Much has been made of the arrival of many young illegal immigrants to the southern border of the US – with considerably less mention, of course, that these so-called “children” are not mostly what Americans think of as children, since in their home cultures people mature to adulthood without being held back by American coddling. This influx of illegal migrants has overwhelmed the available infrastructure to handle such persons, causing many people of delicate emotion to feel Terrible about it, I’m sure. (I’m more horrified at the mindset of families that would send actual prepubescent children and young women across an entire corrupt, immigrant-unfriendly country like Mexico alone. The only circumstance in which such an action would be moral, in my estimation, is if the children were fleeing genocide – trading certain death for almost-certain abuse and potential death for the chance to get to someplace soft like America.)
The thing that struck me, after reading this comment at John C. Wright’s blog, was that migrations of any sort tend to have terrible consequences if the magnitude is too high for the receiving area to assimilate. I recall at the end of last school year reviewing American history with a seventh grader – and having to point out that no matter how terrible conditions in industrializing cities were, people left their farmlands because they thought farming was worse! No one migrates from a bad situation to a worse situation on purpose! Of course, people’s information can be incomplete or based upon lies, so that from our vantage point in the present, we generally think of the exodus from farming to industrialized cities as trading down instead of trading up, what with the way insufficient sanitation and housing made city living incredibly risky for a while.
But it seems to me that whether you’re talking domestic migrations, as happened during industrialization, or international migrations, mass movement of people always produces poor conditions!
We see and experience this principle in our normal daily lives on a regular basis, in fact. What else is rush hour than the deleterious effect of having too many people driving to or from work at the same time, overloading the transportation infrastructure’s capacity to handle the volume? Ever tried to make a quick grocery run right after work – or even worse, on the day before a holiday? Driven through a beach community on a summer Saturday?
The only conditions I can think of where mass movement of people doesn’t produce poor conditions is the very rare case when a tribal group controls a fairly large range, and simply migrates around it, carrying all their infrastructure with them.* Obviously this lifestyle is incompatible with fixed capital – no agriculture, and no complex cities either. Even the simplest of buildings needs regular maintenance just from the damage of elements and fauna!
So, what can be done about it? Well, despite various locales having regulations about infrastructure improvement, in the counties surrounding Washington, D.C., it always seems like the infrastructure badly lags behind the influx of people. (And these are wealthy people, too, by historical standards!) But building first runs the risk of investing badly – as China’s ghost cities show. So much for domestic movement – in today’s environment, people can bear the temporary inconvenience far better than in historical times when they didn’t have sanitation. (Permanent inconvenience, such as when a formerly sleepy area becomes a boom town, thus resulting in increased home value, which leads to increased property taxes, which leads to original residents being priced out of the area, is a stickier problem.)
But what about international migrations? Well, I’m afraid that the solution there is stringent border control. It’s plain enough just from watching the consequences of domestic immigration within the various States that people moving into culturally different areas causes friction and potential dislocation of previous populations (Californication) – people moving from even more divergent cultures – particularly en masse – logically must result in even more friction. I’m afraid the Ellis Island mythology is just that – a mythology; and one with pernicious effects today, no matter what one might think of its historical effects.
*Once again, long-term consequences might rear ugly heads. I’m not well-read enough on desertification in tribal herdlands, though my understanding from this fascinating TED talk is that traditional grazing patterns aren’t optimal, but they can be altered to work in far better conjunction with grassland ecosystems.