Global Discourses, Politics, and Policies of Immigration

By Erika Lee, Associate Professor of History and Asian American Studies at University of Minnesota, IHRC Affiliate,

We understand migration as a global phenomenon; people are on the move in
every part of the world and have been for centuries. We think less about how
the global migration of people also informs global debates and policies
about migration. This week's news gives us an opportunity to look at a few
common issues from around the world and to consider how they are connected
to each other.

The recent global discourse linking migration to terrorism, ethnic riots,
and illegal behavior has apparently had a direct impact in Japan. A recent
government survey there found that 84.3% of respondents believed that
"public safety had worsened over the past ten years." 55.1% of these
respondents blamed "a rise in crimes by foreigners visiting Japan." With
migration seen as a threat to public safety, Japan, "in line with recent
global trends," has introduced tougher immigration policies. For example,
only 34 out of 954 applicants were awarded refugee status in 2006. With its
rapidly aging population and nearly stagnant fertility rate, Japan has
grappled with the idea of massive foreign migration as a solution to the
impending future labor problem. But as a Japan Times contributor commented
this week, with the "way the wind is blowing, domestically and globally,"
Japan is unlikely to turn pro-immigrant or multicultural any time soon.
“'Multicultural Japan' remains a pipe dream? (The Japan Times, 3-27-07)

In the European Union, alarmist reports about "the greatest migratory
emergency in [European Union] history" have spurred discussions of drastic
new immigration controls requiring the cooperation of all nations within the
EU. European Commission vice-president and Commissioner for Freedom,
Security and Justice Franco Frattini ominously reported that “demographic
data show migration will rise as the population of the world’s 50 least
developed countries is expected to double, from 800 million in 2007 to 1.7
billion in 2050.? The report comes as the migration season involving
Africans searching for a route to the "promised land of Europe" begins
across the more serene summer seas. This year, with the human rights
situations deteriorating at a fast pace across the Horn of Africa,
immigration officials are warning of a springtime surge in "irregular
migration" along the Mediterranean. National responses to international
migration have been seen as insufficient.

In 2005, Frontex, the EU’s border control agency head-quartered in Warsaw
was established to coordinate border operations and border security training
across the EU. This year, the agency is poised to launch over 30 joint
operations spread across the central Mediterranean and along the EU's
"eastern flank." A European Patrols Network along the southern maritime
borders will begin this spring and will serve as a model for broader
cooperation among nation states. Overall, Frontex is charged with
coordinating the efforts of individual EU member states in securing the EU’s
6,000 kilometres of external land borders and 85,000 kilometres of
‘Centre focus Irregular Immigration’ (The Malta Independent, 3-30-07)

Such coordinated efforts on such a large scale will surely be just the
beginning of a global trend. Indeed, they echo U.S. President George W.
Bush's post 9/11 call for a "North American Security Perimeter" to increase
continental security integration between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.
Global discourses about migration and even coordinated migration policies
have played important roles in the history of migration, but the scale and
breadth of what we are witnessing today is truly unparalleled. With the
fence along the U.S.-Mexico border being built and "permanent patrols" by
the EU in the Mediterranean being planned, this week's news raises extremely
troubling questions about what our world will look like in the future.


Erika Lee is an Associate Professor of History and Asian Studies at the University of Minnesota and an IHRC affiliate.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Ott published on April 8, 2007 7:51 PM.

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