migration vs immigration

Rethinking Our Immigration System: Moving Beyond Borders

migration vs immigration
Image from National Geographic

Have you ever thought about the differences between immigration and migration? Since we grew up in a world with strict immigration rules, it’s easy to accept that it’s a normal institution without ever stopping to question its existence. Until I spent time pondering the subject today, I had never thought much about just how strange and unnatural immigration systems can be.

So, what exactly is the difference between immigration and migration? While immigration means for an individual or a family to move to a new country from their country of origin, the word migration denotes the act of moving from one place to another – within a country or across borders, for people or animals, and often refers not to a single individual or family but a larger demographic. Immigration includes all of the man-made laws, regulations and processes created by countries to control or block the flow of people from one place to another. Migration is a natural process (though generally regulated by immigration laws when it concerns humans crossing borders) that simply describes the movement of humans, animals and birds. Immigration is a relatively new problem created after the dawn of civilization; migration is ancient.

Historical migration of human populations began with the movement of Homo erectus out of Africa across Eurasia about 1.75 million years ago. Homo sapiens appear to have occupied all of Africa about 150,000 years ago, moved out of Africa 70,000 years ago, and had spread across Australia, Asia and Europe by 40,0 00 years BCE. Migration to the Americas took place 20,000 to 15,000 years ago. During this time, early humans migrated due to many factors such as changing climate and landscape and inadequate food supply.

Good reasons to be able to freely migrate, aren’t they? Can you imagine living in a world where you could simply move anywhere you wanted – without having to pay for a passport or get visa approval or follow a years-long residency procedure – in response to a job opportunity that allowed you to better care for your family? What if you had a disease that could be cured if you were able to spend time in the therapeutic waters of the Dead Sea, and you were able simply to pick up and move there with no hassle or restrictions?

This natural way of living is, of course, still the way animals, fish and birds live. They migrate wherever they need to move in order to feed, mate and live comfortably during the seasons.

We, on the other hand, have effectively trapped ourselves. Because we have carved our world up using artificial geopolitical borders, we are now captive to the countries in which we were born (unless we are able to secure the right expert help to make our escape). Whether or not we agree with the policies of our home country, we must pay taxes to the government. Whether or not we are happy in our home country, we must stay.

How did we get to this point? In ancient times, tribes offered protection and greater chances of survival. Though tribes were often (and sometimes still are) nomadic, tribes represented a membership society with some loose parallels to modern-day citizenship. As civilization developed, so did the increased capacity for protection from spears and flaming arrows in the form of fortresses, castles and border walls. Much of the 3,000-mile Great Wall of China was constructed during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to prevent attacks from rival forces, although officials as early as the fifth century BCE also built sections of this and other walls. The United States had no federal laws restricting immigration until the late 1800s.

While border protection and fortification in the form of walls is understandable to some degree – particularly in ancient times when they helped protect people from war – walls are also wildly disruptive. In fact, fences and current management practices have resulted in the disappearance of 99% of Texas habitat, according to the Perot Museum of Nature and Science. When we think of current border wall proposals in the U.S., the problems posed to animals by such an unnatural blockade is a problem we rarely consider. Serious problems for tribal people whose nations straddle the U.S.-Mexico border is another issue. These people, whose legal tribal nations exist in both the U.S. and Mexico, would see themselves divided from family and without access to lands that have been inhabited by their families for generations. For refugees who have the legal right to request safety and protection in the U.S., border walls only discourage them from getting the help they need.

While it’s true that immigration laws do offer us protection from criminals, it is time to rethink the purpose and meaning of our borders. Around the world, immigration systems have highly complex, inflexible rules that truly restrict the natural flow of people from going where they need to go. These systems often impose horrible realities onto individuals by dividing them from their families, disrupting natural support systems and bringing heartache to those involved. Should we really impose criminal penalties on those border-crossers who are simply following the same natural survival instincts that took our nomadic ancestors from place to place in search of the best possible life? We all live where we do today because of the migration of our ancestors. I suspect they would find it nearly impossible to understand why we allow our countries to own us.

Fortunately, for people who want to live in the U.S., our expert team has over thirty years of experience in immigration law. Though we believe it is high time for immigration reform, we know how to navigate our current system. We are here to answer your questions and help you realize your dream of living where you will create your best life. Please contact us today to schedule your consultation.

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