The Connection Between Migration and International and National Security

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International migration has moved to the top of the international security agenda. More and more, those who make policy in Europe, the United States, and throughout the world are making the connection between migration and international and national security. Globalization’s central issue is migration. Migration is defined as the movement from one country, place, or locality to another. This paper uses the term migration rather than immigration, as the latter word tends to imply the legal process related to entering and becoming established in a country of which one is not a native. Migration plays a major role in the complex process of change in international politics. Because it so broadly impacts states and regions, societies, economies,. a firm grasp of migration and immigration and a “big picture” analytical mind-set are needed to understand globalization.As with any topic of a global nature, migration lends itself to interdisciplinary analysis (Castles, 29).

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A great majority of the discussions focus on people using migration as a conduit for terrorism. The capability of nineteen hijackers to enter the United States, live amongst the people in communities, and work and study to become pilots, without being noticed, in order to mastermind and execute an attack on the Pentagon and World Trade Center has certainly raised valid concerns as to how easy it is to mobilize and enter the borders of the United States to successfully achieve a devastating attack on American soil.

These concerns should be placed within the broader context of the range of both positive and negative impacts of international migration flows on core national security interests. Migration flows affect national security within the realms of state capacity and autonomy, the balance of power, and the nature of violent conflict. As would be expected, the management of migration is a far greater security challenge to weak, failing, “developing” countries than to advanced, post-industrial, “developed” nations. Governments that are able to create and implement effective migration policies and utilize the power of international migration will be more secure in the new globalized security environment (Adamson, 5). The political, economic, and social issues affecting migration relate to the motivations and actions of illegally-migrating populations and other legal migrant groups, as well as those who exploit the cheap labor and service provided by illegal migrants (Beare, 21). Illegal migration is one of the sub-issues within the wider debate over transnational crimes and consequential security threats.

A Brief History of Human Migration

Migrations have been part of human history from the earliest times. What would have become of humanity if Africans had never migrated from the home continent? Between 1820 and 1998, close to 65 million emigrated to the United States alone. Within that period, in the years from 1846 to 1939, about 59 million people left Europe, mainly destined for the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. According to the 2000 U.S. census, there were about 9 million illegal aliens, with between 200,000 and 300,000 of new arrivals each year. In 2001, there were 15 million refugees seeking asylum, protection or assistance. In 2002, about two percent of the world’s population (approximately 185 million people) had lived for at least one year outside their country of birth.

There was an era of mass migration to Europe and North America from around 1850 to 1914 precipitated by the Industrial Revolution. After 1914, the effects of the first World War, xenophobia, and economic stagnation caused a steep decline in migration. In the United States, major legislation passed in the early 1920s created a national-origins quota system that would effectively reduced immigration until the 1960s. The period following World War II in highly developed countries was comprised of two main phases. Up until 1973, immigration policies were characterized by guestworker systems from the European periphery to Western Europe; migration of colonial workers to the former colonial powers; and permanent migration to North America (to the United States most notably since the reforms of 1965) and Australia, at the beginning, from Europe and later from Latin America and Asia. From the early 1970s to the present, there has been a general decline in government-organized recruitment of foreign workers to Western Europe; increased importance of family reunions; transformation of several Southern and Central European countries from countries of emigration into countries of immigration; and ever-increasing international mobility of highly-skilled professionals.

Central to these themes is the concept of citizenship and its connection with different notions of what is a nation. In the historical imperial model of citizenship, the notion of subject is crucial. It applied largely to multiethnic societies such as the Ottoman and British empires. In contrast, the folk, or ethnic, model of citizenship is based on belonging, in terms of ethnicity. The republican model, centered on the nation as a political community, is essentially based on a constitution and laws. The multicultural (formerly “melting pot,” now more aptly named “salad bowl”) model leaves newcomers ample opportunities to maintain their cultural characteristics, as long as they respect the political rules of their newfound nation. The last model is transnational, in which individuals with multiple identities (and feelings of belonging) participate in a variety of political communities. For example, a U.S. expat living in Japan for an extended time might be compelled to identify both with North American and Japanese culture, especially if they have made an effort to assimilate by learning the language and participating in local customs. Affected also by the shift of political and economic power toward multinational corporations and international agencies which are not currently open to democratic control (e.g. secret international trade agreements like the proposed TPP, TTIP and TISA), political participation by migrants presents problems for democracies that will have to be confronted and resolved. The very survival of democracy itself is at stake.

International Migration and Security Concerns

Should illegal migration be considered and responded to as a security threat? Efforts to correct the immigration problem must acknowledge the complicity of diverse interest groups. A humanitarian response is needed, not a military one. Although the movement of illegal aliens is an essential concern and must be part of a national security policy and enforcement approach, there are other key issues that also need to be addressed, namely: the exploitation of legal and illegal migrants as a commodity; state policies that fuel the migration market; limitation of the flow of illegal migration; the buying and selling of citizenship; categorization of migrants; support systems for migrants; the exploitation of women in the transport of migrants; and the involvement of organized crime in illegal migration (Beare, 34), all too often in the form of human trafficking.

Migration and ethnic diversity represent a formidable challenge to national identity, as they create a people without common ethnic origins and home cultures. The continuous rise in ethnic diversity greatly impacts the society and culture of destination countries. Furthermore, the link between immigration and ethnic relations is in general not sufficiently examined, with the two phenomena usually being studied separately by academics.

Migration systems theory postulates the need to study both ends of the flow and most notably the “prior links existing between sending and receiving countries based on colonization, political influence, trade, investment or cultural ties” (Castles, 186). This approach reflects an overall trend towards a more inclusive and interdisciplinary understanding, emerging as a new mainstream of migration theory and looks at the interaction between macrostructures like the political economy of world markets, the relationships among states, and the laws, institutions, and policies established by sending and arrival states to regulate migration flows and settlements and microstructures, which are the informal networks developed by migrants themselves in order to adjust to the challenges and problems facing them, including personal relationships; family, friendship and community ties; household patterns; organizations for mutual help on economic and social questions. An offshoot of this approach is transnationalism, which looks at the transnational communities that result from the linkages being established between societies on account of migration. The recent growth of transnational business, political, and cultural communities is not a new phenomenon, but globalization has led to their proliferation. This is a clear extension of the multiplication of nonstate actors observed by political scientists since the early 1970s.


Migration has been an essential characteristic of humanity since its inception. International migration in modern times has increased significantly with the advent of transportation technologies and the increase in poverty fueling the movement of an ever greater number of individuals across national borderlines. According to the United Nations 2015 Migration Report, “the number of international migrants worldwide has continued to grow rapidly over the past fifteen years reaching 244 million in 2015, up from 222 million in 2010 and 173 million in 2000.” Most countries do not experience one type of immigration such as “labor…, refugees or permanent settlement” but several types at the same time, thus complicating national and international policymaking. In 2015, two thirds of all international migrants were living in just twenty countries. Forty seven million international migrants resided in the United States, equal to about a fifth of the world’s total. Germany and the Russian Federation hosted the second and third largest numbers of migrants worldwide, with roughly 12 million each), followed by Saudi Arabia with 10 million.

Since the 1960s, migration has become increasingly feminized and associated with human trafficking. Migration has also become much more politicized, affecting increasingly “domestic politics, bilateral and regional relationships, and national security policies of states around the world” (Castles, 108). Migration is both a cause and effect of broader development processes and an intrinsic feature of our ever globalizing world. While no substitute for development, migration can be a positive force for development when supported by the right set of policies. The rise in global mobility, the growing complexity of migratory patterns and its impact on countries, migrants, families and communities have all contributed to international migration becoming a priority for the international community.

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