Brunswick resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

You know how sometimes, if you say a word too much, it suddenly loses all meaning? I had that experience lately with the entire concept of immigration.

It is a global crisis. Around the world, countries are grappling with massive surges of humans who have nowhere to go. Here in the U.S., border communities are frustrated and fearful. Walls are both expensive and ineffective. Holding cells are overflowing and inhumane.

A lot of lives are being lost in the attempt to enter our country. Human trafficking has become a lucrative, if loathsome, enterprise. Most of the talk on the news is about what is unfolding along our southern border. Lately, though, there have been increasing concerns about the security of the northern border, too, including the stretch right here in Maine.

The problems are real. But I had this moment where, just like with words, the entire issue of immigration suddenly lost all meaning.

I was listening to news reports about the border crisis at the same time as I was reading scientific articles about ancient migration routes and the origins of humanity, and the juxtaposition knotted my brain.

A study published just this month at has revealed through DNA analysis that much of the American continents was populated by people migrating from China.


Apparently, there were two major waves. One during the last ice age, and one shortly after, which was “responsible for founding populations across the Americas, including Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Mexico and California.” This new knowledge, combined with our earlier understandings of migration patterns from the African continent, gives us a more complete and thorough understanding of our origins.

Like birds, fish, insects and all our other fellow mammals, the story of humans is a story of migration. We are a species on the move and always have been. We crossed the Bering Strait, we traversed continents, we populated the entire globe. All by following that primal inner urge to venture forth toward where we imagine we might find and forge a better life.

So, how did this idea of borders even become a thing? Government, that’s how.

As far as we know, the earliest known government – and earliest known code of law – was established in Sumer (modern-day Iraq) in 4,000 B.C. Six thousand years ago, it was a collection of monarchies that conquered and ruled. Other governments popped up around the globe not long after, and so began the formalized establishment of “us” versus “them.”

Granted, 6,000 years is not nothing. However, if we are talking about the span of human evolution, it’s a drop in the bucket.

It seems strange to me that in so short a span of time, we could so fundamentally overhaul our understanding of the natural order. To go from a species like all the rest, free to move to wherever we needed to be, to a species unlike any other, bound by lottery of birth to live in one place under a government and able to migrate only with special granted permissions. It’s not natural.

I realize this little revelation of mine isn’t about to shift global policy. At the end of the day, borders are not going to disappear. I don’t see us returning to our Neolithic ways. As a lover of indoor plumbing, that’s not all bad.

Still, when it comes to migration, we clearly need a rethink. We need to find ways to make all places safer for staying put, and improve the system for moving. We need to share this planet better.

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