Go back to 2016 and what do you remember? A global panic over migration. Panic! Be Afraid! Old dudes are shouting at you! Politicians all over the world were pounding their lecterns, warning of the danger of immigrants. But 2016 was only the crescendo of an old trend. For decades now, we’ve been told, over and over again, that the only way to stay safe is to have strong borders. Fearmongering about immigration has been constant, intense and universal. It seems to be the #1 weapon of choice in elections around the world.
So powerful is this message that even left-leaning politicians in many countries embrace draconian immigration restrictions. Often, such restrictions are justified by supposed threats to jobs (even though immigration creates jobs) or that immigrants use public services (even though most immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, pay taxes), alongside the looming possibility of crime and terrorism (even though many countries produce far more home grown crime and terrorism).
Yet there has always been a third rationale for immigration restrictions — public health. Without borders, we are told, diseases could travel quickly across the world. Borders, we are told, will keep us safe by allowing governments to quickly screen travelers for dangerous illnesses, curbing their spread. Borders stop pandemics!
Well, so much for that argument.
As we watch with horror the rapid spread of the novel Coronavirus, we can see, in real time, that borders and immigration controls do little to stop the spread of infectious disease. Why? Because borders aren’t designed to stop travel, they’re designed to stop immigration. And travel is what causes diseases to spread. In fact, our entire, global system of commerce is designed to encourage temporary, short-term travel, for tourism, conferences, study or family visits, particularly for people from the Global North. By the time a government moves to close borders, as Trump threatened to do yesterday, it’s already too late. The virus is already inside the gates.
Yet, still, even during this actual, real live crisis, many politicians like Trump continue to claim that we need immigration restrictions to protect our countries. Trump keeps talking about Mexico, a country that actually has fever cases than the United States. Politicians in Italy are claiming that the virus was brought by refugees, even though this is completely false. Some blame the EU, yet while many countries in the EU have cases…so do European countries who are not in the EU.
As the virus spreads, politicians seem ever more desperate to tie that spread not to wealthy, upper class people taking cruises or attending conferences, but to refugees and undocumented immigrants. Somehow, we’ve managed to get through this entire election cycle without a single candidate for president even mentioning the real and present danger of cruise ship travel. Why wasn’t I told? Where is the leadership?
Next Time a Politician Tells You to Fear Immigrants, Ask Their Opinion on Cruise Ships
Governments keep telling us that the supposed threats posed by foreigners are so severe that they require urgent and damaging action. Meanwhile, real emergencies, like climate change and the emergence of new pandemics, go unaddressed due to lack of funding. Programs that may actually help save lives, like infectious disease research and carbon capture, go unfunded and ignored, barely mentioned even by liberal politicians.
Years of screaming about the danger of migration, billions of dollars wasted and entire nations ripped apart in fruitless arguments over imagined dangers, fearmongering and hate. Yet, when an actual emergency finally arrives, all our leaders can bother to do is pass around some hand sanitizer and admonish us for creating a global shortage of face masks, because apparently it was our job to keep track of how many face masks are available and make sure to avoid a shortage. The government’s job was to build a huge, expensive wall that has done nothing to make us safer. But providing enough face masks in case of a global pandemic? Well, turns out that was your job, dear reader! Didn’t you know? Yours and yours alone.