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How Technology Could Facilitate and then Destroy Legal Immigration

We need some authoritative measures to guarantee safe and effective immigration. But then, the robots come.

Immigration—it's one of the hot button topics of the 2016 election. Republican Donald Trump wants to build a huge wall between the US and Mexico. Democrat Hillary Clinton was to make it easier for immigrants to come to America. The presidential candidates' opinions on immigration and its effect on America are essentially polar opposites.

Despite this, neither Trump or Clinton are talking about the issue that could redefine immigration more than anything else in the next quarter century: technology. Surveillance tech, facial recognition software, drones, and chip implants are all here—and becoming more commonplace. Their use in who we let into America—and how we let them in—will play a big part of immigration in the future.


For example, Trump's wall between Mexico and the United States—designed to thwart illegal immigration—is estimated to cost upwards of $25 billion dollars. It'll probably never get built, and even if it did, its effectiveness is highly questionable. Walls can be scaled, or tunnels can be dug underneath.

For a pittance of the money his wall will cost, American border patrol could buy and use thousands of drones that day and night monitor our borders. Drones can have loud bilingual speakers to talk to illegal immigrants trying to cross into America, and they can also have facial recognition software to see if immigrants are on criminal lists. A tight line of small camera drones at the nearly 2,000 mile long US/Mexico border seems much more practical than a wall—especially with coming AI that can simultaneously monitor and manage all the drones at once. Along the border, inexpensive charging stations could be set up where drones recharge themselves as needed.

Additionally, drones would be far better for wildlife and nature near the border than a massive concrete wall. A wall would require much construction equipment, human traffic, and newly built roads to create (and to maintain). Wildlife near the border would suffer because their feeding, living, and hunting grounds had been cut in half and disrupted. Drones and their occasional charging stations will disrupt far less and leave nearly no footprint.


Most importantly, drones can save lives too. They can spot children being trafficked, harmful drugs or weapons being brought across the border, or dehydrated immigrants who need immediate medical assistance. New unmanned passenger drones like those being created by Chinese entrepreneurs might help with medical evacuations.

The idea of dealing with refugees—another form of immigration—is much more difficult to contend with. In 2013, the number of immigrants granted permanent resident status was 990,553. Refugees—many of whom are from war zones—make up less than 100,000 of that number. The US often provides cash and housing for refugees, which comes from taxpayers.

Many Republican and some Democrat Congress members don't want war refugees here. And more than half of state governors don't want them in their states either. The numbers tell the full story: America has plans to only let in 10,000 Syrian refugees this year versus Germany which has already let in nearly a million total. Germany is about a quarter of the size of America in population.

Robots and artificial intelligences from China or Germany have to undergo immigration clearances in order to be able to operate in America

As a journalist who has been to war zones, I believe in giving refugees sanctuary, especially to women, children, the disabled, and the elderly. However, I don't believe in allowing them into America without some special surveillance or giving them a free ride year after year. Some seemingly authoritative measures should be administered.


I have suggested we have a discussion about chipping adult refugees from known terrorist nations for the first three years of their stay in America to better monitor them. This way, we can allay terrorism concerns, and we can make sure refugees are adding to American life—and not harming it.

Chip implants in the hand, for example, take seconds to install and seconds to uninstall. And they can be used for a multitude of things, like making credit card payments, carrying valuable information, starting a car without keys, and tracking purposes.

While some will believe this is authoritarian, I believe half of Americans will get some type of implant or tattoo chip to facilitate tech functionality in their lives in the next decade. So getting the ball rolling with refugees from known terrorist countries is not as intense as it sounds—especially if it makes Congress members more compassionate about letting them into America. And that is the main point with chipping refugees—that is might just be the carrot both Republican and Democrat Congress members need to pass laws to save hundreds of thousands of lives by allowing wartorn refugees into the US. If we don't create an acceptable bipartisan scenario where we let in refugees, then millions of innocent human beings will continue to be killed and harmed in totally destroyed cities and warzones.

But there's a far more complex issue with immigration looming on the horizon: The proliferation of robots and the jobs they take will challenge why we allow immigrants into the country in the first place.


As a presidential candidate who was born in Los Angeles but is both the son of immigrants and a dual citizen (Hungary), I believe in the concept of immigration. Immigrants—like my parents who escaped communist Hungary in 1969—come to America for many reasons, but mostly it has to do with building a better life and finding a good job.

The same thing can be said of nations that let in immigrants—they too want to build a better life for their citizens and get better workers. Generally speaking, nations that allow immigrants into their society do so not to be generous, but because immigrants are useful for the growth and prosperity of the nation.

In the past century, it's been useful to allow most anyone into America that would work, pay taxes, and not commit crimes. However, in a world where jobs are disappearing to robots and software, there's less need than ever for immigrants—unless they happen to be robot makers or software engineers.

This presents a conundrum for the world. Because I support a Universal Basic Income (UBI)—where every citizen gets a livable income whether they work or not—I know that immigration for citizenship privileges in America will eventually have to drop to near zero. Otherwise America will have to merge with other nations to create a UBI everywhere—since everyone would want to immigrate to America for the free money.

The UBI concept is catching on with many people around the world, as well as in Silicon Valley, where many robots are being designed. There's a general feeling that something needs to be done to stave off a people's potentially violent revolution if most jobs are consumed by technology and machines.


One idea, which I gently support, is greater cooperation of national governments. Despite the shock of Brexit, a loose form of a democratic world government is likely inevitable over the long run. Technology will make it such that globalization is the optimal style of governing, and not nationalism.

Whatever happens, the way we look at immigration is about to undergo major changes because of technology

The flip side to not embracing globalization and increased cooperation between nations is to let tech create a dystopian divide where the rich become wealthier and the poor poorer. Globalization and world-wide laws, benefits, and cultural unity are the key to equality.

One main difference of such a scenario would be immigration. While I would likely support open borders in a world government, some people might not want to leave their native lands if there was a livable wage to be had there. Others might move, but they'd have the guaranteed resources to contribute and participate in society.

Strangely enough, it's even possible that technology may someday be on the receiving end of immigration, where robots and artificial intelligences (possibly even with personhood rights) from China or Germany have to undergo immigration clearances in order to be able to operate in America. And some of this tech might be so sophisticated (or so poor in performance) that they wouldn't be allowed in at all—because they'd create a perceived economic disruption to the economy and status quo.

Whatever happens, the way we look at immigration is about to undergo major changes because of technology. Through it all, we must maintain both a sense of compassion to people's quest for a better life, and a sense of rationality for economic and security decisions of national governments trying to deal with the thorny situation of newcomers (and new tech) permanently entering their societies.

Zoltan Istvan is a futurist, author of The Transhumanist Wager, and a 2016 US Presidential candidate of the Transhumanist Party. He writes an occasional column for Motherboard in which he ruminates on the future beyond human ability.