Michael Clemens, senior fellow at the Center for Global Development. Photo by: personal collection

A summer in Mexico at the age of 12 was all it took for researcher Michael Clemens to understand the root causes of migration.

“I saw people doing work identical to the work I saw people doing in the United States but getting paid much less,” he said in an e-mail to Devex. “I never stopped wondering exactly why that was and what could be done to extend to more people around the world opportunities similar to those I’ve had principally because of the country I was born in.”

He has made a career out of showing, through editorials and essays, why migration might be a good thing. Generating the debate has been easy, breaking boilerplate perceptions has not. Many on the left say migration destroys families and societies of origin, while many on the right say it destroys the destination societies and economies, Clemens said.

“I’ve learned to scientifically document every major claim I make about migration so that I am not just one more cheap voice driven by emotion and ideology,” he added. “I want to raise the level of the debate to a conversation about facts.”

One of the best ways he knows to do that is to focus on how immigration has affected both the sending and receiving countries. For example, the United States would never have developed into a world leader without immigrants.

Clemens fights hard to promote policies that give migrants from disaster-stricken nations such as Haiti the same refugee status as migrants from countries suffering from war and political persecution.

“I’ve tried hard but only very modestly succeeded in urging people to think of development as something that happens to people rather than to places,” he said.

Everything starts with a dialogue, and Clemens is being honored for helping to pioneer one on migration.

Read the announcement of Devex’s 40-under-40 honorees.

About the author

  • Julienne Gage

    As a freelance journalist and broadcast news producer based in Miami and Washington, Julienne contributes regularly to Devex. Her graduate studies in anthropology and journalism included research on youth development in Latin America and immigration in Spain.

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