Illegal immigration is a problem throughout the world

By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM–Immigration is again a hot button in the United States, with attractions for demagogues of right and left. The President has ordered 1,200 National Guard personnel sent to border areas of the Southwest, in response to other politicians demanding that something be done.

The targets of this effort are illegal drug shipments and illegal immigration.

One is insoluble because of the American appetite for drugs that has resisted several decades of law enforcement. The other is insoluble because of American demands for menial workers, and the insatiable demand for employment in Mexico and places further south.
The left side in the debate about illegal immigration wants extensive amnesty, using immigration reform as a reason to redo the war on poverty, and to obtain cooperation from Mexico and even poorer and more chaotic countries so that further immigration will be orderly.
The other side wants to seal the border, and kick out the illegals without worrying too much about how to identify them in a country without id cards. They also think it easy to find citizens willing to pick crops, wash restaurant dishes, clean houses and yards, and look after the young and old in exchange for low wages.
The politics of immigration is similar in wealthy countries having a land connection or easy sea journey from poor places, or–like France and Britain–with a colonial past that produced substantial communities from overseas, that provide family connections for the continuing flow of newcomers.
By virtue of their wealth, these countries also have social programs that allow citizens to live without working at jobs that are undesirable and poorly paid.

An American complication is that phrase in the Constitution

All persons born in the United States . . . are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
This raises the issue of what to do with the illegal parents who have produced young citizens.

Israel is one of many countries that does not give citizenship automatically at birth, but according to jus sanguinis, or the nature of one’s blood. In Israel, this means being Jewish, the relative of a Jew, or the child of a citizen (this provision covers Arabs who became citizens by virtue of being in Israel after the War of Independence, and their descendants born in Israel).
Currently Israel is wrestling with the problem of what to do with the children of illegal immigrants who have been in the country long enough to become fluent in Hebrew, attend Israeli schools, in some cases serve in the military, and who view themselves as more Israeli than anything else.
There will be a solution for several thousand young people, but it will not be widely applauded as satisfactory, and it will not keep others from presenting similar problems in a few years.

Elegance, efficiency, fairness, and justice are not to be found in laws and regulations that govern immigration. What affects individual cases are complex details, bad luck in coming to the attention of hard nosed officials, or good luck in attracting the attention of a sympathetic organization, official, or media personality.

Not everyone is treated alike. Among the details that cause problems in Israel are regulations about conversion to Judaism that depend on which rabbis did the work, in which country.

Germany has been especially generous in providing citizenship to Jews from the former Soviet Union who have no German background. It has provided passports to Israeli children and grandchildren of Jews who lost their citizenship in the Nazi period. While some Israelis refuse to consider the opportunity, others want a European  passport “just in case.”

Migration has been a constant in history. It is not about to stop in a period when transportation is easier, quicker, and less expensive than in the past.

Europeans who traveled to the United States in the 19th and early 20th century did so without prior screening. Early provisions denied entry only to individuals with infectious diseases, and to those thought to be anarchists, prostitutes, and idiots. A colleague at an Australian university  accepted a Fulbright fellowship at the University of Wisconsin. All went well until he provided pictures of his children to the consulate in Melbourne. It took the intervention of Senator Proxmire’s office to arrange a year’s visa for a child with Downs Syndrome.

There is no solution that has proved viable. Fences are breached, especially in out of the way border areas. Small boats find unmonitored beaches. Individuals willing to risk a great deal find employers willing to pay low wages for work that citizens find undesirable.
If someone out there is wiser than me, or knows about a country attractive to migrants that has handled this problem well, please let me know.
Australia and New Zealand are out of the competition. Few potential illegals can swim well enough to get there, and the occasional boat load does not count as a serious problem.


Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

  1. June 21, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I agree. The problem i sthere in Singapore also.

    I am not sure if it is there in Australia or united states…

  2. May 27, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    This article is wonderful. I love the different perspective and information about other countries. There really is no viable solution…so it will be interesting to see what happens.

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