I am an immigrant. Someday you might be one, too

By | March 17, 2019

Laila Lalami writes:

Like other species on this planet, human beings are a migratory type. When they suddenly find themselves in desperate need of physical safety or economic opportunity, they leave home and start over somewhere new. It has always been this way. The earliest stories we tell ourselves are stories of displacement: Adam’s fall from Eden, Moses’ flight from Egypt, Muhammad’s hegira to Medina. Trying to stop this process through the building of walls strikes me as both ineffective and unnatural — like trying to stop a river from flowing.

I use the simile deliberately. Scientists predict that over the next decade the earth will warm by 1.5 degrees, and perhaps as much as two degrees Celsius if we fail to take drastic and sustained action on climate change. Even under the best-case scenarios, we will witness huge hurricanes, wildfires, droughts and other severe weather events. The consequences will be dire: loss of homes and livelihoods, hunger and disease, probably conflict, but eventually dislocation. As much as it is an economic, a social and a foreign-policy issue, migration is a climate issue.

Those who are safe from displacement — at least for the moment — must confront the roles they want to play in this unfolding global story. What responsibility do people in America, for example, have toward those who live in places that have been ravaged by wars the American government has started or abetted? What responsibility do they have toward those who have benefited least from industrialization but stand to suffer most? And how do they plan to adapt to global migration?

In Christchurch, New Zealand, last week, at least 49 people were killed during Friday prayers by a white nationalist who released a manifesto railing against Muslims and immigrants. As refugees and migrants rebuild their lives in new places, both the intolerance and the resilience of their host communities are revealed.

In order to have a fruitful conversation about immigration, we have to set aside antiquated ideas about barbarians at the gate and thoroughly rethink our approach to the inevitable displacements that will take place in our lifetimes. [Continue reading…]

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