[The editorial below confines itself to the task of establishing a set of principles that will determine, in advance of individual policy, an universally just immigration policy template.]
HOW TO DE-POLITICIZE IMMIGRATION
“Handle with extreme care” might be the warning on the Immigration portfolio, where every rejected applicant suspects he has been categorized by either race, religion, ethnicity, lack of education and/or net worth. Cowed by the mere threat of such an accusation, self-conscious policy makers are urged to extend the hand of hope and ‘equal’ opportunity to everyone, a practice that sounds good in theory but may in fact have created the conditions that have allowed the extreme right in France (Jean Le Pen) and Austria (Joerg Haider) to prosper politically.
All of which begs the following questions: Does the electoral dissatisfaction that both Le Pen and Haider have successfully politicized betray a nostalgia for the exclusionary politics of the past, or does it point to immigration policies that have failed the people they were designed to serve? Is it possible to identify what should constitute the axioms of just and humane immigration policy?
In each and every case, the success of an immigration policy depends on its ability to balance the mutual concerns and considerations of both the host and applicant populations. The host population always looks to the immigrant to enrich (culturally and economically) life at home, just as the immigrant looks to enrich his life away from home. Neither side wants to be blamed for the cultural or economic destabilization caused by flawed policy. When immigration policy is successful, everyone is a winner, measured by gradual changes to the way of life in the host country, just as when Latin evolved into Italian there was no sudden demarcation; it was always one language unceasingly at work.
So how do we achieve the best result knowing that policy formulation is not an exact science? Is it possible to arrive at a near-formula where the social indices by which we measure the wealth and well-being of a nation enjoy relative improvement consequent to immigration?
Prior to any inquiry into what should constitute a just and humane immigration policy, the committee responsible for policy should include ‘informed’ members who are able to speak freely about what we know of human nature, and what the historical record reveals when groups of people of different color, race, religion and ethnicity are obliged to share a common territory. History and experience teach us that wherever and whenever unlike groups of people have come together, even in the most favorable circumstances, there is a relative increase in mutual mistrust. When you factor in scarcity of natural resources and/or employment opportunities, all of which exacerbate conflict, unlike people getting along becomes even more problematic. So while we should guard against making excessive concessions to our innate xenophobia, the fact is that people who share the same heritage, traditions and worldly view are more likely to get along than people who don’t. To ignore this truism, either politically or culturally, is an act of folly.
Accordingly, a mature and just immigration policy must admit that some immigrants, or immigrant groups, are more desirable than others. It only makes sense that Nigerians, while desiring immigrants and yet wanting to avoid the conflict and destabilization often associated with immigration, should regard educated, bilingual Ghanians as more desirable than uneducated, unilingual white Canadians, that the former will be more easily integrated into the Nigerian way of life than the latter. And if at the end of the day there are nine black Ghanian immigrants for every white Canadian, so be it – and beware of those who incite division by playing the race card from the bottom of the deck. Well-formulated policy should not have to play patsy to agenda politics that ignores the reality on the ground. Which is to say, to provide equal opportunity, as an abstract Jeffersonian principle that flouts the law of supply and demand, serves neither the host country nor the immigrant. And to flout the principles of gradualism, the strategy most conducive to the absorption of immigrants, is to turn a blind eye to human nature. We only have to look to the collapse of Communism for lessons on what can happen when human nature is given short shrift.
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Because we in Canada, formerly guests of First Nations People, are ‘all’ immigrants, or descendants of immigrants, we want to provide the hope and opportunity to others that were available to us. At the same time, a just and humane policy should be equally fair to both the host and applicant populations.
In the last 10 years Austria’s unemployment has doubled, a development that would ordinarily precipitate a reduction in immigration, but which in fact saw Austria taking the lead from Germany as the European country most receptive to immigrants on a per capita basis. What was intended as a humane gesture, the extension of hope and opportunity to Albanians, Kosovars, and Hungarians etc., turned out to be inhumane to both the host and the immigrant populations as job opportunities became scarce and the social safety nets Austrians had become accustomed to had to be either severely curtailed or eliminated altogether, resulting in an increase in crime and collective resentment. Because Austria, (along with Germany), has been the most immigrant-friendly country in Europe since WWII, we must not misconstrue the turn to Haider as a turn (or return) to a racist political agenda. The fact is Austria’s immigration policy isn’t functioning and significant number of voters want it changed. If Haider didn’t already exist, the Austrians would have had to invent him to register their protest.
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A successful immigration policy properly depends on the preparation and education of the immigrant prior to his successful candidacy. The more educated the potential immigrant is to the way of life in his new country, the easier it will be for him to become integrated into and accepted by the host population. This pre-supposes, as a universal principle, that the guest abide by home-turf rules. As some of my friends require that I remove my shoes before entering their homes, I require they butt out their cigarettes before entering mine. No one is forcing me to visit, no one is forcing the immigrant to emigrate. As a guest, thankful for the opportunity to make a new life for himself, he will make the effort to inform himself, or consent to be informed by others on how to comport himself in his new home. It is the responsibility of the host country to systematically provide the necessary education to facilitate this critically important learning/adaptation process.
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Despite waves of anti-immigrant hysteria that, from time to time, threaten to drown out the voices of reason, there is a broad consensus, from geneticists to political and social scientists, that ‘diversity’ is the best answer to ‘adversity’. The greater and more varied a country’s reservoir of ideas and solutions, the better prepared it will be to face the challenges of the future. When immigration policy is just and humane, when makers of policy are able to balance the competing considerations of both the host and applicant populations, the emergent policy and the growth of new ideas with which a country prospers and advances are one. The record shows that countries and cultures that have not been able to accommodate people from different places and backgrounds or have regarded them with suspicion have not fared as well as countries that have; some have even disappeared altogether.
The time has come for policy makers to offer serious thought to what should constitute the basic, universally applicable principles of immigration policy. If we are uncomfortable with the questionable agendas/motives of the Le Pens and Haiders of the world, while recognizing the short comings of the immigration policies upon which they thrive, the reasons to finally do something about it have never been so forceful. Since policy makers occasionally show themselves capable of rising to the challenge of learning from their errors, there’s reason to be hopeful that the worst effects of flawed immigration policy are behind us.