Mark Saey | Civiclab

3.4. Alternative solutions

This general integration of values and understanding, emotionally strengthened and exercised during the interviews, now would be politically refined in two steps: a) in their choice for a possible general and global alternative to present policy and b) in a confrontation with other voices, which is the subject or goal of the last but one phase. The alternatives we list here we received from our expert Sam Mampaey, we only reworked them where needed to fit the level of the students.

1. Zero tolerance

Not everyone can come in. And everybody who is here, whilst he is not allowed to be here, we immediately sent back. Using more clear criteria than the ones we have now, we determine who really was in danger. Regularizations are out of the question. Those who really were at risk and those we can use on our labor market we let in and give (possibly limited) social rights.

Plusses. For a policy this model offers the advantage of being clear and have an effect on several groups. Future migrants, hearing of this stricter policy, will be deterred and public opinion gets the clear message that undocumented migrants are dealt with. To the employees there’s the advantage that a great number of people, formerly at work illegally, is gone, making room for more job possibilities. To society at large there is the advantage of being liberated from a grim group of illegals that organized criminal circuits and posed a real threat to security.

Minuses. To employers the disappearance of undocumented migrants is a serious loss. Definitely certain sectors will get into trouble, which might even become a problem for legal workers as well. To society there also are minuses. First, a consequent deportation policy (the building of far more closed centers, pumping up controls and deportations) will cost a lot to the public than is the case now. Second, more controls, raids and other police action will cause more fear and distrust. To the people without legal residence and their families in their countries of origin, there are only minuses: no possibility to built up a life here, no possibility to send money back home. This model also presupposes that the countries of origin will easily agree to taking back undocumented migrants, putting the pressure back on countries already in need.

2. The informal toleration policy

Not everyone can come in. Only those who are personally prosecuted and really were in danger (and maybe also those we can use) we let in. And when we bump into someone who is illegally here, we sent him or her straight back home. Those who are here illegally without being encountered we give as few rights as possible. This is more or less the present day policy.

Plusses. This model offers a lot of plusses. To the public we say that undocumented migrants are being expelled (giving the impression something is being done, taking back voters from the extreme right wing parties). Abroad one gets the impression that surviving here won’t be easy. To the people without legal residence it creates enough fear to live in silence and endure the hardship of a life without rights. In practice deportations stay rare (but this will not be publicly told or underscored) not causing too big a price tag on it. There of course are far too little closed centers for all undocumented and arrested migrants but the ones we have sent out a warning. To employers the informal toleration offers the advantage of still having an army of cheap and mute “illegals”, also very useful to keep wages of legal workers down. To society in general the model offers the advantage of being able to keep on enjoying all the plusses of an illegal portion of the population (cheap products and services) without having to invest in the negatives (welfare, health, housing, etc.). To the people without legal residence the model offers the chance of staying here and, provided they don’t run into the police and remain silent, making money and sending money home.

Minuses. To employees there is the disadvantage of a strong black sector keeping down their wages and working conditions. The illegal workers also don’t pay social taxes that in case of an aging population would be very welcome. To society in general it also means that a large group of people are staying here and work without paying taxes. The hypocrisy of this policy (saying one is executing a strict policy but informally allowing for a lot) does not allow for a serious democratic debate about the problem. To the people without legal residence life becomes surviving with a permanent breach of human rights – also causing loss of face to a country that internationally wants to be known for its human rights support.

3. Reform policy

Not everyone can come in. Only those who were in danger and those we can use we let in. But most of those that are here illegally we do not bother. And we guarantee them a set of basic rights, more than they have today. As long as they are not expelled, the government has the responsibility to ensure not only their rights to education for minors and urgent medical aid, but also rights that will alleviate their emergency situation but will not help them to stay here permanently. So, no right to an income or social housing, but protection of the right to an education for adults, possibilities to wring tenant rights on the private market, protection of working conditions in the case of illegal work, protection against human trafficking and home exploitation, the right to an orientation towards a meaningful future beyond accompanied return, etc.

Plusses. To government and policy an expansion of rights makes the group illegals better known and less of a risky factor. To society a large group is lifted from the dark, reducing a real threat. To people without legal residence the extra social rights become enforceable, making their lives here more than mere survival.

Minuses. To policy reform could mean too many want to come, and those illegally here will want to leave less. To society there will be an extra cost for extra rights. To the people without legal residence rights are still limited. With this policy we accept that a large group of people living in our society has but few basic rights and lives as second-rate citizens, even legally written down so.

4. The liberal model

Everyone can come in. But not everyone gets the same rights, only the same chances. The individual choice to come settle here or to return cannot be intervened by the state, people are free and should have equal chances, independent of where they were born. It is up to the people to rise to the occasion. The increase of migrants because of open borders we will manage thanks to giving them equal opportunity but not equal rights. Because this model is so different from the previous ones, we need to explain some more.

Refugees who fall under the Geneva Convention or under the subsidiary protection, we can still first offer the right to material refuge and, provided they are admitted, the right to work or integration (minimum income, poverty help). They can also get social rights (social housing, replacement income, etc.). Refugees not belonging to this group get, after registering, legal residence documents and can then take their chances on the labor market. This won’t cost us a thing. But when they don’t find a job, they don’t have the right to a minimum income and will have to decide whether to stay or not. If they find a job they have to pay taxes for social security and can reap the benefits of working (maybe gradually): unemployment pay, health insurance, pension. Other social rights, like social housing, can be connected to the duration of their stay. That way we only give rights when people prove to be beneficial to our society.

Plusses. To employers it means an extra group of labor forces to reduce wages of the workers. To the employees extra people can mean extra income for social security – unemployment pay, pension, health insurance. To society in general it means extra income through taxes and more possibilities with a larger government budget. Opening the borders also means far less expenses for border patrol, closed centers and deportations. People without legal residence are being relieved from permanent fear of being arrested and send back. Dangerous routes to come here, human trafficking, fraud with asylum procedures, marriage to get papers, all of these will no longer exist. No more dead refugees in the seas, no more asphyxiation in containers.

Minuses. To government this can cause serious trouble of containment. Costs to social inspection can rise very high to counter the increase of illegal work and a growing class of working poor. For the home countries open borders could mean a real brain drain and less pressure to solve existing problems. To employees extra workers can also mean repression on the labor market and lowering of wages. Some will succeed others will fail but won’t immediately leave or even stay in the hope of finally succeeding. To society in general it means a large group of poor strangers without rights can still cause a lot of trouble. In practice we run the risk of living in a dual society of first and second citizens.

5. The social model

Everyone can come in. And everyone gets (maybe step-by-step) the same rights. Human rights are not connected to legal stay but to being human. They are universal and cannot be embezzled. The arguments of the general interest that limit the human rights of refugees or migrants are questionable and distorted by nationalist self interest. The general interest should be the interest of human kind. Considering the ongoing polarization in the world, the worldwide reduction of the rights of the working people and the ecological destruction of our planet, policy needs to be adapted to the changing reality of migration and refugees: right to legal stay, jobs and social security for all migrants and refugees. This alternative starts with the idea that no one leaves his country for good just for fun. Consequently we have to create more equality here and elsewhere to collectively and justly distribute the burdens and reduce the numbers of refugees. That means we need to redistribute wealth and riches (abolish the debt of developing countries, raise development aid funds, destroy fiscal paradises, tax capital and financial transactions) and support a democratic social system with honest and fair trade relations, food production for regional markets, protection of common property against privatization, decent jobs and wages, ensure human social services globally).

Plusses. Just like in the previous model, extra legally working people mean extra income to social security and government budgets. Costs for closed centers and deportations are gone. To many migrants life in the countries of human rights might actually mean exactly that. And they will have more money to send home. Also in this model there are no more deaths to be counted in containers or small boats on the seas. Society in general is released from a grim group second-rate citizens and no longer has to suffer los of face on the international scene: the poor and the working classes of the world society get the message that also in the rich countries one is willing to create a more democratic world-system.

Minuses. This model can in principle hold benefits for all – except for those who want to cling on to privilege and inequality – but compared to the other models it needs a lot more change in the present world and this on many fronts at the same time. If we, after regularizations and stopping deportations, guarantee all rights, than we will need a government willing to intervene more strongly in financial and economic matters. And if we don’t want to encourage every refugee to come over here we will have to create an international more balanced and uniform policy of relief, and make sure human rights are more enforceable in the countries of origin. This means nothing less than fight with governments, parties, organizations and citizens on every scale (local, regional, national, global) for a global democracy and global justice – which today are clearly very distant objectives.

Of course these models are but broad and general concepts. They are open to variations and every model will have to be adjusted and fine-tuned when influencing policy. But they do sketch alternatives and as such can get the public debate out of populist waters and help especially young citizens make a sound political choice.