Immigration and Civil War

Vipul Naik posted a “Lebanon and political externalities bleg” in June. His question was whether the Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990 might furnish an example where immigration led to distastrous consequences for a country. Of course, Steve Sailer makes just such a point in one of his posts: “Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also … Lebanonization”. Sailer’s argument is broader as he indicts not only immigration, but diversity in general as well as differential birth rates.

That got me interested in what the relationship between immigration and civil war is. Do high levels of immigration cause or precipitate civil wars? If so, you would find more civil wars in countries with higher levels of immigration, fewer in those with less immigration. To get an idea, and no more, I did the following:

First I needed some data that do not rely on my selection of examples. For this purpose, I downloaded the “UCDP/PRIO Armed Conflict Dataset” as of July 2013. This is a dataset of all armed conflicts worldwide from 1946 to 2012 where at least one side is a state (there is also a dataset for non-state conflicts, but only with a shorter history from 1989 to 2011). The dataset not only includes civil wars, but also regular wars. There are 2098 entries, one per year of each conflict and the sometimes changing coalitions. On both sides the primary and any other combattants are listed as well as the location of the armed conflict. Since I was only interested in whether a country had had a civil war in the period, I filtered the data. There were 768 different conflicts with the same participants and location, however with some multiple counting. E. g. there were 29 armed conflicts for Afghanistan because of the changing coalitions. Next I looked which countries had had at least one conflict that was not a regular war between countries. There were now 104 countries.

To give you a flavor of what those examples are: there were 10 for Europe. Four are related to the breakup of Yugoslavia (Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Macedonia), the UK versus various factions of the IRA, Spain versus ETA, France versus OAS, the Greek Civil War after World War II, the civil war after the fall of Ceauscescu in Romania, and Cyprus. 17 were in the Middle East and in Northern Africa, 18 in Latin America and the Carribean, 22 in Asia ex the Middle East (mostly in Central Asia and as part of the Indochinese Wars), 36 in Africa ex Northern Africa, and one for the United States vs. the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party. Not all have the feel of a “real” civil war, some like ETA in Spain could also be viewed as an extended terror campaign. But that would also be pretty bad if it were related to high levels of immigration.

Next I needed some data to quantify the level of immigration. What I took were data from the UN on International Migration from 2006, and here especially the “migrant stock” as a percentage of the population, i. e. what fraction was foreign-born. Of course, there is a problem here. Levels of migration might be influenced by civil wars: less immigration for countries with civil wars, and more for those without. However, my intent was only to get a rough idea what the relationship might be, all very tentative. And as you will see, it looks rather implausible that what I obtain is due to such an effect.

I then matched the data. There were 232 countries in the UN data set. However, there were also many tiny ones, e. g. the Holy See with 1,000 inhabitants and 100% migrant stock. I threw out all countries with less than a quarter of a million inhabitants, which reduced the number to 179 countries. There were 97 of them that had had an armed conflict. The seven that disappeared were not in the group of tiny countries, but were countries that no longer exist, e. g. South and North Vietnam, North and South Yemen, or did not yet exist in 2006 like South Sudan. The migrant stock varies from almost 0% to a high of 78.3% for Qatar.

The countries which had had an armed conflict had an average migrant stock of 4.3%, whereas those without an armed conflict had 12.7% migrant stock. Now this may be due to many small countries with high levels of immigration (e. g. the gulf states, European countries). However, also weighting with population, I calculated that countries with an armed conflict had a migrant stock of 2.2%, and those without one had a migrant stock of 6.6%. Or in other words: countries without an armed conflict had a migrant stock about three times as high as countries with an armed conflict.

In addition, I made the following evaluation. On the x-axis you see the 179 countries sorted by migrant stock from those with high percentages down to those with low ones, i.e. in decreasing order. I then summed up from left to right how many countries had armed conflicts, which is shown as the blue line. So the 50 countries to the left with the highest level of immigrants had 15 armed conflicts. All 179 countries had, of course, 97 conflicts. The blue line is rather smooth, so there is not some group with a certain level of immigration that had many armed conflicts and unduly influences the result.

As a comparison I added the red line which rises linearly from 0 to 97. If countries had an armed conflict with equal probability, then you would expect the blue line to be close to the red line. But it is not. There were only 15 armed conflicts among the first 50, but there should have been almost 27 with equal probabilities. The blue line is actually below the red line all the way, which means that there were fewer armed conflicts than equal probability for groups of countries above any threshold.

I said that there might be a problem with the effect running the other way: more armed conflict leads to less immigration. However, if you look at the specific cases, it looks rather implausible that this would change the results materially. Actually, it might make the results even stronger. E. g. the country with an armed conflict and the highest level of immigrants at 39.6% of the population is Israel. It is arguable whether that was an internal conflict at all. However, it would be a dubious claim in any way that the high level of immigration had anything to do with the situation Israel finds itself in. Probably Israel would have had the same armed conflicts with the Palestinians if there had been no immigration since 1946. In a similar vein, many of the armed conflicts in countries with high levels of immigration have no connection with immigration: the US vs. the PRNP, Spain vs. ETA, the UK vs. IRA, France vs. OAS. Or if you look at the thirty countries with the lowest migrant stock (0.5% or less), of which 24 experienced an armed conflict, it seems very hard to argue that they once had high levels of immigration that went down as a result of an armed conflict. Here are a few of the countries you would have to argue this for: Afghanistan, Peru, Guatemala, Angola, Eritrea, Haiti, Mali.

This is not to say that immigration caused lower levels of armed conflicts. In the literature on civil wars, it is often claimed that poorer countries have more civil wars than richer countries (cf. for a critical take). And richer countries will also attract more immigrants. So the true reason for both might be that a country is richer. However, if you think that immigration is a major driver of armed conflict, your claim does not look obvious and prima facie seems to be wrong. There is some research that would imply that civil wars can be contagious, i. e. can precipitate civil wars in neighboring countries and then also via a large influx of refugees (maybe Lebanon is such an example). However, if an argument along these lines can be made, its relevance is rather limited, and does not apply to the countries that typically receive immigrants. But I freely admit that my analysis can improved upon. It was just to get an idea what the relationship might be, no more.

Championing Both Open Borders and An End to the U.S. Drug War

Even advocates of open borders acknowledge that its realization is very unlikely for many years to come.  Similarly, campaigns for the legalization (or at least the decriminalization) of drugs face an uphill battle, although there have been successes in recent years in the U.S. and Europe.  Despite the challenge of realizing both of these radical causes, the legalization of drugs would complement some of the advantages of having open borders.

The failed war on drugs

Image source Failed drug war: U.S. and Mexico losing battle against cartels

Coincidentally some progress on both fronts has occurred this summer in the U.S.  The Senate passed a bill that would raise legal immigration levels by 50 to 70 percent within five years and legalize the millions of undocumented individuals already in the country, although the enforcement provisions of the bill are unwelcome.  On the drug policy front, the U.S. attorney general signaled that federal prosecutors would no longer pursue mandatory minimum sentence laws for some drug offenses.

Let’s begin with some background information on the war on drugs in the U.S. In The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindedness  Michelle Alexander argues that the war on drugs has placed many African-Americans and Latinos into a new “racial undercaste.” (p. 185) The latest version of the war on drugs was instituted because some politicians were trying to “…appeal to poor and working-class whites who, once again, proved they were willing to forego economic and structural reform in exchange for an apparent effort to put blacks back ‘in their place.’” (p. 186)  The war on drugs began being pursued in earnest during the Reagan administration (p. 49), and as a result over the next three decades there was a huge increase in the U.S. prison population. (p. 59 and p. 99) Ms. Alexander adds that “In the drug war, the enemy is racially defined… Although the majority of illegal drug users and dealers nationwide are white, three fourths of all people imprisoned for drug offenses have been black or Latino.” (pp. 96-97)  And even after those who have been incarcerated for drug violations are released, they “will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives–denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits… They become members of an undercaste–an enormous population of predominately black and brown people who, because of the drug war, are denied basic rights and priviledges of American citizenship and are permanently relegated to an inferior status.” (pp. 181-182)

Similarities Between Immigration Restrictions and the War on Drugs

Before exploring the advantages of ending both immigration restrictions and the the war on drugs, consider several similarities between American immigration restrictions and Ms. Alexander’s description of the war on drugs.  One is that both were created largely due to racial biases.  As we have seen, some politicians supporting the drug war were appealing to white insecurities about African Americans.  Similarly, the imposition of vigorous federal immigration restrictions was motivated by concerns about the race of certain immigrants.  In the late 19th century, Chinese were excluded by federal law from immigrating based on what Chris Hendrix calls “knee-jerk racism.”  Later, the 1924 Johnson-Reed immigration legislation, “the nation’s first comprehensive restriction law,” was largely propelled by racism.  (quotation from Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America by Mae Ngai, p. 3)  Politicians were concerned over immigration from southern and eastern Europe and the maintenance of America’s northern European “stock.”  John Higham, in Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism 1860-1925, notes that as the House of Representatives worked toward the 1924 legislation, its champions “now largely ignored the economic arguments they had advanced in behalf of the first quota law three years before.  Instead, they talked about preserving a ‘distinct American type,’ about keeping American for Americans, or about saving the Nordic race from being swamped.  The Ku Klux Klan, which was organizing a vigorous letter-writing campaign in support of the Johnson bill, probably aided and abetted this swell of racial nativism…” (p. 321)

Both systems also involve racial profiling.  In Opening the Floodgates: Why America Needs to Rethink Its Borders and Immigration Laws, Kevin Johnson writes that “racial profiling in immigration enforcement… harms the dignity of persons stopped by immigration officers and stigmatizes U.S. citizens, especially Mexican-Americans, who are subject to immigration stops because they fit the ‘undocumented immigrant profile.’” (p. 108) Similarly, Ms. Alexander notes that “studies of racial profiling have shown that police do, in fact, exercise their discretion regarding whom to stop and search in the drug war in a highly discriminatory manner.” (p. 130)

Under both systems authorities have significant power to intrude on people’s lives.  Within 25 miles of international borders, Border Patrol agents have access to private land.  Even in a zone extending 100 miles from borders, their “authority extends beyond that of other law enforcment agencies,” and agents in that zone regularly ask bus and train passengers for identification and question them.  Similarly, Ms. Alexander notes that rulings by the Supreme Court during the War on Drugs have made “… it relatively easy for the police to seize people virtually anywhere–on public streets and sidewalks, on buses, airplanes and trains, or any other public place–and usher them behind bars.  These new legal rules have ensured that anyone, virtually anywhere, for any reason, can becom a target of drug-law enforcement activity.” (p. 62)

In addition, both legal systems produce an “undercaste.”  Like drug felons, undocumented workers in the U.S. live under a different set of rules than most residents.  They are legally barred from employment, cannot access many public services, and live in fear of detention and deportation.  Mr. Johson writes that “… a new, but often invisible, racial caste system slowly emerged in the United States.  Immigration law in the United States allows for labor exploitation along racial lines.  It is a new Jim Crow system.” (p. 129) (emphasis mine)

Finally, the behavior that both systems target is non-violent, often born out of limited economic opportunities, and often harmless.  Ms. Alexander notes that in 2005 most drug arrests were for possession and that most of those imprisoned for drug offenses do not have violent histories.  Many arrests are for marijuana possession, which is “less harmful than tobacco or alcohol.” (p. 59) Because of a decline in employment opportunities in inner cities due to globalization and industrialization, she notes that there are “increased incentives” to sell drugs. (p. 50 and p. 123) With regard to immigration, there is lots of information at this site and elsewhere showing that immigration benefits receiving countries and any negative consequences can be mitigated by keyhole solutions.  Immigration itself is peaceful and largely arises from a desire to improve one’s economic situation.

The Advantages of Ending Both Immigration Restrictions and the War on Drugs

There are several advantages to ending both immigration restrictrictions and the war on drugs.  First, much of the pressure on the border would be eliminated with these changes.  Along the U.S.-Mexican border, the Border Patrol focuses on illegal immigration and drug smuggling.  With the changes, these would no longer be issues for the Border Patrol, since immigrants would have no reason to sneak into the U.S. and, particularly if Mexico were to end their drug enforcement efforts and the U.S. didn’t regulate the flow of drugs over the border, the same would be true with the movement of drugs.  Border Patrol agents, who are officially Customs and Border Patrol agents, could focus more on customs matters at ports of entry, look out for potential terrorists, and address weapons smuggling.  In addition, landowners along the border who have endured drug smuggling, people smuggling, and/or individual immigrants coming through their property would no longer experience these intrusions.  Currently, in some rural border counties, “the threat of cartel-related crime, whether the smuggling of drugs or illegal immigrants, has caused people to arm themselves to an extraordinary degree and take other precautions.”  The undesirable impacts of border fencing could also be avoided.

A related benefit would be a weakening of criminal gangs that operate along the U.S.-Mexican border.  In Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them, Philippe Legrain observes that immigration restrictions force some immigrants to rely on criminal gangs to smuggle them. (p. 38) Similarly, “organized crime, gangs and drug cartels have the most to gain financially from prohibition” of drugs.  Sometimes a criminal enterprise does both, smuggling immigrants and drugs.   For immigrants, according to an article in the New York Times, sometimes “… the only way to get across (the border) is to deal with gangs that sometimes push migrants to carry drugs.”  With open borders, immigrants wouldn’t have to rely on these groups to cross the border, and legalizing the drug trade would allow non-violent economic competition which would be detrimental to the groups.

Second, open borders and terminating the war on drugs would benefit African-Americans and Latinos in the U.S.  As we have seen, both groups have disproportionately suffered from drug enforcement during the drug war, from being subjects of racial profiling to going to prison to dealing with the harsh economic consequences of having a criminal record once released.  Latinos must deal with immigration enforcement as well; Latinos, whether citizens, legal residents, or undocumented, are subjected to profiling of them as undocumented individuals and, if they are undocumented, face exploitation by employers, detention, and deportation.  There are also many Latino mixed status families, all of whose members suffer if the member(s) who is undocumented is apprehended by immigration authorities.  Ending these types of enforcement would liberate African-Americans and Latinos from the terrible burdens associated with them.  (To help those convicted of drug crimes succeed, their records would have to be expunged, and they should be allowed to not have to reveal these convictions on applications for jobs and public benefits.)

Furthermore, increased immigration under an open borders policy could help African-American communities get back on their feet after enduring decades of the drug war, deindustrialization, and other negative factors.  A summary of a study released in June by the Immigration Policy Center and conducted by Jack Strauss of St. Louis University demonstrates how immigration helps these communities:   “A comprehensive analysis of Census data from hundreds of U.S. metropolitan areas indicate that immigration from Latin America improves wages and job opportunities for African Americans. This analysis serves to dispel the common myth that African Americans are negatively impacted by the immigration of less-skilled workers from Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America… The positive economic impact of Latino immigration is related to population. Many metros, particularly in the Midwest, including Cleveland, Dayton, Detroit, and St. Louis, are not experiencing vibrant population growth. Instead, aging baby boomers and negative net migration are leading to a hallowing out of cities, declining school revenue, falling housing prices, big businesses moving their headquarters, and a dearth of small businesses. St. Louis, for instance, has experienced a sharply declining population, and at the same time, very little Latino immigration. As a result, Saint Louis has closed more than a dozen schools in recent years, which has cost the jobs of hundreds of African American teachers, administrators, and staff. Our research shows that an increase in immigration from Latin America would have sustained St. Louis’s population, tax base, school enrollment, and most of the lost African American jobs. Further, it would have reduced crime among young African American men by giving them more economic opportunities.

“Why are population size and composition so important for economic development? Edward Glaeser and Joshua Gottlieb argue that larger cities are successful because they have thriving clusters of people and companies working together. More people from Latin America increases the vibrancy of a city, its culture, and the opportunities it offers. Further, research shows that specialization by encouraging different skill patterns leads to higher wages and more jobs.”

Third, ending both immigration restrictions and the war on drugs would allow the U.S. to avoid the expense of incarcerating huge numbers of individuals and would free up law enforcement and the courts.  According to the Drug Policy Alliance, in the U.S. more than $50 billion is spent annually on the war on drugs and more than 1.5 million people were arrested in 2011 on nonviolent drug charges.  The tab for immigration enforcement is close to $18 billion, and hundreds of thousands of immigrants are apprehended and/or deported each year.  Over three hundred thousand people were in prison for drug offenses at the end of 2011, and a similar number are put in detention each year by immigration authorities.  Many immigration violations have become criminalized, and Kevin Johnson notes that “as it did during Prohibition, the criminalization has created a caseload crisis in the federal courts.” (p. 179)  Many drug and immigration cases have reached the Supreme Court, and Mr. Johnson states that federal courts of appeals have been flooded with immigration cases. (p. 179)

So what about all of the money that would freed up from ending the expensive enforcement associated with the drug war and immigration controls?  (Even more money would be availabe with the legalization of at least some drugs, which would allow the government to tax the trade.)  Some of the money would have to continue to go toward border monitoring: customs enforcement, controlling weapons flows, and keeping watch for terrorists.  Ms. Alexander notes that many Americans are financially vested in the war on drugs, including rural communities where prisons are build to house offenders, prison guards, private corrections companies, and others, so some of the money could be spent on helping some of these individuals adapt to an America with far fewer prisoners.  Some of the money could go toward additional drug treatment and prevention programs, even if drug use rates do not significantly change.  The remaining money could be used to help inner cities that have been devastated by the drug war and to help Americans who might be adversely affected by rising immigration under open borders.  In effect, ending the drug war could be a keyhole solution that would help ease the transition to open borders.

Finally, from a libertarian perspective, these radical changes would end government intrusions into the lives of millions of people, including those who have no involvement with drugs or immigration.  For those wishing to immigrate legally or possess drugs, it would be a dramatic expansion of individual liberty.

Based on how the outcomes of ending these two oppresive systems of enforcement could complement each other, should open borders advocates also vocally begin calling for an end to the drug war?  It might alienate some, although I suspect that many who would be receptive to open borders would also be supportive of ending drug enforcement.  The case for open borders also might receive more support from the African-American community if it were paired with ending the drug war.  American open borders advocates should consider attaching the campaign to end the drug war to their efforts to change immigration policy.

Open Borders editorial note: As described on our general blog and comments policies page: “The moral and intellectual responsibility for each blog post also lies with the individual author. Other bloggers are not responsible for the views expressed by any author in any individual blog post, and the views of bloggers expressed in individual blog posts should not be construed as views of the site per se.”

The Pledge

I am guilty of often being a moral absolutist – an ideologue. I try to avoid it, but it’s a failing of mine. I often mentally frame arguments in “all or nothing” terms, and sometimes that can lead me away from positive solutions. As an example: It’s my natural inclination to be opposed to keyhole solutions such as that of immigrants paying an up-front cost to immigrate that is paid back after a certain period. In my mind, such a cost has the potential to be prohibitive to the very poorest people of the world, who are those who stand to gain the most by coming to a first-world country and most harmed by not being able to.

Since I so strongly believe that freedom of movement is an inalienable right, such half-measures strike me as weak compromises. However, that’s my flaw. The keyhole solution outlined above, while it may have a number of negatives when compared to open borders, is none the less vastly and absolutely better than our current situation. There’s no reason for me to oppose it, other than my tendency to make the perfect the enemy of the good.

While we’re on the subject of my flaws, we might as well bring up another that you’ll find to be directly related – pride. I am too proud by far in many areas of my life. I am the kind of person who often loses out on getting things I actually want because I am unable to humble myself to get them. And worse than my own pride is the fact that I tend to project pride onto others – for example, if a law were passed tomorrow that said anyone could immigrate to America as long as the would-be immigrant bowed in reverence before some icon of the country – whether it be the current President, the flag, some statue, doesn’t matter – I would oppose this with every fiber of my being. I would find it a disgusting, dehumanizing law. However, anyone who could swallow their pride and just ignore the display as the petty thing it was would find that their life was much improved – after all, what’s a little genuflection if it means the rest of your life can be lived in the first world? But again, such is my flaw.

However, I am attempting to correct these flaws – or at least compensate for them. I am trying to grow as a person, and so I am trying to open my eyes to potential solutions that my flaws might otherwise prohibit. And in so doing, I’ve come to think about victim-blaming.

Ask most people, and they’ll tell you victim-blaming is a horrible thing to do. Blaming a woman for getting raped, a black man for getting wrongfully arrested, or a foreigner for not being allowed to immigrate and you’re seen as uncompassionate at best, hateful and bigoted at worst. But isn’t that just the sin of pride all over again? What if there really was something that the woman could have done to avoid her fate, the black man to avoid the arrest, and the foreigner to make immigration easier? Is it wrong to theorize about what the victim might do differently, if the end result is fewer rapes, fewer wrongful arrests, and more immigration?

I’ll avoid the specifics on the other example topics, but what if there was something that foreigners could do to make allowing them to immigrate more politically viable? Even if it was something humiliating or demeaning, something that would infuriate anyone with even an ounce of pride? Just as a hypothetical: Imagine that there was a small town in a third-world country where almost everyone wanted to emigrate to America. And imagine that as part of their campaign for acceptance, they turned their whole town into a mock-suburbia; they wore American-style clothes, ate American-style food, baked apple pie and played baseball, spoke English exclusively and maybe even learned to
fake a Midwestern drawl. Imagine that they renamed their streets after American presidents, got rid of all of their religious materials (except Christian, of course), said the Pledge of Allegiance every morning, and even wore makeup to disguise their skin tone. Now if you’ve managed to read this far without the bile rising to the back of your throat, imagine this: Imagine it worked. Imagine that their efforts, perhaps chronicled by some journalist, so swayed the American populace that American leaders allowed the whole town to emigrate to America. Despite the demeaning trial they went through, they now get to live their lives in a safer, more prosperous environment. They get what they wanted.

What then? If it worked, would we encourage others to copy their efforts? We could say, “well, they shouldn’t have to do that!” And I agree – they shouldn’t. To the core of me, such an act would disgust me. But isn’t that just the pride talking? Shouldn’t we care more about the end result, if the end result is something much better than the trials to get there?

If the answer is yes, let’s look at perhaps a more realistic application of the idea. What if those that wanted to emigrate to America (or any other country, for that matter) signed a Pledge, a formal (if legally meaningless) document where they swear to uphold the ideals of whatever country they wish to enter; to be productive and not draw on social services; to learn the language and speak it exclusively; to adhere to the mores and cultural norms of their new homeland. Such a document is meaningless in terms of legal fact – but such symbols have always held power over the minds of men. If you think signing a non-legally-binding document where you promise to enforce certain rules on yourself is absurd, remember that the entire American government is predicated on such an absurd idea. And such ideas, no matter how absurd, can sway people.

Such a pledge might be demeaning, and in a just world no one would have to sign it in order to move to a new country. But could it work – or at the very least, could it help? That’s the real question we should be asking.

Weekly link roundup 11

Here’s our weekly installment of links from around the web (see here for all link roundups). As usual, linking does not imply endorsement.