NEW YORK – Almost immediately after the suspects in the Boston Marathon bombings were revealed to be immigrants, opponents of immigration reform in the United States seized on the case to highlight the danger of adopting a more open approach to the issue. After all, stoking public fears effectively derailed immigration reform in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001; why shouldn’t it work today, as the US Congress takes up the issue again?
The role of fear – fueled and manipulated by political interests, nationalist sentiment, and religious intolerance – in shaping the immigration debate is not exclusive to the US. To be effective and persuasive, however, such fear often requires a rational, seemingly credible argument.
That is why resistance to immigration so often relies on a common misperception that it has a profound and perverse economic impact on both source and destination countries. Migrants are believed to impose a fiscal burden on destination countries’ welfare systems or to take their citizens’ jobs. Meanwhile, source countries fear a “brain drain” as their most productive citizens seek better opportunities elsewhere.
Such fears tend to overshadow the more pragmatic aspects of immigration, leading to tightly – even irrationally – regulated borders that limit the global economy’s potential. Some economists have estimated that open labor migration would double the world’s GDP; even the most conservative assessments project an increase of 5-12% of GDP.