Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Emigration, not Immigration

As a rule of thumb, when public discussion of an issue is as vexed as the immigration debate is, it is a signal that debaters are asking the wrong question.

So let me propose an alternative question to "what should we do about illegal immigration?" The question is this: What is the United States' emigration policy?

There are all sorts of reasons why the US ought to be focused right now on getting its citizens to emigrate. If the nation wants to have its economic reach expand around the world, then more Americans need to live abroad, as residents not tourists. If the US wants to improve the quality of life in the developing world, then more Americans need to live abroad, not merely provide aid. if we want to improve understanding among different nations, races, and peoples, then Americans need to live abroad. In short, most of our global challenges cannot be resolved by government policy alone. They demand people on the ground, living abroad, not just visiting.

There is all sorts of evidence that having citizens move abroad is a good thing. It has certainly been the case for economically weak nations, whether in the 19th century when Europeans emigrated to the United States, or in the 21st Century, when the economies of many developing nations thrive on remittances from citizens abroad. It has been the case for China, which as this article in The Atlantic makes clear, is flourishing in Africa because Chinese have moved to Africa to set up businesses, not aid projects.

This isn't primarily an educational issue, but it has educational implications. Students regularly identify study abroad as one of their most powerful learning experiences. And colleges are leaders in promoting global awareness, language education, and international academic exchanges. So we could do our part to encourage emigration by preparing more students whose goals are not just to spend a semester abroad, but to set up shop outside the United States, put down roots, and be Americans abroad.

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