Friday, November 09, 2007

From the Classroom to Congress: Addressing Economic Migration

What about the conditions in immigrants' home countries such as Mexico? He thought that one person might live better in the U.S. without authorization than in Mexico as a citizen or resident. The room sat silently for a moment as he waited for an answer. I asked for his thoughts. He answered "aid programs." Another person answered "education." Another answered "improving opportunities" in their home countries.

These answers did not come from a group of policy analysts or researchers, but rather a group of high school students discussing immigration in a Washington, DC classroom. The students raised questions and answered the question which is often absent from the debate on immigration - how do we address the root causes of migration?

Jubilee Act

As the students discussed immigration, across town, members of Congress listened to advocates discuss a bill that may help answer part of the question of improving opportunities in countries of origin. The House Financial Services Committee held a hearing yesterday on HR 2634, also known as the Jubilee Act. The bill would extend debt cancellation to 67 low-income countries in the world, provided they demonstrate plans to spend the funds on poverty reduction programs.

Debt and migration

What is the connection between the debt and migration? One of the factors that forces economic migration is international debt which contributes to abject poverty, poor economic development and lack of employment opportunity. Millions of families are separated due to unjust global economic policies which generate poverty and force individuals to leave their communities in search of a livelihood.

Debt and Its Dreadful Legacy

Despite debt relief agreements in 1999 and 2005, countries of the Global South continue to spend $100 million every day to pay foreign debts, often incurred by undemocratic governments and under unfair lending practices. In 2005, Mexico spent $44 billion to service debt, more than the country's entire education budget. Due to the tremendous outflow of money, debt payments limit a country's ability to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG).

How would debt cancellation help? Debt cancellation stimulates economies. For example, Uganda has invested its 2006 debt relief savings of $57.9 million in primary education, healthcare and infrastructure upgrades. Newly available resources can also support agricultural advancements and other critical economic development projects. Greater economic prospects result from fair economic policies.

Migration should be a choice, not a forced economic necessity. Pressures to migrate will only be reduced when the push factors - including unjust global economic policies - are addressed. More families and communities will remain intact when this vision is realized and jobs and other sustainable opportunities are made available by transparent and receptive leaders and governments.

The class of students understood the complexities of addressing immigration issues in the United States. Although divided in their opinions, they broadly agreed that ameliorating the economic push factors which force migration is an important part of ending the cycle of migration and global poverty, particularly in developing nations. It's time for Congress to address the same questions.

Email your Congressional Rep today and urge her or him to support the Jubilee Act (HR 2634) and 100% debt cancellation for low-income countries. Click here and take action.

For more info about the AFSC Life Over Debt campaign, click here. To learn more about the Jubilee USA network and its member organizations that support the Jubilee Act, please visit

Cross posted at Street Prophets blog.