by Dr William Arrocha, Assistant Professor, Monterey Institute of International Studies
Source: Publication by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), available from http://publications.iom.int/bookstore/free/Global_Eye_issue13_7Oct2013.pdf

Although “globalization” can have multiple and divergent meanings, there is an undisputed fact, and it is that it can be accompanied by a deep fear of “the other.” As capital encounters fewer barriers to move across borders through trade and investment, the opposite is happening regarding the movement of people and labour. Although trade and investment have dramatically increased worldwide, the gains from such increases have not been distributed equally. Agricultural products from most member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development remain highly subsidized, and their surpluses are dumped into mid- and low-income States; technical and health standards have become the new trade barriers that are increasing the economic gap between the North and the South. Furthermore, foreign direct investment, though linked to job creation, also causes deep labour dislocations in both sending and receiving States. Today we are witnessing a new “international division of labour” with deep inequalities in wage and labour conditions.

The Post-Cold War period has also witnessed a proliferation of conflicts fuelled by ethnic conflicts, ideological extremisms and resource scarcity. Moreover, after the tragic events of 11 September 2001, States have been closing their borders through more restrictive legal and physical barriers. For those individuals and communities trapped in domestic or regional conflicts, or conditions of extreme poverty, the possibilities to find safe havens or a better life are closing, as those forced to migrate face new physical walls in addition to more stringent migration requirements, including the criminalization of undocumented migration. Moreover, they confront populations that fear their presence as a threat to their livelihoods yet demand their labour. These economic, political and social pressures tend to increase human trafficking.

Despite such pressures, the number of immigrants has increased from an estimated 150 million in 2000 to 214 million, of which approximately 2.4 million are victims of human trafficking.1, 2 However, many of them are seeing their fundamental human rights jeopardized, as they are considered a threat to the security of other States or a mere commodity to be exploited for economic or personal reasons.

Racism, as well as xenophobia, has always haunted immigrants. However, in today’s globalized world there is a very disturbing paradox, and it lies in the fact that as most governments talk about a global economy with no borders, their immigration policies are becoming very restrictive towards immigrants from poorer countries. And as immigration gets further securitized, the enforcement of immigration laws is accompanied by harsh detention practices and racial profiling that jeopardize the hard-fought international human rights instruments.

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Despite the 1993 Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, which urges all governments to take immediate measures to develop strong policies to prevent and combat all forms and manifestations of racism, xenophobia and other forms of discrimination, many governments are implementing immigration policies that make it very difficult to effectively combat manifestations of social intolerance, including human trafficking.

Today, some of the most striking examples of state-led intolerance have been the proliferation of state laws in the United States such as Arizona’s Senate Bill 1070, Alabama’s House Bill 56 and Georgia’s House Bill 57. What these bills have in common is that they are all reactive laws stemming from societal fears towards undocumented migrants, particularly those of Hispanic origin. One of the disturbing powers these bills confer to police officers is the option to arrest individuals under “reasonable suspicion” of staying illegally in the country. Although the range of this power has been legally contested, it has unleashed racial profiling and fostered an environment of fear among immigrants and victims of human trafficking.

One of the key challenges to dealing with racism and xenophobia in the United States is that the First Amendment of its Constitution has few limits on expression. This has created a very permissible environment regarding the use of racial or xenophobic remarks, as well as hate speech. Unfortunately, it is only when such remarks or hate speech are directly linked to hate crimes that there is a reaction from the media as well as the police forces.

The result is a society that tends to “other” with more ease certain migrants that do not fit the dominant white-Anglo-Saxon Protestant profile. This makes preventing human trafficking an even more difficult task, as certain migrants are prone to be commoditized because they are not considered as having the same value as those from countries where populations haves similar racial traits to the dominant social group. This, of course, is not a problem only in the United States. Today, many societies that seem to have surpassed racism and xenophobia through the elimination of racial segregation or anti-discrimination laws are confronting new economic and social pressures over which their States have now less control than in the past.

States need to stop criminalizing undocumented migration. They also need to pursue extraordinary efforts to ease the social and economic inequalities that are fuelling xenophobic sentiments, while the most vulnerable are being left behind as mere commodities for the needs and pleasure of those who reap the benefits of today’s globalization. If globalization is to foster a more tolerant and inclusive world, it urgently needs a human face. Q

1 International Organization for Migration, “Facts and Figures: Global Estimates and Trends.” Available from www.iom.int/cms/en/sites/iom/home/about-migration/facts–figures-1.html
2 UN News Center, “UN senior officials urge countries to boost their efforts to combat human trafficking,” 3 April 2012. Available from www.un.org/apps/news/story. asp?NewsID=41696#.UZ_6JKKHt8E