EDITORIAL- CLOSED OR OPEN BORDERS
It seems that immigration issues are on the front burner in many countries around the world. In the United Kingdom, for example, these are some of the issues which would have fueled the Brexit movement and contributed to the decision by the citizens of the United Kingdom that that country should leave the European Union. In the United States, issues of immigration would have been a major campaign platform for the newly elected President Donald Trump and, in fact, since his election, President Trump has already begun fulfilling his campaign promises of deporting illegal immigrants and making it more difficult for persons from certain countries to enter the United States – including refugees from war torn nations.
Immigration is one of those issues which deeply divide people. On one hand, there are those whose nationalist convictions lead them to the position that their country and people must be protected from invaders who seek to take what should be reserved for citizens, and whose presence can undermine the social fabric of the community and pose a threat to national security. On the other hand, there are those who believe in the diversity of the human race and embrace the notion that every country is strengthened by diversity, and every law-abiding individual should have the opportunity to seek a better life in the country of their choice. Then there are those in the middle who, while embracing diversity and the right to migration, are clear in their view that citizens of a particular country must be given first priority. I do not believe it is a generalization to say that I believe that most people fall in the latter category.
Whether it is the international debate on immigration issues, or just a greater consciousness about such issues, I find it interesting that, over the past month, I have been in earshot of several national conversations about our immigration policy. Of course, as in everything else, there are divergent views on what this policy should entail. Some are of the view that Anguilla needs to liberalise its immigration policy and encourage more persons to migrate to Anguilla – in a deliberate effort to increase our population. Others believe we should continue as we have been doing and closely monitor and restrict immigration. Many more are of the view that, in the interest of jump starting our tourism industry, Anguilla should implement measures that make it easier for visitors to enter and remain in Anguilla for longer vacation periods. I am not sure what direction our Government proposes to take when it comes to the thorny issue of immigration, however I would encourage our Government to take a closer look at our immigration practices and determine whether they are serving the interests of our country and our people in the long term.
Immigration for any country is a sensitive issue that must be treated with caution. This is even more so for countries in the Caribbean region which are small in size and are naturally separated by water. We are in a position of vulnerability and it is easy for us to be inundated with people from outside the region – and to lose some of our cultural identity in our efforts to embrace others. However, I often wonder about the merits or demerits of us restricting entry into our countries of our Caribbean neighbours who, historically and culturally, have so much more in common with us than people from other parts of the world to whom we offer ready access. As one calypsonian put it, we share a common history, and common ancestors, but we ended up in different places because “someone slip and put us on a different slave ship”.
If nothing else, this is a stark reminder to all of us that, while we are now busy guarding our borders, at some point in our history we were all immigrants. Indeed, the earliest known inhabitants of our region migrated here from elsewhere. Throughout history people have migrated. One only has to look to the Scripture to recognize that it is simply a part of human existence. Are we then to be so concerned with nationalist perspectives or should we be more willing to welcome others? Are we to be concerned about borders, or should we be concerned about humanity? Should we be overly concerned about exclusion, or should we focus on inclusion and integration? I don’t know the answers to these questions. These are questions that I, too, struggle with when thinking about the type of Anguilla we want to leave for future generations. But they are questions which, as a country, we must answer because they affect how we deal with the issue of immigration.