.
7. The issue is complicated by other reasons why people cross borders. In a typical recent year, Canada admitted about 30.5 million people. Roughly, thirty million are tourists or short term visitors, 250,000 are temporary foreign workers and students and the remaining 250,000 approved permanent residents. These totals do not include those who have entered illegally, but there is a catch here in that some of those who entered legally may have stayed beyond their permitted entry time and thus become an illegal immigrant. Note the 30 million equal 83,561 per day and the 500,000 equal 1,370 per day giving rise to considerable administrative costs in Canada and abroad.
8. A further complication is that although Canada may announce an annual quota of 250,000 permanent residents each year in various subcategories of economic migrants, family members, business migrants and refugees, it also has a policy that makes it easier for those who entered as temporary foreign workers and students to apply for permanent residency status from inside Canada. If you are an outsider looking in, there are two legal routes to consider, one is applying for permanent residency from abroad and the other is applying for temporary entry as a worker or student and then applying for permanent residency. Not surprisingly, where demand exceeds the supply of spaces, opportunities arise to bribe those who review applications.
9. Those who arrive at Canadian airports or by boat and ask for asylum are illegal when they arrive but become part of a legal process when their claims are assessed. If they are accepted as refugees they become permanent residents who in turn can become citizens and able to sponsor family members. Unlike those that are accepted by Canada as refugees before they arrive, those asking for asylum on arrival are barging their way to the front of the queue.
10. This thumbnail sketch of the pressures for people to migrate from poorer to richer countries and the administrative difficulties of allowing entry only for approved applicants outlines the relative ease with which illegal immigrants can enter and remain. Estimates of illegal immigrants in Canada are as high as 500,000. In the US, 12 million is an oft-quoted estimate. The EU is another region that has difficulty controlling entry from outside. Between EU countries there is supposed to be free movement of labour. Numbers of illegals are guesses which tend to receive authority by repetition. We don’t know how many there are, but it is reasonable to suggest that the number has been growing especially in developed countries.
11. In the following paragraphs I discuss what measures can be taken to address the problem of illegal immigrants. Assuming that it is not possible to prevent people arriving within a country, what ways are there to detect them once they have arrived. This raises issues of privacy rights and the right of governments and others to collect information on individuals. I would argue that we have already relinquished many of these rights in other areas. Below is an illustrative list of how information is already in the public domain, often as a result of individuals providing the information in return for some good or service, and sometimes resulting from information collected such as from CCTV cameras in public and other places.
12. Passports, driving licences, health cards, social insurance cards, bank cards, credit cards, library cards, videostore cards, club membership cards, subscriptions to newspapers and magazines result from individuals willingly providing information about their activities in return for receiving some good (library book) or service (health care). With records from some of these cards, information can be gained about what people buy or rent, where they shop, what their tastes are, and where they were at certain times. CCTV cameras in public places can also confirm where people are or are not. Security forces use this type of information to track criminals and provide alibis for others. Recently, cameras identified the Stockholm bomber and terrorists who attacked the London underground. In wartime, people are required to carry identity cards. With the amount of recorded information already in the public domain, an identity card might now be superfluous. An Orwellian world of 1984 is already here but far more pervasive than Orwell imagined because he could not foresee how communications technology would evolve.
13. If individuals carry identification for the reasons listed above, it seems reasonable that they should be asked to show whether they are legally in a country. This would be similar to disclosing the type of information that is required when applying for a passport, social welfare or when completing a tax return (which illegals are unlikely to do). Of course, if a person is illegally in a country, they will not access services that require personal details. This promotes an underground economy and practices that do not conform with mandated labour and other standards. One illegal practice tends to support others.
14. The Assange/WikiLeaks case throws some light on the world we live in. Any electronic communication has the possibility of being recorded, stored and given widespread distribution even if it was thought to be made in private. When I started using e-mail about 20 years ago, I was told that even though I might delete a message from my computer, the message could remain on some server to be recovered in the future. The advice was never to put in an e-mail something you would feel uncomfortable appearing in the headlines of your local newspaper. Most people ignore this warning, but employment agencies today report that they may search the content of a person’s Facebook and Twitter postings, which are an electronic record of what people might say in a regular non-electronic conversation where no record is kept other than in the memories of those present. One review of the Assange case states,
“It is really no consolation to anyone that the power of groups like WikiLeaks to challenge the state is increasingly matched by the power of the state to keep track of what its citizens are doing, either by gathering all of this data on their own or by simply contracting out to a myriad of small and nimble data-mining agencies.”
15. Because people do interact with others in a modern economy, the means exist to identify what individuals say and do. Many illegals work in certain sectors, restaurants, construction, agriculture and the hospitality industry including massage parlours. A requirement that employers check the immigration status of employees is the law in certain US states. This is an imperfect measure as employers can pay lower wages in return for not checking an employee’s status. Also, illegal immigrants may have health problems and children requiring schooling. These and other activities provide opportunities to check the immigration status of an individual if there is a desire to pursue an immigration policy of screening and allowing entry only to certain people.
16. Small countries and island countries have done a better job of adjusting to these changes. Australia and New Zealand have a procedure for monitoring those leaving as well as those entering the country. Singapore and Switzerland check who is in the country by using a system of work permits. A female foreign worker in Singapore has to have a medical exam every six months to see if she is pregnant. If the test is positive she is forthwith deported.
17. In the US, some argue to deport the illegals, others to give them amnesty. Labour interests argue that illegals depress wages especially of low skilled workers, while business argues that US labour is not available for certain types of jobs and that illegals fill this need. The anti-immigrant lobby in the US is looking for other ways to apprehend and deport illegals. Arizona is attempting to check a person’s immigration status when stopped for some other reason such as a driving offense. Illegals are often found driving without a license and insurance. One illegal who was the victim of an accident by an insured driver was unable to present either a driving license or insurance. This led the victim to be deported.
18. Newspapers in Europe are full of stories about immigrants, their reception in different countries, their expulsion in some cases such as the Roma from France, their freedom of movement within the EU, and the extent to which they enter the EU illegally from neighbouring countries. On the other hand, there are stories of how in the past skilled workers from Eastern Europe have migrated westward to fill vacancies in various professions and trades. Recently, in Ireland, these people are now moving back to Eastern Europe, while Irish citizens are once more emigrating to North America and Australasia. These are cases of legal temporary foreign workers but those who don’t return when their visas expire become illegals.
19. Migration is not a new phenomenon but its dimensions are changing as more international trade and investment takes place and it becomes cheaper for people to move between countries. There is no simple way to deal with the problem of illegal immigrants, but there are two alternatives to consider, one is to prevent their arrival and the other is to detect and deport them once they have arrived. With high volumes of traffic to certain countries, entry by illegals can be discouraged but not prevented. Detection once in a country is becoming easier providing authorities are willing to collect the information about people as they go about their daily lives. Many will object to employing surveillance techniques but as I have argued above this is already happening in many ways we allow.