Saturday, May 9, 2015

Why Can't People Move Around The World As Fast As Money Can?

It's something that I think about all the time, both as a partner in an immigration law practice and as a witness to the Internet-age phenomenon of e-commerce and e-trading, both within and without borders.  It's a phenomenon that has, to a degree unimaginable in any previous period of history, has almost erased the ancient concept of borders and, in the process, transformed both national and international politics--almost to the point at which describing politics that way feels like a distinction without a difference.

I need hardly add that this transformation has been incredibly destructive, and not always in a creative way, for the majority of us.  Consider the current situation in the U.S., for example.  To borrow from a Facebook meme that I can't properly source (but isn't mine, in any case), American corporations make goods in Asia (through jobs they've exported), sell them here and around the world, and then take the profits and run them through overseas tax shelters so as to avoid any obligation to help pay the bills of their birth country.  In many cases, never mind that it is their birth country; they're often willing to put themselves up for international adoption, by re-incorporating under the flag of one of their tax shelters.  And the rest of us are left paying their bills as well as trying to buy their merchandise.

In the 21st century, money can play hide-and-go-seek in a way that is as dangerous as it is fantastic. Corporations can move money around the world at the speed of light.  But how about people?  The Mitt Romneys of the world like to believe that corporations are equal to people, even though that was never the point of giving corporations some degree of personal rights.  But corporations in the new millennium aren't equal to people; in a very real sense, they are superior.  In addition to the rights to sue and be sued, like people, and to have perpetual life, unlike people, they can also move money anywhere, anytime, for any reason.  But, as any immigration attorney here or outside of the U.S. knows, the same can't be said for people.  Corporations can travel around the world at the speed of light, but people can at best move around the world at the speed of sludge.

When it comes to what has been construed in American federal jurisprudence as a fundamental constitutional right, the right to travel, that right is still as tethered to borders as it was in the days when both commerce and individuals both felt the need to be protected by physical boundaries.  This has had the effect of creating an unlevel playing field.  Money can chase opportunity around the world, but people can't.  The consequence of this is that the majority of us have been effectively held economic hostage by the very borders that used to offer protection for everyone.  As a consequence of that, incomes are driven down as well as tax revenues--and thus, national governments have even fewer resources for their most basic functions, including their borders.

And immigration, after all, is not a one-way street.  U.S. citizens should have the right to seek opportunity when it may exist for them in other countries, just as citizens of other countries should have that right to come here as well.  All countries, and their citizens, would benefit in the process from having a more level playing field for travel.  Incomes and tax revenues would both go up--and, in the process, the unconstrained power of multinational corporations would be more constrained by competing social, economic and legal forces.  I doubt that there will ever be a world where their are no immigration laws (and therefore no immigration lawyers).  Travel is always complicated enough to require some degree of regulation.

But we need to move toward a world where people can move around it as fast as money does.  And the first step in that direction is to start viewing immigration not as an issue for individual nations, but as one that nations should jointly embrace, finding new levels of cooperation.  It isn't all that new of an idea; the much-reviled NAFTA gave birth to the TN visa, and U.S. tourists can now travel to Europe without a visa.  It's a very small step from that to a series of one or more international treaties that could open up the right to travel in both directions.

We need to get away from the us-versus-the-invaders rhetoric that has transformed immigration into a racial wedge issue, and discuss it instead in a way that focuses only on one race--the human race. Borders don't matter for money.  They shouldn't matter (or not so much, anyway) for the people who make, spend, save and invest that money.  For the reason that the money exists in the first place.

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