Migration is a matter of justice

Campaigners for the rights of migrants have discovered an unusual ally. The leaders of Britain's biggest businesses have called for unlimited migration from Bulgaria and Romania when the two former Eastern Bloc states join the European Union next year.

Their call comes after the Labour government, with the Conservatives in close agreement, signaled that it would curb immigration from the two countries. A nationalistic consensus appeared to have emerged - with Sir Andrew Green, chair of Migration Watch UK even asserting that the case for restrictions for Romanians and Bulgarians was now "unanswerable".

He was wrong. And what made the repost so strong was that it came not from any that could be written off as ‘woolly liberals’ or ‘lefties’, but from leaders of some of Britain’s largest companies including Sainsbury, Centrica, which owns British Gas, high street chemists Alliance Boots, and oil giant BP.

Indeed, their call exposes a huge contradiction on the political Right. Whilst characterised as libertarian, all about enterprise and in favour of free markets for just about everything, it draws the line, or more accurately a heavily policed border, when it comes to the movement of ‘human capital’.

Unpalatable as it may be for some, Christians should be thanking God for big business. For whilst their desire to access the cheapest labour is clearly the motivation, its leaders have nevertheless mounted a direct challenge to a growing consensus which holds immigration controls in an extremely positive light.

At the last general election a Conservative Party poster asserted – “it is not racist to talk about immigration controls”. It may not be racist to discuss them, but the subtext is that such controls themselves are not racist. But they manifestly are.
Immigration restrictions involve the imposition of the conception of race onto the political unit of the nation state. Once you define the nation, you define the need for population control. Citizenship is defined by birth or adoption but principally it is defined along ethnic lines. No matter how nicely you say it – effectively by advocating immigration controls you are advocating a difference of rights on the basis of ethnicity.

In direct contrast, the parable of the Good Samaritan highlights the Christian principle of neighbour love which crosses the boundaries of ethnicity, nation, state or empire. All are made in the image of God, are of equal worth, and justice demands an equality which immigration controls deny.

Extension of the European Union can legitimately be seen as a Christian objective. And expansion need not stop at Europe’s boundaries. The barriers that discriminate against those in the developing world must also be tackled, as Christian aid and development agencies have frequently highlighted to the G8 surrounding issues of global trade.

Instead of quotas, and restrictions which create illegal trafficking, enforce destitution, separate families and waste talent, we need long-term moves toward a fair market in migration - the free movement of labour to correspond with the free movement of capital. It is not just a consistent position, it is a Christian imperative.

[This article first appeared in the Church Times newspaper. For a more detailed look at this issue, see Vaughan Jones’ paper for the Westminster Forum, Are Immigration Controls Moral?]

Jonathan Bartley is co-director of Ekklesia