These days it is being debated United States owes its African American citizens a replacement for slavery. It did. But Europe and the United States have a far greater bill to fall: what they owe to other countries for their "adventures" in the colonies, for the wars they have inflicted on them, for the inequality they have introduced into the world order, and not least for the climate emissions they have charged the atmosphere with.
Credit countries do not seriously suggest that West annually send sacks of gold money to India or Nigeria in compensation. What their people are asking for is justice: that the borders of the rich countries are opened to goods and people, be it Indian textiles or Nigerian doctors. They ask for immigration as a substitute.
Today, a quarter of a billion people migrants. They move because rich countries have stolen the future of the poor countries. Whether it is Iraqis and Syrians fleeing the consequences of illegal US wars, or Africans seeking employment with their former colonial powers, or Guatemalans and Hondurans trying to enter the country who supplied them with weapons and bought their drugs: They will come to the West because we've been with them.
Before you ask them to respect our borders, ask yourself: Has the West ever respected anyone's borders?
A large majority of migrants do not move to a rich country, but to a less poor country. Immigration quotas should be proportionate to how much the host country has destroyed other countries. The UK should have quotas for Indians and Nigerians, France for Malaysians and Tunisians, Belgium for Congolese people. And when the migrants arrive in the host country, they should be allowed to take the family with them and stay – unlike the "guest workers" who were lured to build up the much needed workforce of the colonial powers and then asked to go back when there was no need them more.
The Dominican Republic should be high on the US quota list; the Americans supported the Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo for thirty years. The same goes for Iraq, where the United States inflicted a war on the country that resulted in 600 deaths. In the name of justice, the United States should now receive as many Iraqis; For every death we caused there, someone should have the opportunity to start a new life in the United States.
About 12 million Africans were taken as slaves and transported across the Atlantic. Shouldn't 12 million Africans be allowed to live in the lands that were enriched at the expense of their ancestors? Both parties will benefit from this: Africans will continue to suffer from what slavery did to their homeland, and the host country will once again gain the benefit of African labor – but this time it can happen without pain and a fair wage.
Just as the polluting industry has to pay environmental taxes, it should be an "immigrant tax" for nations that have enriched themselves through greenhouse gas emissions.
The United States is responsible for about a third of emissions, Europe a quarter. Hundreds of millions climate refugees – fleeing hurricanes and droughts – must find a new place to live during this century. The United States should receive a third of them, Europe a quarter.
Although the bill may seem high, it is a bill the West should look forward to paying. Without immigration, US economic growth would have been 15 percent lower in the period 1990–2014; growth in the UK would have been 20 per cent lower.
Should not 12 million Africans be allowed to live in the countries that enriched themselves
Immigrants make up 14 percent of the population of the United States, but they account for a quarter of all new businesses in the United States and, since 2000, have received one-third of the Nobel Prize the United States has been awarded in the fields of chemistry, physics and medicine.
Migrants make up 3 percent of the world's population, but contribute 9 percent of GDP (gross domestic product). Their contribution to the tax bill helps to fund the pension schemes of rich nations who are unable to give birth to enough children themselves.
If we really want to help the world poor, the fastest and most effective method is this: to make immigration easier. Migrants provided us with $ 689 billion in money transfers last year, which is 3 times more than the direct gain from eliminating trade barriers, 4 times more than all non-aid and 100 times the debt cancellation amount.
Are wealthy countries in the West obliged to welcome all who come from lands they have plundered?
There are compelling arguments against open borders: that the United States is a lifeboat in a sea of poor nations, and that too many immigrants want the boat to sink. That even if we owe these people a compensation, the damages can be made by cash settlement or settlement on another territory.
There are no serious arguments proving long-term economic harm to countries receiving immigrants, not even when immigration assumes large proportions. During the mass migration, a quarter of Europe's population moved to the United States, which then took over Europe's pallet placement in wealth and power.
A world with (more) open borders will experience a short period of mass migration, but then migration can actually slow down, as money and happiness will be more equitably distributed and more people will want to stay where they are.
To avoid paying an "immigration tax", the rich countries will stop supporting dictators, not start more barbaric wars, limit multinational corporations 'exploitation of poor countries' mineral resources and ensure fairer global trade. If not, the "migration bill" from the ruined country will be prohibitive.
What is good (and economical) immigration for the United States, is separate from what is just and morally right for migrants whose fate has affected: It may seem more financially reasonable for the United States to hire skilled people than unskilled labor from Latin America, but the Americans owe the latter more and should open the doors of their neighbors to the south.
History is what everything has happened, and it can never be changed; but the story also happens in the here and now. We need to be aware of this, and ready to pay the bill.
Mehta is the author of This Land is Our Land: An Immigrant's Manifesto. The book has recently been translated by Erik Ringen and published in Norwegian: entitled This country is also ours (Res Publica). The chronicle was under pressure in the New York Times last year.
Translated by Iril Kolle