Book Review: Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the 21st Century, edited by David Hall

Available in bookshops nationwide

cv_fair_bordersMigration has been a consistent practice across the plains of time. We were a nomadic species for the majority of our existence, before eventually settling in areas of abundant resources, and then supporting permanent settlements through agricultural innovations and the domestication of animals. Relatively recently – in terms of human history – the Westphalian concept of the nation state emerged, and with it a new system of borders.

We live in a time that has witnessed the biggest movement of people to Europe since World War II and the return of fervent nationalism (Brexit and Trump). The latter has been emboldened by facile rhetoric where concurrent events are mistaken for causation –  immigration is painted as the cause for job losses and a host of other ills. Borders, migrations and how these are treated in the public sphere deserve critical attention.

With our geographical isolation, in our nation that is removed from the continuity of continents, this might all seem very far away. Yet even with our natural boundaries, our history has been imbued with arrivals. We are a nation of immigrants. And migration continues to grab headlines on these shores.

Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the Twenty-First Century, a welcome and topical BWB text edited by David Hall, petitions us to consider our own policies and attitudes to migration in Aotearoa. So, what do we talk about when we talk about immigration in Aotearoa and how is this reflected in policy? Surely a confident culture is one that is open to self-critique. David posits a simple yet essential question: are our policies and attitudes fair to recent arrivals and to those who arrived a long time ago?

As Hall states in his introduction, a border is not simply ‘the end of one thing’, but is also the crossing over into another. And who gets to cross involves an interplay between access and control. There are many administrative boundaries one must navigate – first the flurry of passports and visas, and then those deeper, hidden borders that ring fence access to welfare, health services and labour rights. We have ‘come to expect that different people deserve different rights’.

‘Fairness isn’t just about how we manage our borders. It is about how we talk about our borders and the impacts they have.’ To date public discourse has been dominated by numbers and statistics (which are open to interpretation), and confusion about impacts – notably an oversimplification of a myriad of factors that have developed over many years.

The contributors respond to this concept of fairness, ‘New Zealand’s characteristic political virtue’, from a variety of disciplines, giving the topic much-needed expansion – complex issues demand a range of views as no one person is ever the definitive expert. Here we hear from those with backgrounds in politics, development studies, geography, policy and advocacy. Collectively the authors contribute critical discussion and respect the human stories involved in these movements, whether they are of those arriving or of the communities into which they settle.

There is a wider colonial context we need to be aware of in New Zealand when we begin to talk about migration. In their important piece, Tahu Kukutai and Arama Rata examine the dominant Pākehā model that migrants are crossing into: ‘the substance of citizenship is wholly geared towards one Treaty partner’. They suggest a system based on manaakitanga –  one that respects mana whenua and recognises the need to improve how we look after those who arrive. They also point to the opportunity for Māori and newer migrants ‘to work together to create constitutional arrangements that are better suited to our diverse citizenry’.

Another striking contribution, by Francis Collins, looks at New Zealand’s reliance on temporary workers and examines the implications of this growth. Those who are charged with ‘Milking cows, cooking dinners, providing health care, waiting tables, building houses’ do not have the rights of residence, and cannot vote or access ‘social resources’. We have effectively created an underclass. The processes of immigration are not only riddled with uncertainties, but remain ‘fundamentally exclusionary’. The means of exclusion has shifted from ethnicity to economics, where those who earn more have a greater chance at residency. Collins suggest several measures, including a time-based accrual system, to redress policies at such remove from an equitable New Zealand.

In addition to contributions that show how lines run through identity and communities too, the book also considers forced migration. Nina Hall challenges the concept of climate refugees, because we end up invariably drawing another line by using the term. Instead she calls for us to do more to help all of those forced to move, and to be wary of the discourse of threat – security, identity and otherwise – that so often follows conversations about refugees.

National borders and the nation state will be here for some time. Fair Borders? offers critical reflection and encourages conversation about this ‘perpetual interplay between division and union’, ‘both beyond and inside a nation’.  The accident of birth defines so many of our rights, and there are many migrations to come. If we are to remain fair, we need to examine our policies and improve public discourse, so that our nation can see our borders not as bare and exposed to the sea, but open to arrivals.

Reviewed by Emma Johnson

Fair Borders? Migration Policy in the 21st Century
edited by David Hall
Published by Bridget Williams Books
ISBN 9780947518851

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