I'm fascinated with a phrase I hear again and again from within the immigrants' rights world: "We are here because you were there."
The argument is that a Congolese person ought to be able to waltz into Belgium, a country that got rich from viciously exploiting their land and people for the better part of the past century, and ask for some payback. An estimated six out of seven Congolese people live on less than $1.25 per day, while Belgium is consistently and comfortably middle class.
But of course, like every other European country, Belgium has strict immigration policies and makes no exception for the citizens of a nation it is responsible for wrecking. In author and immigration expert Suketu Mehta's new book, This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto, he makes a compelling case for immigration as a form of reparations.
"If the rich countries don't want the poor countries to migrate, then there's another solution," Mehta suggests. "Pay them what they're owed."
Take the Northern Triangle of Central America, composed of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. These nations have some of the highest national homicide rates in the world. Gun, gang, and gender violence are rife, as are poverty and corruption. You can understand the unprecedented levels of migration; it is a huge humanitarian crisis.
Watching that crisis roil at the border this summer while I read Mehta's book, I wondered about the relationship between the United States and our Central American neighbors. Aside from our human rights obligations under international law, do we owe it to these families to let them in? Like, actually owe it to them?
I have no interest in cultivating some sort of proprietary guilt and I understand that most nations and individuals have some degree of autonomy. Also, many resilient and talented Central Americans are working to heal their countries, and doing just fine on their own. However, the United States has long been a powerful player in the region, impacting the people there and their choice, or need, to flee.
One way it has done this is by causing climate chaos. By far the largest share of global greenhouse gases emitted since the Industrial Revolution comes from the United States. We are responsible for most of the climate change that has already occurred.
For Guatemalans, according to a World Food Program study in 2017, the main "push factor" driving emigration was not violence but drought and its inevitable results: no harvest, no work...