The world needs to get better at managing the movement of humans.

Editor’s note: This article was authored by Ana Campoy and originally published on Quartz in 2019 and can be accessed here: https://qz.com/1659736/the-1920s-refugee-passport-that-could-help-solve-todays-border-crisis/

 

In recent days, Americans learned that their government has been jailing immigrant children in dismal conditions, and that in private, the Border Patrol agents charged with taking care of them cracked cruel and racist jokes. The heartbreaking image of a father and toddler drowned in the Rio Grande, meanwhile, reminded them of the ever growing immigrant death toll.

This weekend, they are bracing for a series of nationwide raids targeting immigrant families with children.

US president Donald Trump’s unrelenting efforts to block migrants, many seeking asylum, from crossing the US southern border has spurred outrage and calls for his administration to do the humane thing. But demanding he change immigration policy in the name of compassion is unlikely to convince him—or pretty much any other world leader.

A previous refugee crisis, in the 1920s, suggests that it will take more than altruism for the US and other rich countries to welcome the millions of people who have fled their countries for fear of their lives. Back then, dozens of countries responded by granting “passports” to the refugees, instead of tightening their borders. They didn’t do this out of the goodness of their heart, but mostly because they believed it was in their own best interest.

Those pushing for humanitarian treatment for refugees and other migrants today should take note of that—and incorporate it into their lobbying.