Program on International Migration: Economics, Ethics and Law

Kofi Annan Inaugurates the Law School's Program on International Migration

On Friday, November 21, 2003, Low Library was host to a room teeming with curious students, faculty, and staff hailing from various schools at the University.  They were gathered to hear the inaugural Emma Lazarus Lecture on International Flows of Humanity delivered by His Excellency Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations, and sponsored by the new interdisciplinary Program on International Migration: Economics, Ethics and Law, housed at the Law School.

Photo courtesy of Columbia Record

President Lee C. Bollinger welcomed the audience and expressed his enthusiasm about the new Program, spearheaded by University Professor Jagdish Bhagwati, which will act as an umbrella for faculty and students engaged in research on the multitude of analytical and policy-related issues raised by the international flows of humanity.  Faculty affiliated with the program come from disciplines as diverse as economics, literacy theory, philosophy, sociology, political science, international relations and law.

Secretary-General Annan, who was introduced by Professor Bhagwati, lauded the introduction of a new Program dedicated to the exploration of international migration and human rights.  He stressed the importance of such an endeavor at a global institution such as Columbia, located in New York City - a city, "which has been the archetypal success story of international migration."

New York City, with more than one in three inhabitants born outside the United States, and boasting communities of 188 different national origins - only three fewer than there are member states in the United Nations - is a "success story of migration" right at our doorstep.  His Excellency noted that, unfortunately, many other countries, and more specifically individuals, have not experienced the same level of success.

While many migrants choose to move, others are forced to flee their countries of origin.  And whether these individuals have moved by choice, or have had no other options, there is little doubt that both host and sender communities face tremendous challenges in addressing a complex set of issues surrounding migration, "issues of human rights and economic opportunity, of labor shortages and unemployment, of brain drain and brain gain, of xenophobia and integration, of refugee crises and asylum seekers, of law enforcement and human trafficking, of human security and national security."

Secretary-General Annan suggested that there was only one sure answer - that migration should not be halted, but rather "managed - rationally, creatively, compassionately, and cooperatively."  He continued that, "if we get it right," it is the only approach that will "bring advantages to all parties - sender countries, countries of transit, host countries, and migrants themselves."  This approach would be dependant on states harmonizing their policies and maintaining "networks of cooperation and information sharing on smuggling and trafficking routes and trends, and on effective practices in prevention and assistance." 

Secretary-General Annan underscored the importance of this issue in a local context by reminding the audience that even though the U.S. needs to ensure that those that enter its borders are not a threat to homeland security, "it would be a tragedy if this diverse country were to deprive itself of the enrichment of many students and workers and family members from particular parts of the world, or if the human rights of those who would migrate here were compromised."

During a question and answer session following his speech, the Secretary-General reminded the audience that he too is a migrant, and though he has immersed himself in the unique cultures that each place he has lived and visited has to offer, he still remains committed to his country of origin.  David Leebron, Dean of Columbia Law School, concluded the lecture by ruminating about the panel of ‘migrants' sitting in front of the audience  -- Secretary-General Kofi Annan originates from Ghana, Program Director and University Professor Jagdish Bhagwati is from India, and the Dean lightheartedly suggested he is a bit of a migrant himself, hailing from Philadelphia.

Audience members left the first Emma Lazarus Lecture on International Flows of Humanity reminded about the relevance of Ms. Lazarus' words inscribed in the base of the Statue of Liberty a century ago, "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." 

-Written by Hayley Miller