Revisiting “The Emerging Migration State”

How do states regulate migration in the face of economic forces that push them toward greater openness, while security concerns and powerful political forces push them toward closure? In his 2004 published essay The Emerging Migration StateJames F. Hollifield focuses on the efforts of states to manage movement of people across borders. It still serves as a bedrock for migration researchers worldwide.

Robert Westermann: What is a “Migration State”?

James Hollifield: A migration state is a state that manages migration for strategic gains. It is a state that has a clear selection mechanism for migrants and tries to attract the kind of migrants that are needed for its economy. It is a state that has provisions for receiving migrants who want to remain, as well as mechanisms to integrate these migrants in society.

RW: You published “The Emerging Migration State” in 2004. If you were to republish today, what important insight would you add?

JH: When I initially advanced this idea I was thinking more of the advanced economies, the receiving countries. Since I published that article, I have learned more about the importance of migration for the sending societies, who depend heavily on the ability of people to take their labor abroad, to send their remittances back home, and eventually to return if they choose to do that. States that are sending lots of migrants abroad need to set up mechanisms for them to return, to send remittances back home and to build up diaspora relations. Look at the countries I studied intensively in recent years – Morocco, Turkey, Mexico and the Philippines. All of these countries have a very large stake in making sure that migration is managed in a strategic way.

RW: Why did you decide to focus your academic research on how states manage international migration?

JH: I started my research on migration already in the early 80’s. Even at that time, I was convinced that migration would be one of the most important global phenomena; affecting international relations, human development and social change. I describe migration as one of the three pillars of globalization. The first pillar is trade, the second is capital and foreign direct investments, and the third pillar is migration, which means the mobility of labor and human capital. In future, human capital and labor will be increasingly important for global welfare, economic growth and human development. Societies that do not remain open to labor and to human capital are going to be losers in the 21st century.

RW: In your essay you explained the paradox liberal states face – governments must keep their societies open to trade and migration in order to maintain and enhance wealth, but if too many foreigners come in then the local community may feel threatened and there may be a political backlash against immigration. How should states address this so-called “Liberal Paradox”?

JH: Liberalism is built upon this interesting contradiction. Liberal states must remain open economically in order to prosper but they must also protect the social contract and reinforce the institution of citizenship. The key to solving this paradox is the willingness of states to extend rights to those who want to immigrate, and to manage migration flows so that migration is always legal and orderly. It also helps if there are international organizations and a multilateral process for managing migration. Europe (the EU) has had some success in doing this at the regional level, but also many failures, as we know. Still it is essential to have cooperation among states, especially in regions like Europe where there is a lot of migration going on. This can help to reduce the paradox. Moreover, we must not forget about the problem of forced migration, which poses an enormous challenge for liberal societies, for international security, and for global order.

RW: How is a liberal “Migration State” like the United States affected by the election of a reactive populist and nationalist like Donald Trump?

JH: Trump’s election is pushing us in the other direction. Trump does not support multilateralism and efforts to build more open markets, and certainly not more open policies with respect to migration. He subscribes to ‘beggar-thy-neighbor’ policies and he sees international economics as a zero-sum game. His “America first” approach is mercantilist and protectionist and he has some isolationist tendencies although his recent actions—intervention in Syria for example—indicate otherwise. His immigration and refugee policies have ignited a new nativism in the United States. Some Americans feel emboldened to speak out against immigration, against diversity, and his policies have spurred new hate crimes and hate speech. We have seen this kind of politics before in US history—the anti-Catholic, anti- German and anti-Irish know nothing movement of the 1850s, the fear of Asians and the so-called ‘yellow peril’ of the 1870s and 1880s that led to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and of course the now infamous 1924 National Origins Quota Act, which selected immigrants on the basis of racially preferable traits. These outbursts of nativism did great damage to American society and democracy. Based on my knowledge of history, of international politics and economics, if we go back to a world where the object is to advance your national interest at the expense of everyone else’s interest this leads to lack of cooperation and to conflict. Such policies are harmful for human development and for social justice.

RW: What will be your next migration study about?

JH: I am writing a book focused on migration and human development. If you look at the problems that exist in many societies in Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia, for example, migration can play an important role in helping to lift these societies out of poverty. I think we underestimate the important role that migration plays in human development. If we cannot solve the issue of human mobility, if we cannot manage migration so that individuals and societies can reach their full potential (a virtuous cycle), then we are going to fall back into a world defined more by conflict and war (a vicious cycle).

James F. Hollifield is Ora Nixon Arnold Chair in International Political Economy, Professor in the Department of Political Science, and Director of the Tower Center at Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas, as well as a member of the New York Council on Foreign Relations and a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC.