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Immigration complexities spotlighted

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In the immigration debate, it's easy to get mired down in the details of driving privilege cards and fences. But immigration is a complex global phenomenon of interdependent economies, academics who gathered this week at the University of Utah pointed out.

"We are like travelers navigating a terrain with old maps," keynote speaker Seyla Benhabib said about the world's continued confusion over the causes, consequences and policy implications of immigration. Benhabib, a Turkish-born professor of political science and philosophy at Yale University, said that even the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can't figure out how to deal with immigration: the declaration talks about the right of people to emigrate from a country but is silent on a host state's obligation to grant entry.

The conference, "Migration, Rights, and Identities: Examining the Range of Local and Global Needs," tackled topics that included trans-Arab immigration, Utah's Bosnian refugees and terrorism in Canada. So the conference was, literally, all over the map and was often both theoretical and data-laden. The conference was hosted by the Barbara L. and Norman C. Tanner Center for Nonviolent Human Rights Advocacy at the university.

It is estimated that 192 million people around the world moved from one country to another in 2005. Some observations about all that motion, from University of Utah researchers:

• Increasingly, reported Matt Sanderson, it's a south-to-south migration, and increasingly the migration is between one less-developed country to another. He said his study of data from 1970 to 2005 shows that this migration has had a negative effect on "human development" in the go-to country, leading to higher fertility rates, stress on infrastructures and the spread of communicable diseases.

• In Arab countries, reported Ibrahim Karawan and Mahmoud Hamad, workers from high-density, poorer countries migrate to oil-rich countries looking for work. The expectation was that this would lead to a growth of Arab identity. Instead it has led to the growth of Islamist movements, Karawan said.

• In Latin America, larger and larger percentages of countries' gross domestic products are made up of remittances sent home by those who have immigrated to the United States. In Nicaragua, remittances make up over 14 percent of the GDP, in El Salvador over 12 percent. In Mexico, the percentage is only 1.8 percent, but Mexico is still one of the top three countries in the amount of money sent home, along with India and China. In some countries, remittances now equal the amount of foreign direct investment. But according to Isabel Dalfano, a study of remittances sent back to Guatemala shows no reduction in poverty rates.

• Closer to home, researchers Tom Maloney and Tom Kontuly found that in Salt Lake County undocumented immigrants, over time, tend to move to less-segregated neighborhoods, tend to improve their average household income and since 2001 are now only 40 percent poorer than the "native" population, compared to 60 percent poorer in 2001.

E-mail: jarvik@desnews.com