The Changing Mood on Migration

LONDON – Headlines about migration can seem unbearably stark: attacks on foreigners by neo-fascists in Greece, dozens of domestic workers on death row in the Gulf, a crass and callous campaign by the British government to drive out migrants. Yet, despite persistent and even rising anti-immigrant sentiment in much of the world, promising signs of a more enlightened approach to migration are emerging.

The United States is in the midst of an intense debate on a sweeping immigration overhaul. After a quarter-century of near-paralysis, American legislators are close to agreeing on reforms that would allow 11 million undocumented migrants to earn citizenship. The proposed changes also would make the US a magnet for talent and creativity from around the world.

The fiscal and economic arguments for a more liberal approach to migration have shaped the American debate. According to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, the US Senate’s reform legislation, passed in June, would result in fiscal benefits worth almost $1 trillion over the next two decades. Supporters also point out that immigrants launched 28% of all new American businesses in 2011, even though they accounted for just 13% of the population.

The voices of both grassroots and establishment advocates have been equally decisive. “Dreamers” – children raised in the US but without legal status – have become the human face of reform. Business leaders, long afraid to participate in such a polarized debate, have finally entered the fray, arguing forcefully that immigration is critical to American competitiveness. Thanks in part to all this spirited work, 72% of Americans, according to a recent Gallup poll, now consider immigration a net benefit for the country.