Immigration Policy and Double Standards


1. Illegal Immigration, Double Standards, and Blind Spots
2. We Never Let Them In
3. Immigration, Demographics, and Twisted Arguments

1. - Illegal Immigration, Double Standards, and Blind Spots

Last week saw the release of two American journalists from custody in North Korea. The two women, Laura Ling and Euna Lee had been arrested, tried and convicted for illegally crossing into North Korea from China. Even as the media went on a bonanza over their homecoming, and the success of former President Bill Clinton in securing their freedom, more information emerged about three other American citizens who had just been arrested in Iran for crossing the border with Northern Iraq.

When Ms. Lee and Ms. Ling were arrested and then tried, the reaction of the U.S. government, much of the media, and large sections of the public, was outrage. Secretary of State Clinton initially took a hard line, calling the charges against the journalists baseless, and criticizing the procedure for its lack of due process.

Now, it is not that these criticisms of the North Korean legal process were unwarranted. Or that Americans shouldn't be rightly concerned about the three hikers arrested for crossing the Iranian border. It is that they are so utterly blind to the inconsistency of that position with the increasing criminalization of unlawful immigration within the United States.

And, indeed, the increasingly harsh treatment of immigrants found to be in the country without legitimate visa status - arrest, mass prosecution proceedings, denial of due process, and detention in facilities owned and operated by private sub-contractor firms which are driven by profit incentives.

There are increasing reports of abuse, denial of basic health services, unnecessary deaths, and the disappearance of people within the American immigration detention system. And yet increasing numbers of Americans see unlawful immigration as being a criminal offense deserving of punishment.

So when Americans react with horror and outrage at the treatment of its nationals for unlawfully crossing borders in other parts of the world, they might consider their own back yard, and consider the question - why shouldn't they be held to the same standards that they demand of the rest of the world? - Gamma.

2. - We Never Let Them In

I don't know if the analogy holds. North Korea is a thuggish runt of a state, but they deserve the greatest condemnation for the gulag economy and practice of government-as-banditry they use to bludgeon their own people. Holding two American journalists and subjecting them, not to the horrors of a work camp, but to the lesser indignities of bad rice doesn't quite rank. The book deals and made-for-t.v. movies will help ease the pain.

I get the larger point about the vulnerability of immigrants. But to be fair, the U.S. is not even close to the worst offender. Not even among developed social democracies. I offer that distinction to the Australians - remember the Tampa?

There are no rational arguments that can be made against immigration to the developed north from the under-developed south. Principles of economics, of justice, of social responsibility, of national security, and of basic humanity all overwhelmingly argue that, in order to thrive, we should open wide the doors. The costs of settlement and the minor social upheaval are massively outweighed by the value that new blood brings. Immigrants in Canada and the U.S. work hard, impart good values into their children, enrich our cultural lives, and propel us into the future.

There are some justifiable reasons for annual quotas, but there are no principled arguments against immigration in a modern developed social democratic state. None. I defy you to find even one reason that applies to the U.S. or Canada or any Western European country or Australia. No-one intellectually honest person with a thread of a liberal conscience or an attachment to free market ideals or an antipathy toward big government could make one.

All arguments against immigration are, in their essence, racist arguments. Whether the person making it is Dutch, or Canadian or American, they hide behind sophistry and hoary tropes that emphasize the need to ensure that the proper channels are being used or they rely upon insidious arguments about social dislocation and crime and the need for social cohesion. It is, almost invariably, angry white men worried about an influx of people of colour. They are reminiscent of famous comment of the headmaster in Ulysses: "Mr. Deadelus, Ireland never had a Jewish problem for the good reason we never let them in." Then they turn to cheap populism, scare tactics and, finally, brutality and cruelty and abuse of power.

Two hundred years from now, we will be judged by our treatment of "illegals" in much the same way that we look on the morality of our forebears with some skepticism because of their involvement with slavery. It is the same set of moral reference points. The wholesale oppression of one people, or underclass, by another people, or overclass. One set of rights and laws for the powerful and another for the weak. The inequity of people living in resplendent luxury on the backs of the poor and powerless.

All this from societies built by immigrants fleeing oppression or desperation. Two hundred years ago, the first of the new world Irish in my line ran from starvation to the cold, wet winters of the Ottawa Valley. They dug ditches, cut down trees and broke their backs tilling unforgiving soil. They weren't particularly welcome but they stayed and help build a great and diverse nation. As did the successive waves of Chinese, Eastern Europeans, Japanese, Italians, Portuguese, Vietnamese, Somalis, and Tamils. And always because a rational, economically sound, argument about the value of immigration was able to overcome inbred, racist, nativistic shibboleths. It is to be hoped that reason will again start to prevail. - Beta.

3. - Immigration, Demographics, and Twisted Arguments

I tend to agree with the over-arching argument of my friend regarding immigration generally. That is to say, that balance of arguments - be they grounded in morality, economics, sociology, anthropology, evolutionary theory, or a plain common sense of justice and fairness - favour more relaxed immigration policies in the developed world. That, and the assertion that most arguments raised against immigration tend to mask more pernicious racist and xenophobic instincts.

That having been said, however, the piece below tends to both over-reach and unfortunately conflate different lines of argument. This confusion is captured in the following quote from the post: "Principles of economics, of justice, of social responsibility, of national security, and of basic humanity all overwhelmingly argue that, in order to thrive, we should open wide the doors. The costs of settlement and the minor social upheaval are massively outweighed by the value that new blood brings." This suggests that all the arguments, from all these different perspectives, point towards a justification of immigration for reasons of self-interest and gain for the host country. But that is simply wrong. Social responsibility, justice, and morality argue for greater immigration even if there may be some social or economic cost to be borne in the short term. The issue is simply too complicated for arguments from every perspective to point to a single neat conclusion.

Similarly, the assertion that no rational argument can be made against any immigration to the developed north, without qualification, simply goes too far. While my friend acknowledges the validity of some annual quotas, he doesn't seem to accept that rich countries like Canada and Australia, both very large territories with disproportionately small populations (around 34 and 21 million respectively), might have some legitimate basis for wanting to ensure that their cultures are not overwhelmed by millions of immigrants entering the country within a short time frame.

The problem is this. Most of the arguments that are raised against immigration (including in such countries as Canada and Australia) are not merely concerned with minimizing the dislocation caused by a disproportionate influx of immigrants from very different cultures. They are mostly xenophobic and, to varying degrees, racist. That in turn radicalizes the arguments on all sides, polarizing positions, with a corresponding loss of appreciation for the complexity and nuance, the trade-offs and balances of pros and cons, that necessarily characterize such issues.

As a classic example of this, consider the YouTube doomsday video on the impending peril of the West being swamped by Islamic culture, caused by a combination of unsustainable fertility rates and uncontrolled immigration policies.

The BBC has published a detailed refutation of most of the fallacious and patently false claims in the video, yet the video will of course reach far more people than the BBC article. And it will be believed. Like Lou Dobbs hammering incessantly on the evils of illegal immigration night after night, these media rants work their way into the cultural fabric, and create a climate for collective responses that can only be called evil. But careful rigorous argument, including respect for nuance and complexity, have to remain a weapon against such evil. - Gamma.



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