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Human Migration

Human Migration

by William H. Benson

June 30, 2016

     A constant in human affairs is migration. Ever since the days of Mitochondrial Eve, the mother of us all, Homo Sapiens have moved, migrated, and transported themselves toward the illusive distant horizon. According to paleontologists’ best estimates, Eve’s descendents departed Africa within the last 80,000 years, followed the Indian Ocean’s coastline, spread across Asia, and then stepped onto the North American continent as recent as fifteen thousand years ago.

      Then, within the last forty thousand years, another batch of Eve’s descendents, departed Africa and veered west into Europe, where they encountered the Neanderthals, whom the Homo Sapiens proceeded to kill off or welcome into their own families, but no one is sure.

     Over the past two or three millennium, several peoples have laid claim to the British Isles. First, there were the Celts in the years before Christ; then, Julius Caesar and his Romans in the first century; then, northern Europe’s Germanic tribes —the Angles, Saxons, Jutes, and Frisians—in the fifth century; then, the Vikings in about 1000 A. D.; and, finally, the French Normans. Each group thought it their duty to cross the English Chanel and conquer the people already there.

     I am sure there is a lesson somewhere in this history, in light of the Brexit vote last Thursday. One British commentator said, “God dug the bloody Channel for us, so why do we keep trying to fill it in?”

     Another constant: migration leads to conflict. One displaced person explained it, “These people came out of nowhere, after we had lived there for eons, and they said that they now owned our land.”

      Certain cultures have built the memory of their long ago migration into their religion and psyche. Jewish people say the words to the Passover Haggadah, “We ourselves went out from Egypt,” and in the midrash, they say, “All generations stood together at Sinai.”

     Reasons for migration fall into one of two categories: either a “push” or a “pull.” People find themselves pushed out because of a lack of jobs, few opportunities, insufficient land, inadequate living conditions, a hostile climate, famine, drought, fear of persecution, slavery, natural disasters, a poor chance to marry, or war. People are pulled to new lands because of better employment, an excellent education, religious or political freedom, or a more attractive climate.

     For example, Gambia’s youth are fleeing their small African nation because of Gambia’s dictator, Yahya Jammeh, who, The Week reported, “is erratic and brutal even by African standards. He claims to be able to cure HIV, ‘though only on Thursdays,’ and he threatens to personally slit the throats of gays.” As a result, Gambia is “one of the world’s leaders in producing refugees.” Many have fled to Europe.

     Even more tragic is the Syrian civil war between Bashar al-Assad, Syria’s ruler, and the rebels. Now in its sixth year, the war has displaced millions. Five million Syrians are stranded in Turkey, Lebanon, or Jordan; and another seven million are displaced inside Syria, and would migrate, if they could. Europe though has hesitated to open its doors to the Syrians, who are caught in the war’s cross-fires.

     On August 4, 1942, at World War II’s beginning, when many young men were leaving the family farms to serve in the military, the U.S. and Mexico signed an agreement, called the Bracero Program. By it, Mexican laborers legally entered into the United States to work on the country’s farms. They were paid thirty cents per hour, and authorities expected them to return to Mexico after the harvest.

     The program created a problem, that of undocumented laborers, those who did not bother with pursuing work here through the proper channels. By 1952, 1.5 million Mexican workers lived and worked in the United States, but did so illegally. Many were rounded up and deported. Then, on December 31, 1964, the Bracero Program officially ended, but the need for laborers still continued.

     One journalist wrote, “The allure of American prosperity combined with the desperation of the unemployed Mexicans worked together to create a problem too big for both governments to control.”

     The Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, now wants to stop all human migration between the U.S and Mexico. He begins with a worthwhile goal, to “secure our border,” but then he jumps to an unworkable solution, build a 1,300-mile wall, and, he says, “Mexico will pay for it.”

     The U. S. has spent millions just trying to build a fence between the two countries, and it has failed to stem the tide of migrants daring to seek jobs in America. A wall would cost far more, perhaps $10 billion, but the U. S. taxpayer would pay for it, because Mexico’s government would refuse.

     No one likes to feel pushed aside, and yet the Native Americans, the Palestinians, the Celts, the Neanderthals, the Syrians, and the Gambians have felt pushed off and out of their native lands. For tens of thousands of years, persecuted peoples have packed their bags and fled, and if people sense job opportunities elsewhere, they too will pack up and leave. A wall will not stop human migration.

     The difference between Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump. Ronald Reagan said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down the wall.” Donald Trump says, “I will build a wall, and I will make Mexico pay for it.”