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The Case for Freedom of Migration as a Basic Human Right

There are 30 articles in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, or 30 rights that the United Nations, in 1948, believed every human being should have. It’s a very short document, just three times as long as the Ten Commandments; spend five minutes reading it, if you haven’t already.

Freedom of Migration, you will find, is not listed. But this had already been obvious to you. You already knew that people can’t just move to the United States, and that Americans can’t just move to China, Europe, or anywhere else. There are restrictions: travel visas, student visas, and work visas that expire; a list of rights for citizens, and a much shorter list of rights for immigrants. The closest that the document comes to the subject of Freedom of Migration is article 13:

Article 13.

(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Within the borders of each state; with this one word – within – this article establishes a clear distinction between Freedom of Movement and Freedom of Migration. Freedom of Movement has limits, boundaries defined by politicians and lawmakers; essentially, it is the right to go wherever your rulers say you can. Or dead rulers said, years ago. Or some neighboring rulers, of a bordering nation – or a powerful international authority, or even rulers of a distant nation – said, years ago. In this way, by this definition, Freedom of Movement, in practice, is really no different from Restriction of Movement, the human right to travel within a country no different from the human wrong of traveling without.

This is an issue; in few other ways today are people as restricted as they are than by the land within which they were born. But human beings are naturally averse to change; uncertainty breeds anxiety. When order is disrupted, we are inclined to worry about the negative consequences first, to feel safe first, before proceeding cautiously along with the new. So it is with Freedom of Migration. It will be chaos, all the naysayers say. It will be millions of people at the U.S.-Mexican border, millions in lifeboats on the Mediterranean, perhaps billions of people, all around the world, moving to countries that are called wealthier, safer, and that profess to endow all people, citizens and immigrants alike, with basic human rights. But will chaos ensue, truly? If all 7.4 billion people on Earth suddenly moved to Texas, that state would have the same population density as New York City. Read that sentence again. By the naysayers’ logic, this outcome would be the worst-case scenario.

Finally, the shift from Restriction of Movement, towards Freedom of Migration, does not have to happen chaotically. It can occur incrementally, as it has been occurring, in many ways, especially since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the advent of the internet. The year 2100 is a realistic goal to restore what ought to be a basic right for all wild creatures. But we need to talk about it, friends. We need to communicate, far and wide, the case for Freedom of Migration as a basic human right, and aim to achieve that anticipated 2100 success by 2099, or even 2098, or sooner.




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