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Friday, 21 August 2015

Reform for the Day: Opening the Borders

I read that there are an estimated 12 million undocumented illegal migrants living in the USA representing about 3.75% of the 320 million population. That figure seems to be common ground.

 Mainstream politicians like Mr Donald Trump want to stop the number growing and as part of the solution propose building a wall the length of the border with Mexico. This policy has the support of major construction companies. Mr Trump also proposes deporting the 12 million, which of course would be rather expensive and does not have the support of the construction companies who need the labour. Doh!. 

Other mainstream politicians talk of amnesties and giving people documentation.

At the fringes there are people who advocate armed border patrols with a “Shoot on Sight” mandate and, at the other extreme, those who advocate opening the border, more or less treating Mexico as if it was a state of the Union. [Warning: I made that last bit up. If it’s alright for the Department of Work and Pensions … ]

In the UK there is more uncertainty about how many illegal migrants live here, with estimates ranging between 300 000 and 600 000, so between half a percent and one percent of the 64 million population. We are led to believe that most new illegal migrants enter via Calais and as I write a large number of panting police officers, French and British, are running around that benighted port trying to stop them (since fences don’t). 

This being Britain, not America, no one proposes shooting them on sight. It has been proposed that the Channel Tunnel should be closed at night. A very few people have suggested that the border should be opened – that the UK should join the rest of Europe in the borders-free Schengen area.

One merit of this last proposal lies in something often overlooked. If your borders are open, it is easy to leave as well as come in. At the moment, among those illegally in the UK there are probably a significant number who would like to leave and go somewhere else. But you can’t just hitch a lift or hop on a Eurostar train. You need documents to get out as well as get in (it’s not the French who want to see them, it’s the British). There are also those who are here legally but who fear that if they leave, they won’t be able to return given the ever more restrictive Visa regimes dreamt up by the Home Office. So we have people who are trapped. Opening the borders would free them.

This argument will not persuade those who think that if you open the borders, the whole population of the Middle East and North Africa will turn up at the Channel Tunnel. This seems most unlikely. Most people prefer to stay where they are already, even in the harshest of times. Many Jews stayed in Nazi Germany, despite adequate warning, until it was far too late. (To be fair, they were not very welcome elsewhere and were sometimes sent back: notoriously in the case of the passengers on the 1939 voyage of the St Louis, turned away by Cuba, the USA and Canada and subsequently on thee ship's return shared out between the UK, France, Belgium and the Netherlands )

A main reason why there are always would-be migrants at Calais is that most of them possess (along with degrees and diplomas) some knowledge of English. If they come here rather than stay in France, they can get around much more easily because they already know how to ask the price of a pint of milk. It’s not because Margate or Middlesborough have any intrinsic attractions, except in those cases where friends or family already live there. Understandably, we Brits do overestimate the attractions of our own country. But outsiders will not always share our enthusiasm. It would help them to a more realistic evaluation of the UK if we prevented our Royal Family presenting to the world's media such an unreal version of what life is like here. When did anyone here last see a PRAM in use, for goodness sake?

The problems created by the fact that English is the World Language could be addressed. If you opened the borders, it would certainly make sense to ensure that there are lots of classes in English available for those who want to improve their existing language skills. You can provide a lot of language instruction for the price of one panting police officer. But you should also provide language classes in French, German, Italian, Turkish and so on for those who, after a brief experience of how we live, decide that, well, thank you but maybe somewhere else would suit .... Of course, such classes should be open to British people, some of whom might also like a fresh start away from the Department of Work and Pensions.

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