Saturday, July 23, 2016

Building Walls to Block Immigration Will Backfire, Russian Expert Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 23 – Immigrants today, both legal and illegal, are very different from their predecessors because they retain ties to their homelands even as they put down roots in their new place of residence.  As a result, Andrey Rezayev says, building walls to keep them out will backfire because such walls will also have the effect of preventing them from returning home.
                A comparative sociologist at St. Petersburg State University, Rezayev says that any sensible policy with regard to immigration must begin with a recognition that the new immigrants are not like their predecessors but instead go back and forth between where they work and where they are from rather than making a clean break (

            This shift began in many places around the world during the second half of the 20th century; and it has been affecting Russia since the end of Soviet times.  Even Jews and Russians who left earlier now return for visits, something that few would have predicted earlier, the sociologist says.

            Rezayev and his colleagues from the US and elsewhere say that the US is the leading country as far as immigration is concerned, with 42 million immigrants, of whom 13 million are illegal. Germany has now passed Russia which has between 11 and 13 million immigrants thanks to the influx of people from Syria to Germany and the outflow of Central Asians from Russia.

            He and his colleagues, the St. Petersburg scholar says, have discovered “a paradox.” Donald Trump who is the Republican candidate for president in the US has called for building a wall to separate Americans from what he says is “a flood of Mexicans arriving from the south.”  But doing that, Rezayev says, will produce exactly the opposite effect he projects.

            Instead of reducing the number of immigrants legal and illegal in the US, he continues, the construction of such a wall would mean that those migrants who are in the US would stay there permanently rather than moving back and forth between the United States and their original homeland, Mexico.

            As a result of such a wall, the number of migrants “would not become smaller,” nor would “the social problems” that they present, Rezayev continues. That provides an important lesson for Russians who think that blocking all immigration from Central Asia and the Caucasus would work to their advantage.

            Instead, what Russia needs to do is to make migration flows as transparent and thus legal as possible and to promote integration by identifying people who can help immigrants fit into their new society.  Often, he says, these will be migrants who have been in Russia for a longer period and know the ropes.


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