Ours is an era marked by extraordinary human migrations, with some 200 million people alive today having moved from their country of origin. The political reaction in Europe and the United States has been to raise the drawbridge: immigrant workers are needed, but no longer welcome. So migrants die in trucks or drown en route; they are murdered in smuggling operations or ruthlessly exploited in illegal businesses that make it impossible for the abused to seek police help. More than 15,000 people have died in the last twenty years trying to circumvent European entry restrictions.
In this beautifully written book, Jeremy Harding draws haunting portraits of the migrants – and anti-immigrant zealots – he encountered in his investigations in Europe and on the US–Mexico border. Harding's painstaking research and global perspective identify the common characteristics of immigration policy across the rich world and raise pressing questions about the future of national boundaries and universal values.
In recent years, the economic slump has made immigration even more politically sensitive than during more confident eras. His underlying stance is liberal: broadly supportive of the migrants, highlighting the human cost when their desires are blocked. But as a longstanding writer on the ambiguous relationships between rich and poor countries, he is too streetwise to be pious. He is alert to the complexities of a world where refugees and economic migrants are not always easy to tell apart – even in the minds of the immigrants themselves – and where the same traffickers smuggle people, willing and not, and other illegal cargoes. "Nothing in the world of unauthorised migration," he writes early on, "is quite what it seems."