Dennis Jones is a Jamaican-born international economist, who has lived most of the time in the UK and USA, and latterly in Guinea, west Africa. He moved back to the Caribbean in 2007. This blog contains his observations on life on this small eastern Caribbean island, as well as views on life and issues on a broader landscape, especially the Caribbean and Africa.







**You may contact me by e-mail at livinginbarbados[at]gmail[dot]com**

Saturday, June 06, 2009

The Immigration Debate: An Attempt To Clarify Some Terms

The 'debate' in Barbados about immigation has been muddied by the government's recent decision to change the amnesty terms for Caricom non-nationals. The basis for this decision is hard to fathom, and the government's case has not been well made in terms of real figures about the extent of any problems from what have been termed 'illegal immigrants'. This lack of precision is made worse by recent press reports that flag that the Immigration Department essentially has no data worth talking about on the matter. This raises many red flags, not least to ask on what basis government's decision-making is based on hard analysis, rather than anecdotes and impressions, what some would call 'rum shop debate'.

A Barbadian, George Christopher Brathwaite, who is a PhD Candidate (International Politics) at the School of Geography, Politics and Sociology at Newcastle University, England, has written a piece entitled "SOME TERMS CAN AND DO SEND WRONG MESSAGES: A CLARIFICATION ON ‘ILLEGAL MIGRANTS’", and he has agreed to my posting it, to broaden the debate on the topic. It is reproduced below.

On May 24 2009, I was part of a Sunday Brass Tacks panel discussing the problem of migration as it relates to Barbados. At that time, I proposed that for several reasons it was more appropriate to be clear on the terms we use when making reference to those persons normally viewed as ‘illegal migrants’. Today I stand by those arguments knowing that such arguments are in keeping with international best practices and cursory distinctions. There is increasing attention placed on issues of migration (i.e. legal and illegal) because it is a complex phenomenon that straddles several spheres of cultural, social, economic, political, and geopolitical domains among others.

Specifically, we in Barbados are drawn to the debate because contemporary discourses associated with illegal migrants speak to essentially two forms of threat. The first is a threat to Barbados’ state sovereignty and the second is to societal identity. We are witnessing a clash between societal perceptions of cultural security (i.e. as a specific threat to identity), the economic need for migrant labour (i.e. in the context of social and market integration), and wider national security issues (i.e. the preservation of sovereignty). In essence, the inclination to treat migration in terms of threats, danger, and the need for emergency safeguards through the urgent implementation of policies raises the treatment of migration from a political problem to one of securitisation.

Many of us hold the developed world as the standard bearer in many policy arenas. I contend that there are indigenous solutions to many of our problems; however, I refuse to throw out the baby with the bathwater. In this regard, I make a few clarifications on the issue of illegal migration and seek to shed light on common misconceptions that pervade debate over this issue in Barbados. Nearly one of every 70 persons in developing countries is a migrant. Without specific estimates for Barbados, I need to clearly understand from the administration of the day what constitutes illegal migration, and is this terminology appropriate in the context of those phenomena we are describing in Barbados?

Human rights treaties provide many guarantees to all individuals whether present in or outside the territory of their country of nationality. Illegal migration is essentially an all-encompassing term that may include both the illegality of immigrants and emigrants. Persons can be deemed to be illegal on entering or on leaving a country although most countries uphold international law and the conventions stipulating the right of a citizen to exit his or her country of citizenship.

There are four main common categories addressed when one speaks of illegal migration. These are namely, unauthorised entry, fraudulent entry (i.e. with false documents), visa or permit overstaying, and violation of the terms and conditions of a visa or permit. Many of those we call irregular migrants started their journey perfectly legally, for example, by travelling on a tourist visa, and became “illegal” or “irregular” when they stayed on after its validity expired. Most typologies of irregular migration are therefore set up around three focal points. There is legal and illegal entry, legal and illegal residence, and legal and illegal employment. My question therefore is how much information has the Barbados government supplied in recognition that these categories of legality and illegality coexists within the domain of immigration debates?

8% of the world population lives as migrants; over half of them are women. Hence, not only is there a securitisation of migration but there is also a feminisation of migration. Many women in the world are away from their places of origin looking for income generation opportunities for themselves and their families. Guyanese and other CARICOM nationals are not outside the parameters of this trend. These patterns are directly related to a feminisation of poverty. Underdeveloped countries such as Guyana despite its status in CARICOM as one of the big four do not have sufficient social and economic security systems in place to provide potential emigrants with the necessary employment for a life with dignity and a reasonable standard of living. Hence why does the current amnesty established by the Government of Barbados seek to prejudice itself by targeting CARICOM nationals rather than undocumented immigrants from all destinations?

To be certain, while national legislation and immigration reforms represent the most obvious policy responses to immigration, administrative decisions and policy implementation may provide more practical implications of the character of immigration control or preferably immigration management. This brings us to a point that I have recently made in relation to the management of people flows as opposed to costly restrictive measures and the arbitrary expulsion of those who do not meet amnesty criteria.

The two basic standards upheld by the law of aliens are the equality of treatment principle (providing that aliens should receive equal treatment with nationals, with some exceptions such as political rights), and the principle that certain minimum international standards for humane treatment cannot be violated in relation to aliens. These concepts affirm the existence of basic rights to be enjoyed by all aliens. The principles and a number of other provisions in the law of aliens, concerning issues such as expulsion and conditions of admission, are applicable to migrant workers. The law of aliens, however, largely ignores the status of undocumented migrant workers, or those in an irregular situation, and thus does not fully apply to a large proportion of today’s migrant workers.

The United Nation’s (UN) International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) treats the issue of expulsion in Article 13. It states that:
  • An alien lawfully in the territory of a State Party to the Present Covenant may be expelled therefrom only in pursuance of a decision reached in accordance with law and shall, except where compelling reasons of national security otherwise require, be allowed to submit the reasons against his expulsion and to have his case reviewed by, and be represented for the purpose before, the competent authority or a person or persons especially designated by the competent authority. This provision extends its guarantees only to aliens who are lawfully residing within the territory of a State, thus not protecting undocumented or irregular migrants. However, if the legality of an alien’s entry or stay is in dispute, any decision leading to expulsion should be in conformity with Article 13.

I mention all of these matters not because the recent amnesty espoused by Prime Minister Thompson is unnecessary or flawed, but because it fails to consider as many of the practical concerns merited in the context of Barbados’ reputation for upholding human rights, and the fact that a great measure of unsubstantiated claims exists. The problem then culminates in responding to perceived threats by a promise to expel without speaking on actual immigration reforms that are necessary or to the due process that ought to be afforded within given parameters of law and morality. Such an action will send many persons underground considering that networks exist and in any event, this has been the global trend. I urge Barbados to revisit its intentions on immigration policy and to open the public sphere to informed views and rigorous debate.


No comments: