Regularizing & Decriminalizing the Movement of People, Part II

We are not going to stop sending people, and you guys are not going to be able to stop them from getting in.

These are the words of Lt. Col. Reyes Garcia, a Honduran military policy leading an operation to break up an extortion ring used for trafficking women and contraband cigarettes.

When I last addressed this issue, I was prompted to do so in response to the news report of the hundreds of people from Ghana, Eritrea, and Somalia who drowned off the coast of Italy attempting to enter the European Union in search of work and a better life. I wrote then that these tragedies happen because, as the barriers to the movement of goods and services have fallen, those facing people who merely seek the opportunity for a decent life continue to go up.

This time, the focus is on the United States, where the latest humanitarian crisis involves tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them children, who have overwhelmed US border facilities. They flee violence and despair in search of a “good job” – sewing underwear in a sweatshop for a weekly wage of $47.00.

Here is the irony – similar jobs used to proliferate in Honduras, El Salvador and the other Central American countries at the heart of this story. The ease with which capital can move in search of even higher returns has relocated many of the factories to countries in Asia, such as Bangladesh, where they find cheaper labor and fewer regulations. The people left behind are people like Waldina Lizeth Amaya, a 37-year old mother of four from Honduras who worked for several years in a factor making bras and panties. Now, after trying unsuccessfully to find work in Honduras, she is one of the tens of thousands of persons determined to make it to the U.S. in search of the jobs there.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) writes that:

When properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants, their communities, the countries of origin and destination, and for employers.

In 2011, there were 105 million people working in a country in which they were not born, generating income of US$440 billion, of which US$350 billion was sent back to their home countries. International aid agencies now treat these remittances as an important source of “foreign earnings” for the receiving countries.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Yet, the rules to manage and legitimize the economic migration of persons remain sketchy, at best. The World Trade Organization (WTO) rules recognize the movement of people as service providers as a delivery mode for trade in services. However, existing rules focus on movement of professional and highly-skilled workers. The low-skilled or unlicensed service provider continues to be marginalized, despite the continued high and ongoing demand for their services, particularly in developed economies.

In the face of this Central American influx, the United States does not have to wait for new WTO rules – it can unilaterally address the issue through a rational approach to immigration, which also takes into account the reality of labor and economic migration – persons who want to temporarily migrate just to work. The tragedy is that neither the WTO nor the US seem inclined to do so.

Advertisements

Regularizing and Decriminalizing the Movement of People

130 people from Ghana, Eritrea, and Somalia, including pregnant women and children, drowned off the coast of Italy (October, 2013) when the boat in which they were traveling caught fire and capsized. The boat left from Tripoli, Libya with about 500 persons attempting to reach Italy and enter the European Union. This route each year claims thousands of lives.  The death toll from this latest incident will only rise as at least another 100 passengers are missing. These tragedies happen around the world because, as the barriers to the movement of goods and some services have fallen, those facing people who merely seek the opportunity for a decent life continue to go up.

Labor or Economic Migration          

Whether fleeing political persecution or economic instability, most migrants seek the opportunity to live a normal life, earn a decent wage and support their families. Economic or labor migrants are motivated primarily by the search for employment. The irony is that, if given the opportunity to come and go legally for work, many would do so. Instead, they are forced to become “illegal migrants”.

Whether its Africans trying to make it to Europe or Central Americans and Haitians trying to make it to the United States, the

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

(Courtesy of Wikipedia)

barriers they face force hundreds of thousands of migrants to place themselves at physical risk. They rely on smugglers who provide passage using overcrowded leaky boats or airless trucks. Women and girls run the risk of being sold into prostitution and slavery. Those who make it to their destination may end up living and working in sub-standard conditions and in enforced separation from their families.

Yet, as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports:

. . . when properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants, their communities, the countries of origin and destination, and for employers.

The IOM further reports that, in 2011, there were 105 million persons working in a country in which they were not born, generating income of US $440 billion. The money they sent back to support their families – remittances – was around US$ 350 billion.

Trade Rules & Migration

The WTO’s General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) identifies four delivery modes for services trade; Mode 4 is the movement of natural persons as service suppliers. GATS and other trade agreements that provide for free movement of persons focus almost exclusively on the movement of professionals and skilled workers. Trade rules generally ignore and marginalize the low-skilled or unlicensed service providers. As a result, their migration is considered illegal.

Yet their services are no less in demand. They are the ones who migrate to pick fruit, mow lawns, clean homes, and care for children and the elderly. Until this discrepancy is addressed and policies and rules put in place to support the free movement of skilled and low-skilled service providers, tragedies like the ones in the Mediterranean will, unfortunately, continue to occur.