Blockchain for Cross-Border Migration, Remittances, and Digital Identities
Blockchain technology simply begins with digital identification and identifying remittances. Once we have that in place, we move to the movement of products and people to track improvements to humanity. — Anonymous
The Pinkerton Intelligence and Research Group reported on Feb 4th, close to 200 buses carried migrants from Central America to Piedras Negras, a city on the U.S. border, in Coahuila state. The Group discovered the costs of transportation was covered by the Coahuila government. When the migrants arrived, they were placed in large warehouses, where they were provided food and blankets as well as medical attention should they need it. Armed guards and federal police secured the area, and prevented migrants from departing. All migrants were documented.
According to reports, a few migrants protested detainment. But the Piedras Negras mayor advised the press that the migrants are safe. The report quoted the mayor: “They have to have migrant visas to be in our country and our city and [we are] trying to work together to handle this situation as best as we can.”
U.S. and Texas law enforcement personnel arrived in Eagle Pass to augment the Del Rio (TX) Sector Border Patrol already in place. Department of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen said in a statement that “illegal entry will not be tolerated and we stand ready to prevent it,” reported Pinkerton. The Coahuila governor, who authorized temporary asylum in Mexico to the migrants, agreed.
The Mexican Government has a long history of tolerating foreign migration through its territory. Mexico’s President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador publicly stated his stated support of the last migrant caravan in late 2018. The Group reported that organizers chose Eagle Pass side of the Rio Grande River as there are no fences, making it easier for the migrants to cross into El Paso, Texas.
This scenario is a perfect case for blockchain. Using peer-to-peer verification on the blockchain, information is shared in real-time which means that no single entity can manipulate the ledger. Not only does this remove a change of collusion by also fraudulent activity at the border, from operators and guards responsible for migrants. The blockchain could reduce the wait time of hours spent crossing the border and military spending for increase in security. It can reduce military spending (the Group reported migrants will most likely be placed in population centers and increase security on both sides of the border).
Seven years ago, I crossed the border from Lebanon to Syria by car. It was the height of the Arab Spring, creating massive social unrest in the region. At the border, I waited three hours for a guard to stamp my paper, two more for a signed receipt that indicated my passport was reviewed, and two more to pass. The regional conflict left many individuals and families crossing borders by foot, bike, car or animal. Riots and traffic jams followed with food shortages and kidnappings as the worse form of violence. Reporting on social injustice, I arrived to the Syrian capital of Damascus only to see tanks at the city limits. Fortunately, I escaped detained. Over the years many detainees live in tents; ie, Turkish-Syrian border, waiting to cross into a better world. Most of them don’t have food and water, without the protection of armed guards and roofs above their heads. Many remain undocumented and the ones who are have to wait.
Migration from one country to another to seek out a better, more dignified life for oneself and ones family is our human right. The world is experiencing an increase in legal overseas migration for work, with over 250 million migrantworkers coming leaving developing countries to work in developed ones. Annual cross-border remittances have risen to more than US$600 billion. In the Philippines, over 10% of the GDP (about US$30 billion) comes from overseas workers. The percentage is significant for cross-border payments.
Beyond payments, blockchain increases trust in criminal records. When I traveled to Asia in 2016, I was warned by my AirBnb host that with the election of the new president, violence will follow (I choose to keep the location anonymous). A week later, the government authorized the killing of close to 50,000 men, women and children suspected of use, distribution and sale of drugs. Many of them were falsely identified. If the government used blockchain technology to discover a criminal trail perhaps fewer murders would have taken place.
Migrant workers are not only the breadwinners of their families back home, but also the population that makes globalization work. We talk about macroeconomics and economies of scale without understanding our human rights. My hope is to educate governments, executives and entrepreneurs on opportunities for blockchain technology without compromising what makes us human.