I’m a history buff, and one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned is that the history of the world is the history of migrations. A look at North America is instructive.
The tribes we call “native” to the United States and Canada are descendants of people who crossed the Bering Strait from northern Asia, spreading south and east into the continent. Many centuries later, European migrants seeking greater opportunity — some of them religious zealots, others freethinkers — settled the East Coast. They moved westward over the next two centuries, displacing and, in some cases, annihilating native tribes.
For centuries, slave traders captured and exported millions of Africans to the “New World” where they were sold as slaves. They were doomed to work as slaves their whole lives as were generations of their descendants. It took one of the most devastating wars in history to end slavery in the U.S. Decades after emancipation, millions of African Americans in the South joined what became known as “The Great Migration,” seeking better jobs and fairer treatment in the North and West.
In the mid-1800s, West Coast businessmen recruited Chinese to lay railroad tracks and work in fields and mines for little pay. Asian women were trafficked as prostitutes to serve men in the bustling cities and mining towns of the West. About 1.5 million Irish fled to the eastern U.S. to escape famine in Ireland.
Some Mexicans who have come to the U.S. in recent years may be the descendants of the Spanish-speaking people who conquered the American Southwest, which became part of New Spain, then Mexico.
Hundreds of thousands of Cubans migrated to Florida in the wake of the 1950s revolution there, and tens of thousands of Vietnamese “boat people” who fled their ravaged land were welcomed to the U.S. in the 1970s and ’80s.
Every continent and region of earth has its own history of migration, some of it voluntary, some coerced. Migrations are caused by displacement from natural disasters or flight from war or persecution. They result from conquests and coerced resettlement of populations. They are also undertaken for adventure, opportunity and profit.
Migration occurs without respect to procedures issued by governments. Laws do not deter them. Walls do not block them. Armies cannot shoot them all. Migrants brave deserts, seas, mountains and border guards. Human migration is inexorable.
The refugee crisis caused by chaos in Iraq and Syria has been years in the making. It requires a coordinated plan by the European Union, where refugees are now fleeing, and the United Nations. Negotiations over Syria must resume in Geneva. Until some measure of order is restored in Syria and Iraq, the exodus of millions will continue unabated.
Given the U.S. role in destabilizing the region, it is shameful that we’ve agreed to take in only 2,000 Syrian refugees.
Meanwhile, hysteria about undocumented migrants in the U.S. is being fanned by many Republican candidates for president. Some want to spend billions on a massive wall along our border with Mexico, while our own bridges and schools are deteriorating around us.
Instead of wasting money and sowing hatred, all candidates should address how migrants and their children can be integrated into American life. All Americans should get used to the inevitability of a more fluid and diverse society.