I spoke this week at the Global Forum on Migration and Development here in Manila, at both the government meetings and the civil society days. I came here to highlight the many policy questions about migration and development that can't even be asked until we have better data on human movement. As I've carped about before, it is much easier to gather statistics on the cross-border travels of coffee beans and toothbrushes than it is to count the international movement of maids and physicians.
At every opportunity, I told Forum delegates about the blue-ribbon commission (www.migrationdata.org) on migration data that CGD has assembled with the help of the MacArthur Foundation. In February the commissioners will suggest a few top-priority steps that could quickly make available much more data to study how migration and development interact.
Who cares about migration data?
The Forum delegates did, I was happy to see. The civil society folks energetically supported the need for research and didn't bristle, as I feared they might, over potential concerns about privacy. (Among others, the IPUMS project at the University of Minnesota has proven that large amounts of highly detailed data crucial to migration research can be made freely available without violating anyone's privacy.) And the government crowd soundly endorsed the pressing need to get detailed questions about country of birth and citizenship on the 2010 round of censuses, one of our commission’s top priorities.
Unfortunately, the government of the United States, my country, chose to all but ignore this Forum. Even miniscule Antigua and Barbuda (population 84,000) sent an official delegation, as did 162 other nations. But the top migrant destination country on earth, a country built from the ground up by immigrants, a country whose migration policy is in such disrepair that we forcibly deported 1.2 million people last year, sent only a "note-taker" to this Forum. A senior session chair told me that this snub didn't surprise him one bit since, he said, the United States "has made itself irrelevant to multilateral discussions of the most pressing global issues in the last decade. You know, we don’t really miss them anymore." Others present nodded. It hurt.
The U.S. president elected next week will have a chance to lift our stature from this nadir. A great place to start would be to take seriously the role of migration in development. I've suggested, in my essay for The White House and the World, Don’t Close the Golden Door: Making Immigration Policy Work for Development some specific ways he could do that (for the busy reader, here's a policy brief) that summarizes the main recommendations). Another way would be to send a delegation to the next Global Forum on Migration and Development, in Athens next year. Showing up would be a good first step towards demonstrating our willingness to work with others to find ways to manage the global movement of people in ways that benefit everyone.