Thursday, November 16, 2006

Enfranchising the Diaspora

A number of countries are attempting to build bridges between the homeland and their diaspora communities. But embracing the movement of people is proving difficult for government policymakers. The rooted often view migrants with a great deal of suspicion. In other words, people don't trust outsiders, particularly those between places.

While mobility often results in domestic anxiety, there is great potential for development. The difficulty is figuring out how to tap into migration. One response is providing transnational populations with a political voice in the host country:

Latin American states have taken the boldest steps in recognising the essentially transnational character of contemporary migration: many of "their" migrants live simultaneously in the host country and the country of origin, through frequent travel, cheap communications, active cultural and social associational life, and consumption habits.

In response, several countries in the region (El Salvador is one example) now have a ministry dedicated to the affairs of the diaspora, offer dual nationality and have even amended their constitution to enable diaspora communities to directly elect their own representatives to sit in the legislature. These states understand that if migrants are to scale up their contributions to the development of their home regions, the originating states need to maintain a meaningful social contract with them.

In the United States, there are a number of transregional communities cut off from their hometown. Pittsburgh could formalize its relationship with the economic refugees scattered around the United States. What we need is a mayoral candidate who has the vision to mobilize this tremendous resource of human capital.

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