Demographic, Environmental,
Security Issues Project


by Ronald Bleier (rbleier@igc.org)

NOTE: On February 7, 1955, I wrote the following letter (with some changes) to the Editor of Z Magazine, responding to an article on immigration by Daniel Barkley in the January 1995 issue. I gather that the editors of Z have decided not to print my letter.

To the Editor of Z Magazine:

Perhaps the best place to begin a response to Daniel Barkley's essay on "Immigration" under the heading "Scapegoating" is with his assertion at the end of his article that America will "eventually .. . pass through its current anti-immigrant dither." He hopes that we will emerge from such sentiments not "by way of economic ruin."

Such statements evince the author's refusal to face a problem that is surely going to get worse and doubtless will be with us for the foreseeable future. Moreover, to the extent that the article refl ects the progressive community's, or Z Magazine's view of the immigration question, it gives an insight into why we are marginalized or ignored on this issue.

The statistics on migration and refugees are staggering and show that we are well into a period of crisis without any sign of diminishment. As Hal Kane writes in his article on "What's Driving Migration" in the current issue of Worldwatch (Jan/Feb 1995), the world's official refugee population has grown to 23 million people from 15 million people at the beginning of the decade. In the mid-1970s there were only about 2.5 million refugees, about the same number as in the 1950s and 1960s.

In addition to the world's official refugee population, according to Kane, there are "internally displaced migrants" whose estimated numbers run to approximately 27 million. Also, there are probably another 10 million "illegal" immigrants. And in the largest category, Kane estimates that there are "around 100 million economic migrants."

It's no wonder, with these kind of numbers, that there are pressures on first world countries. In January 95, an article in the New York Times gave the numbers of legal and illegal immigrants to this country as close to 2 million a year. (Other sources suggest that this combined number is between 1.3 and 1.6 million.) Also, the Times quoted records which showed that more than 2 million visitor s per year overstayed their visas.

In Barkley's article, he details the scapegoating and eventual expulsion of immigrants in Nigeria. While I have no reason to question the particulars he cites, by restricting his field of view, Bark ley ignores the larger reality of a densely populated Nigeria with 90 million people, equaling in population all the other West African states combined.

On exactly the same issue, a New York Times article in early February 1995, tells of the thousands of immigrants in the Central African nation of Gabon who were forced to repatriate to their homes in the Ivory Coast, Mali, Burkina Faso and elsewhere because of pressures imposed by Gabon's government to rid their country of unwanted workers. Clearly Nigeria is not alone in its harsh treatment of immigrants.

In Barkley's view, better administration of existing resources would have made a difference in Nigeria. True enough, but does that mean that we should ignore other approaches to the problem? The Toronto based academic, Thomas Homer-Dixon, has argued that population pressures are at the heart of a complex brew driving ecological degradation, habitat and species extinction, poverty, and social and political instability. The more than thirty wars that are ongoing, with the attendant environmental destruction as well as the creation of huge numbers of refugees are striking symptoms of populat ion pressures creating misery, havoc and instability.

It seems to me that the progressive community should first of all face these realities rather than ignore or downplay them leaving the field to such right-wing initiatives as Proposition 187. Second ly we need to find creative (need I add: non-coercive?) incentives to address overpopulation pressures so that there will be less human misery to begin with. Fewer humans will make life easier for those who are here and will also place less pressure on the earth's non-human life forms as well as natural systems such as forests, mountains and rivers. By recognizing the damage done by overpopulati on pressures, we may perhaps begin to search for and create progressive ways of achieving the stability necessary so that people will not be forced from their homes.