Migration has been a core part of our human heritage, a key to our survival.

Core Concepts

Global Economy

An economic system is based on seeking profit, typically by driving costs of production down. The global economy offers corporations incentives to outsource production overseas, allowing them to exploit the inequalities across national borders. A movement in the United States is gaining steam to call for a $15 minimum wage. As of 2020, eleven countries have higher minimum wages than the United States’ $7.25 per hour. South of the border, Mexico’s minimum wage is $6.36 per day. Factory workers in Haiti receive $4.56. This inequality is foundational to the global economy.

State System

The modern state system was created very late, in 1648, with the Peace of Westphalia, the last day in humanity’s thirty-year life so far. This form of state—and the formal sovereignty that it implies—did not become universal until after decolonization following the Second World War. As late as 1947, most of the world’s population was still colonized.

Westphalian state system

“Term used in international relations, supposedly arising from the Treaties of Westphalia in 1648 which ended the Thirty Years War. It is generally held to mean a system of states or international society comprising sovereign state entities possessing the monopoly of force within their mutually recognized territories. Relations between states are conducted by means of formal diplomatic ties between heads of state and governments, and international law consists of treaties made (and broken) by those sovereign entities. The term implies a separation of the domestic and international spheres, such that states may not legitimately intervene in the domestic affairs of another, whether in the pursuit of self‐interest or by appeal to a higher notion of sovereignty, be it religion, ideology, or other supranational ideal. In this sense the term differentiates the ‘modern’ state system from earlier models, such as the Holy Roman Empire or the Ottoman Empire.”-Oxford Reference

Humanity on the Move

Humanity’s oldest survival and adaptation strategy was and is … mobility. Humanity has been, and continues to be, on the move. Archaeologist Michael Frachetti said that migration has become ubiquitous, “at the heart of archaeological discourse.” Throughout history, people’s complex motivations to move, and their specific modes of doing so, may not be fully visible in what people left behind, and so perhaps not accessible for archaeological study. However, humans clearly responded to large-scale vents such as a massive drought, volcanoes, or earthquakes by moving. … Migration might well be humanity’s single best adaptive response to disasters.


A principled politics is based on humanization and empathy. Using our anthropological imagination offers us conceptual support so we can build bridges across our differences. It helps us articulate our solidarity with others. While specific local struggles for justice each have their particularities, our anthropological imagination can help us identify commonalities and explore connections among them.

Chapter Overview

This chapter offers people who pledged support for immigrant communities the necessary tools to deepen their understanding of migration. Our anthropological imagination is critical if compassion and empathy and support for humanity are not to become fodder for partisan positioning. More importantly, our anthropological imagination gives us a useful blueprint for building an effective resistance in order to actually put an end to the dehumanization of migrants, helping us identify specific structural roots. A holistic perspective, seeing the common threads in these quite urgent threats to humanity, is a necessary step to get us off this cycle of lurching from one pressing issue to the next, always on the defensive. It weaves them together to promote a solidarity politics, giving us something to fight for, particularly since we now need the more privileged of humanity to act boldly in accompaniment and as accomplice with those most marginalized and targeted.

With an anthropological imagination we can

  1. Identify commonalities among particular targets of current immigration policy.
  2. Expand our understanding of the issues beyond the focus on the legal system. Immigration policy is also intimately connected to labor policy, housing, and education.
  3. Render visible people’s motivations to migrate, particularly the vast inequalities within global capitalism. Sharpen our focus on the state apparatus itself. The modern state system is centered on the ideology of sovereignty, expressed most vividly in the maintaining and patrolling of borders.
  4. Remember not to exceptionalize the Trump administration. Those reactionary policies were a long time in the making.
  5. Remind people (such as policy makers) that humanity has always been on the move. It was one of our earliest adaptations.
  6. Disrupt the distinction between “good” and “bad” immigrant.
  7. Refocus the discussion about migration on people’s humanity, inspiring empathy—radical empathy. This moment calls for more than being an ally, it calls for being an accomplice.
  8. Outline the contours of a coalitional politics.

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