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Crab's Law or the Physics of Immigration Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Cardenas, United States May 25, 2006
Human Rights , Poverty , Culture , Migration   Opinions


Crab's Law or the Physics of Immigration I remember the first time I saw the Pacific Ocean in the coast of Ecuador. A young man had several buckets full of crabs on display for sale under a tiny palm tree kiosk. Interestingly enough the crabs were alive and untied, having free movement within the receptacles. I asked, "Aren’t you afraid that they will escape from there?" And the youngster said with a smile, "Nope! Because they are trapped by the crab’s law."

Looking at my inquisitive face he explained: "See, when you pile several crabs in a bucket, you don’t tie them up, because they can die asphyxiated and nobody will buy them, since everyone wants fresh crabs, you just let them free, when one crab tries to get out the others will hold him, not because they want him in, but because they all want help getting out, creating a never ending cycle in all directions."

This “crab’s law” came to me as a metaphor after hearing a myriad of opinions about the undocumented immigrants in the US, inundated by passionate debates, eloquent arguments and heart-wrenching testimonials from both sides of the problem. Both rational, both justified, both decisive.

Actually, it becomes easy to justify those that protest in favor or against it at the same time, perhaps due to the dual physics of the immigration phenomenon, where we can’t ever have a zero-sum game. That is, nobody can win fully.

On one side are those whose economic needs overpower the attachment to their land, family, friends, and culture; and displace themselves in search for opportunities. On the other hand are those who need them to satisfy temporal needs and have enough resources to afford others to do it. The catch comes when such temporary needs stretch for long periods of time and these foreigners are not foreigners anymore. They plant roots, get friends, have families, and re-create culture, they integrate and expand into the social structure. The only factor that separates them from the rest is the law; law that if not updated becomes useless to the ever-pressing forces of our society. Creating cumulative problems, like second degree citizens, an outlaw consciousness, unequal understandings of rights and responsibilities that sooner or later affect everyone, a radical correction is needed, not a quick fix, a solution.

But every solution seems to have a vital string attached. If the undocumented are to be kicked out, they will take with them the extremely flexible, affordable and malleable work force that sustains our economy. If they stay, they should embrace the rules and rights of this society, so they become active members of society. Because they can’t go undetected for ever, because they are not slaves or robots, and because we can’t ask people to follow the law if they are not considered by the law in the first place.

In other words, the way the economy, geography and culture is set at the moment, you can’t have one without the other. And everyone knows that the forces of the market will always prevail and find a way around any law to keep everyone free within the bucket…until they are sold for good.



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An Ecuadorian & US citizen, who has worked with community based organizations all his life.
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