Thoughts on Immigration

ship-immigrants

 

by Gabriel Conroy

 

1.  There’s something wrong about a law that forbids or curtails people’s mobility.

 

2.  I was born on one side of a line, and that fact has granted me access to privileges and resources that people born on the other side of the line don’t have access to.  I must remember that before I judge people for violating laws that forbid crossing that line.

 

3.  I’m skeptical of some of the claims made for the benefits of “voting with your feet,” but having the option to vote with one’s feet can be a boon.  It gives local political leaders, employers, and others a strong incentive to compete for residents and treat existing residents better.

 

4.  People immigrate generally to work.  While I’m sure there are exceptions, people generally move if they see the possibility of jobs.  Social services might attract people, too.  So I can’t discount the argument that people come to the US because there is better health care and better schools.  But that motivation mingles with the availability of jobs.

 

5.  Because of point #4, immigration will make jobs competition tighter.  Some people will feel the brunt more than others, at least in the short term.  While I believe no one has a “right” to their specific job and while I believe that in the long run, immigration usually helps rather than hurts the economy, those who face the brunt of this tighter jobs competition and who speak out about the difficulties they face from it deserve a hearing.  That doesn’t mean immigration policy should ultimately be restricted, but it does mean that opposition to immigration is not necessarily and always reducible to racism or bigotry.

 

6.  The fact that opposition to immigration is not necessarily reducible to racism or bigotry doesn’t mean that racism and bigotry play no part in such opposition.  The truth is probably very messy, with a difficult-to-untangle mixture of bigotry and sincere arguments.

 

7.  People who immigrate in contravention of the host country’s immigration laws probably know that they are violating the law.  But remember my points #1 and #2.

 

8.  The situation in which “Dreamers” find themselves is unfair to them.  They probably had little or no part in the decision-making process that brought them over.  The resulting situation, in which they have few prospects in their home country and restricted prospects in the US, is a tragic result of our immigration policy.  What is not often acknowledged by people trying to help them is that the “Dreamers'” situation is also the outcome that those who brought them over probably should have taken into account before bringing them over.  But that’s easy to say in retrospect, and again, remember my points #1 and #2.

 

9. The narrative of the “Dreamer” is tragically inflected with another narrative, that of the “model immigrant.” Mr. Obama’s recent speech mentioned a particularly bright young lady who enrolled in a magnet program and continued on to college. That’s good for her, but what about all those who don’t meet the exceptional standards, or who may have made one or two mistakes in life, as young people are wont to do? Let’s not get too caught up in these stories of “great kids who never do any wrong.” Doing so robs them of their humanity and reinforces unrealistic expectations.

 

10.  The US may be a “nation of immigrants,” but it’s not uniquely so. It’s just as true to say the US is a “nation of conquerors.”  Peoples move a lot.  They immigrate and they conquer and they set up borders and try to keep people out.  The mechanism may change.  Four hundred years ago, the idea of a “nation-state” with its own immigration policies was not as salient as today (but still, see Louis XIV’s expulsion of the Huguenots from France in 1685).  Still, I suggest that a study of any locality would demonstrate some efforts at controlling population, by encouraging either its increase or decrease. Those efforts sometimes track with controlling who can enter and become a full member of that locality.

 

11.  Again, #10 is an “is” statement, and too often we inflect that with “ought” statements.  Neither the legacy of conquest, nor the recentness of residence, really says much about who has the “right” to a given land if we push the issue far back enough.  The fact that my ancestors at one point lived somewhere that was not controlled by the present-day US and then moved to land that is now controlled by the present-day US by itself gives me no special obligation to ensure others may do the same.  Neither does that fact give me any special right to be in the US.  Even the 14th amendment gives me no special moral right to be here.  Even though it gives me a legal claim, that claim, if pushed back far enough, rests on the fact that many people, some of my ancestors included, took over the land because they were stronger. They did so for the most part because they were stronger and for little other reason.

 

12.  Immigration policy will never be solved.  One may be for “open borders” or for “closed borders” or somewhere in between, but we should get used to the idea that the policy will be constantly and repeatedly contested and revised.  Some policies will be more fair than others.  Some will be more cruel than others.  Some will tip toward “just policy” and others will tip toward “unjust policy.”  And we can and should argue which is which.  But there is no magic bullet. This can actually be a good thing. It can allow us to consider and try new approaches without believing we need create a master plan that must survive us all.

 

13.  If I take all of the above, and especially #1 and #2 above, I should finally keep in mind that I am discussing the situation of real people, with their own hopes and dreams.  I may claim no special right to be here and I may claim no special obligation to be here.  But I do have the obligation to empathize with immigrants and with those who, as Will Truman has said, bear the cost of the invitation.  I must be a decent human being.  I must treat them as ends in themselves.  And as I look to any policy, from the comfort of the privileges I now enjoy, I need to keep in mind how my preferences and my everyday actions will affect others. I fail at my own self-admonition to empathy all the time, but it’s a goal I aspire to.

 

[Image: The S.S. Patrick, an Atlantic liner, filled with immigrants to the US; public domain photo.]

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63 thoughts on “Thoughts on Immigration

  1. I think the big issue with immigration is that many people just seem to take the nation-state as being the largest form of government that they are willing to accept (look at the general mess of the E.U.) and people do seemingly have an innate sense of nation and nation hood. The U.K. is over 300 years old and the Scots still came pretty close to voting for independence. The Welsh also see themselves as being distinct from the English.

    I like the idea of open boarders (or am largely sympathetic to it) but I think it is one of those ideas that adherents just don’t know how to sell to the general population.

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    • On the one hand, I agree, and for two reasons. One, immigration “policy” as we imagine it now is indeed tied to what nation states do. Two, the idea modern nation state affects the way people view immigration. A xenophobic former friend of mine used to complain, back in the 90s, that immigrants from Mexico were “destroying our sovereignty.” For such people as him, immigration is heavily inflected by what he sees as the legitimate prerogatives of the nation state.

      On the other hand, I see it differently, too. First, the nation state is something of an ideal type. Your example of the UK is telling. The UK, as the UK, is in some ways “imagined” as a nation state, but the Scottish independence movement suggests that a large subset of the population doesn’t fully buy into that claim, at least as regards the UK. (It seems those of them who support independence would like to see a new nation state established, based on Scottishness.)

      Applying the “ideal typeness” of nation states to immigration, my point is that if the nation state were to dissolve, that wouldn’t resolve by itself the issue of immigration. I really do believe members of some communities would try to somehow restrict entry.

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      • The U.S. is pretty ambiguous as a nation-state, too. It requires adopting the concept of nationality away from the traditional (albeit fuzzy, manipulable, and ultimately socially constructed) basis on ethnicity to a fuzzy manipulable, and ultimately socially constructed “civic” nationalism.

        But the advantage of civic nationalism is that a, say, Turkish immigrant can become civically American in a way that s/he could never become ethnically German.

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      • I think that Germany and many European countries are attempting to move towards civic nationalism with different degress of success. When Saul and I were in Sweden, we visited an exhibit on Vikings that ended with picture of a young woman of color dressed up in pseduo-Viking clothing. The idea was that Sweden’s Viking heritage was the heritage of every Swedish citizen even if they are recent immigrants. You see a similar message in the BBC’s multicultural versions of the Robin Hood and King Arthur legends. A noble message but one that isn’t easy to implement in practice. Many of the immigrants don’t want to adopt their new countries culture, identity, or heritage at all. Since its possible to import culture now in a way that it wasn’t in the past, its a lot easier to maintain a separate identity overtime. Many ethnic, insert European ethnic group here, also don’t want to share their culture in the way that many Americans thought or still think that only Anglo-Protestants are real, true Americans.

        Civic nationalism is hard. It requires the majority culture to share their heritage with minority cultures. Minority cultures in return have to be open to identifying themselves at least partly with the long history of their new country even if it means white-washing some problematic bits of history. People seem unwilling to engage in these sorts of compromises these days.

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      • Lee, it also helps if the dominant culture happily adopts aspects of the immigrants’ culture. Who really cares that Cinco de Mayo has jack all to do with the U.S.? And who really cares if folks in Ireland celebrate St. Patrick’s Day or not? Let’s all have a party and feast and drink on those days and weave them into the fabric of American nationality.

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      • “The U.S. is pretty ambiguous as a nation-state, too. It requires adopting the concept of nationality away from the traditional (albeit fuzzy, manipulable, and ultimately socially constructed) basis on ethnicity to a fuzzy manipulable, and ultimately socially constructed “civic” nationalism.”

        That’s the myth, and it’s largely true, but not entirely true. (and only true relatively recently)

        Take Texas, for instance. The reason the lines on the map are drawn the way they are today are because ethnic ‘Americans’ migrated and politically displaced the ethnic ‘Mexicans’.

        And of course, well over half (more like well over 3/4) of US history consists of Anglo-americans conquering the continent’s aboriginal population plus transporting some of Africa’s aboriginal population to the continent and treating them worst than a conquered people.

        It’s not until the 20th century (and more like the middle suburbanized part of it) where the ‘American (white) mutt’ was more reality than myth.

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      • Kolohe,

        The concept of the nation-state only really took hold in the mid-late 19th century, and it’s not clear that the U.S. really saw itself as a nation-state at that time, as opposed to just a state. America as a “nation” in that sense–a (more or less) cohesive body of people who were really all one–seems, I think, to have really begun to come about after that.

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      • So the way to make everyone American is through massive amounts of alcohol? :)

        I think the issue is really that various ethnic groups took their home celebrations and turned them into something of the “We can be American too”. St. Patrick’s Day started as an assertion that the Irish could be just as American as people from Mother England. This was in the early Republic.

        America’s civic nationalism also probably helped because the U.S. was a relatively diverse country by the Revolution and early Republic. You had states and colonies that were originally non-American. Germantown in PA. Jews in New York, Rhode Island, and Charleston who were going to the big shots and asking for promises of liberty and equal rights, etc. A decently sized Catholic minority including a colony founded for Catholics and Catholic sympathizers (Maryland). The only Catholic to sign the Declaration of Independence was from Maryland. PA was founded as a colony for the Society of Friends/Quakers.

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      • I had a post on this half-written a while back, but there’s substantial evidence in sociology, history, and political theory that Japan (considered among the most “homogenous” nation-states in the world) basically socially constructed its national identity out of whole cloth in the aftermath of the Second World War. That’s not to say there wasn’t already a cultural “Nation”, but the concept of a distinct “Japanese people” is a construct of the 1950s.

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      • James,

        and it’s not clear that the U.S. really saw itself as a nation-state at that time, as opposed to just a state.

        I agree with most of what you’re saying here in this subthread and with the part I’ve just quoted. But I think even the “classical” nation states have ambiguity. Germany: what/who counts as German? which dialect(s) is(are) going to dominate? who gets excluded? Same for France.

        I guess I could posit a spectrum between “just a state” and “nation state” and Germany or France c. 1870 would be on one end and the Holy Roman Empire at its height c. bofunk Middle Ages would be on the other end. The US, in my opinion, has changed more toward “nation-stateness” than not, but I’m willing to argue that even since 1789, and perhaps even since 1776 or even 1763, it’s been closer to the Germany/France end than to the Holy Roman Empire end.

        Let’s consider manifest destiny c. 1845, for example. To me that sounds like a conception of “nationhood” bounded by the usual trappings of race and ethnicity and culture (and religion).

        One could object that not everyone signed on to manifest destiny. And I’d agree. But it seems to me that in any nation or nation-state, the buy-in among others is usually going to be contested and contingent. Back to Germany and France, c. 1870-1914. We could note centrifugal tendencies. In Germany the unsteady Wilhelmine regime of the Catholic Center Party, the Socialist Movement, the surge of eastern European immigrants to the western part, and dominance by the state of Prussia. For France, the hold was perhaps less fragile, but vicious episodes like suppression of the Commune movement, or the virulently antisemitic Dreyfus affair underscored, to my mind, a deep instability in the idea of French nationhood.

        I’ve strayed from Saul’s point–and perhaps from your point–to grind a historiographical axe. And to be fair, probably more historians would agree with you than with me. And I can’t deny that the US is aspirationally a “civic nationalism” and not a racial/ethnic one, and maybe not only “aspirationally” if compared to other more “classic” nation states. But I really do think the US counts as a “nation state” more than it doesn’t.

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  2. On your point 5, I would note the relationship between immigration and employment is more ambiguous than you suggest. Adding people to a country increases the supply of labour, but it also increases the demand for labour. You see the demand for labour depends on the demand for goods used to make that labour, which depends on the number of people there are to demand goods.

    There are plausible scenarios where immigration has no effect on unemployment at all.

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    • Sure, but that’s when you add people in a particular proportion… unskilled to skilled, apprentice and journeyman and master. If the majority of people you add are in an unbalanced proportion, demand for the one(s) will go down while demand for the other(s) go up.

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    • Adding people to a country increases the supply of labour, but it also increases the demand for labour.

      What ratio of demand-based job creation would be acceptable do you think?

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      • James,

        Sorry, that comment wasn’t clear. I meant the following ratio: immigrant:new jobs resulting from the demand increase resulting from that person’s spending. It was more/less a poorly phrased follow-up to Jaybird’s comment, actually. But the issue is I was wondering about is how much any particular immigrant’s spending will create new jobs. I mean, one trivial way to think about is to assume minimum wage over the course of a year as a baseline for trying to figure this out. Eg., if a H1B immigrant spends $45,000, he’s spent the equivalent of three minimum wage folks annual income. (I know that’s not the correct way to think about it, but it gets the ball rolling.) On the other hand, an immigrant who only makes minimum wage spends $15,000. Clearly, the H1B person is gonna create more demand, and hence create, derivatively, more jobs. But how many more? And how would we determine whether the increased demand (spending, really) is justified given other considerations (domestic unemployment, welfare spending, etc.).

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    • From what I’ve seen, most studies show immigration generally has a net positive economic effect.

      Also, given the number of SS pensioners in the U.S., more laborers are exactly what we need–even if the unemployment rate increased some, as long as the total employed labor force increases.

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      • given the number of SS pensioners in the U.S., more laborers are exactly what we need–even if the unemployment rate increased some, as long as the total employed labor force increases.

        That statement seems to bear at least a superficial resemblance to “a minimum wage increase is exactly what we need–even if the unemployment rate is increased some, as long as workers still employed get the wage increase.”

        That’s kind of a gotcha, and I’m probably both committing the fallacy of improper analogy and demonstrating my ignorance of macroeconomics. But the supposed (by me) short term effects on employment/unemployment constitute my chief reservations about both immigration and minimum wage increases.

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    • I do think there might be a period of adjustment that is hard for those whose circumstances are already economically marginal. The main point of my #5 is to suggest that the refrain of “immigrants just do the jobs native-born Americans don’t want to do” might have some truth to it, but is not the whole story and is better avoided when trying to convince those who see it differently.

      Also, as far as ssn goes, the benefits of having extra workers would help primarily if those extra workers pay into social security. I assume that if they use some sort of fake ssn, then they probably already are paying (and I am therefore skeptical about claims that “illegals need to pay their fair share”). Still, my understanding is that at least some undocumented workers just work under a non-ssn “black market in labor.” Part of the answer then, I suppose, is to regularize them so they can pay into social security.

      Having said all that, I do admit that much of what I write in #5 and a few other points reflects a zero-sum mentality. When looking at first order effects and the short term, I’m not so sure that something like a zero-sum mentality is altogether wrong, even if it is by short-sighted. In other words, I do believe immigration can be and probably usually is a net positive. And I trust James K to say that my proposed causality is much more ambiguous than I let on in that particular point in the OP.

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      • I assume that if they use some sort of fake ssn, then they probably already are paying (and I am therefore skeptical about claims that “illegals need to pay their fair share”). Still, my understanding is that at least some undocumented workers just work under a non-ssn “black market in labor.”

        I would be curious to see the numbers on this. There is some incentive for employers to keep undocumented workers completely undocumented. At the same time, however, we have a very diffuse legal system, so there is also some incentive to keep above board on paying payroll taxes even if your workers are here illegally.

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      • Still, my understanding is that at least some undocumented workers just work under a non-ssn “black market in labor.” Part of the answer then, I suppose, is to regularize them so they can pay into social security.

        Remember what came out after the Deepwater Horizon spill, when the feds were making up people’s lost income? And the feds required some documentation about prior years’ income — tax forms, SS records, something? Turned out there were a noticeable number of citizens who did day work on tourist fishing boats and other coastal jobs who were working entirely off the books, paid in cash, and neither half of the payroll taxes were being submitted. No one has a good handle on just how big the black economy involving citizens is in the US.

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      • Think about cab drivers, who overwhelmingly get paid in cash. How many do we think really report their full income? (Credit card machines in cabs are bad for the drivers’ real income.)

        Think also of waiters and waitresses making cash tips. These aren’t technically black market labor, but a portion of their earnings are effectively in the black market.

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      • I’d like to see the numbers, too. I’m just going off of what I’ve heard, which is worth about as much as you paid to read it.

        James,

        That’s a good point about cash-only transactions. (It also works against the narrative of “only undocumented immigrants work the black market.”)

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  3. Does an increase in the number of labor participants increase the demand for labor, or does it increase the demand in products to support that labor? And if it does a little of both, what is that ratio?
    If those products are affected by trade imbalances via minimum wage does this lead to less labor opportunity and an increase in debt for incumbents?

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      • If this was only affecting above the 90th percentile then no worries. Most likely it will be affecting the lower 50th percentile.

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/09/17/does-your-family-make-over-232000-congrats-youre-in-the-top-5-percent/

        and debt:

        http://www.frbsf.org/education/publications/doctor-econ/2009/july/consumer-debt-household-income

        and if their were something snappy like “pissed off lower 50th percentile incumbents” to explain the resistance, all would be peachy.

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      • Citizen,

        Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m assuming you think it would affect low wage earners because immigrants, particularly illegal ones, are even lower wage earners, so they’ll out-compete citizen low wage earners?

        There are several factors that affect that. One is productivity–if the citizen wage earner is more productive, they are still a better hire even at a higher wage (depending on how much more productive, and how much higher the wage is, of course).

        Another is that most businesses prefer to keep most of their hiring above-board. Where you generally run into illegal immigrant labor is small business (landscaping, construction, etc.) and agriculture, areas where the work is not steady and most of the employment is seasonal or temporary. The truth is, in some of those jobs it’s hard to hire citizen-labor at a price they’ll accept and that the employer can afford to pay.

        And from an entirely different perspective–my anti-nationalistic perspective, that is–why should Joe have a right to a job that trumps Jose’s interest in the job? Joe’s just a person, and Jose’s just a person–morally they’re equal and neither inherently trumps the other. From the employer’s perspective, whichever one has the highest net productivity (output-wages) is the best candidate for a job, and that interest is not unimportant, either. And then there’s the consumer, who has an interest in the productivity of the labor, too. Without labor restrictions, the only person injured is Joe if he’s not producive; with labor restrictions Jose, his employer, and the customer all take a hit to protect someone who’s not as productive as others.

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      • I’ll try to make this a little more clear from my vantage point.

        (a.) In Joes and Joses location with current minimum wage conditions, there is one job for them to compete legally.

        (b.) In Joes and Joses location without minimum wage there are 50 jobs for them to compete.

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      • No worries Gabriel it is a complex subject. In my opinion I say its poor policy to chant open borders without first chanting open wages. There are enough people stacked up around minimum wage now to see the influx as a problem.

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  4. All I can say right now is that talking about and thinking about immigration is exhausting. The wear and toil on one’s sense of worth, humanity, and empathy caused by having to constantly assert your own humanity and worth while there is a very vocal group of people fixated on reducing you to an abstraction of wrongness is hard to describe.

    I’m tired.

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  5. This is very, very good, Gabriel. I think you accurately spell out a lot about the immigration issue. That said, I’m not sure I can agree completely with #6. I’d say your right that racism and bigotry are not the driving force behind a lot of anti-immigration sentiment (concern over personal well-being often is), I’m still not sure you can totally disentangle the two.

    (*Note: The OP notes “racism and bigotry”, but I would expand this to include xenophobia.)

    The decision to exclude people may be driven by fear rather than xenophobia, but the desired policy breaks along xenophobic lines. Sure, the primary impulse is to protect one’s self, but the application is at the expense of those people. I’ll agree that it’s not simple, straightforward bigotry, but I’d need a more exhaustive defence of the mentallity before I’d completely divorce it from bigotry.

    (This is a topic I’ve covered numerous times before, so I don’t intend to get into a big discussion, but I am open to reading any such defences.)

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    • If I had to rewrite point #6 again, I would try to make it clearer and say I really don’t think it’s usually possible to untangle bigotry* from “better” (if perhaps in the long run still mistaken or overly determined) reasons.

      I also think there’s something like a “seen and unseen” dynamic going on. People undergoing troubles notice the “illegals” and focus on how the latter’s presence seems to present a challenge to their livelihoods, but don’t notice 1) how much the immigrants contribute and 2) deny their common humanity.

      By the way, I’ve read at least some of your posts at the OT on immigration and they’re quite good. Thanks for commenting here on my post.

      *I consider xenophobia and racism to be subsets, or kinds, of bigotry.

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  6. “3. I’m skeptical of some of the claims made for the benefits of “voting with your feet,” but having the option to vote with one’s feet can be a boon. It gives local political leaders, employers, and others a strong incentive to compete for residents and treat existing residents better.”

    I am not sure what claims you are skeptical of, but I think the power of “exit rights” are substantially under-appreciated especially in regards to fairness. The more I study the “problem of cooperation”, the more convinced I am that voting with ones feet is an essential element of controlling for free riders, cheaters, bullies and exploiters of all kinds.

    With the advent of agriculture, farmers lost their freedom to vote with their feet. This introduced ten thousand years of slavery and exploitation which we have just started to win back in the last two centuries.

    I agree with many or most of your thoughts above. I will add that truly open immigration requires wisely administered safety nets and safe guards against democratically justified involuntary distribution (to guard against free riders and cheaters to continue the above chain of thought). These issues are solvable.

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    • Thanks Roger, and I agree with pretty much all you wrote, although I’d probably be a little “less wise” in my administration of safety nets (it’s in my nature :) )

      The claims I’m skeptical of are from Ilya Somin at the Volokh conspiracy. He seems (or seemed….it’s been a while since I’ve read his arguments on the topic) to be a bit too optimistic about what exit rights by themselves can accomplish, and sometimes he seems to veer into almost romanticizing the life of poor people who, because they own so little, find moving and voting with their feet so much easier. I’ll admit mine is probably mostly an uncharitable interpretation and counts more as a complaint about his general tone than the substance of his argument, which I mostly agree with.

      But yes, exit rights can be huge in the right circumstances, as long as there’s a place (hopefully as many places as possible) to exit to.

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  7. I just want to say that I really appreciate this post. This was very thoughtful. I’ve tried to write in the past on immigration, but it has just come out as a jeremiad. Your post here is far more restrained than anything I could ever put out there.

    I feel like this is an issue which should resonate with everybody.

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  8. Geddy Lee is a first-generation Canadian of Polish Jews who immigrated in WWII.
    Alex Lifeson is a first-generation Canadian, also descended from emigrants of an Eastern European nation during WWII.

    World War II is directly responsible for Rush.*

    Which makes “The Manhattan Project” “roots rock.”

    * I had to do it. It’s who I am.

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  9. I agree with most of what you say, Gabriel. I would go even farther to say that government does not have the moral right to tell people where they can live. The United States did a little of that with Native Americans in the 19th century. Russia and China have done significant amounts of that. India and Pakistan, explicitly or implicitly, moved millions between their new born countries. ISIS is expelling (or killing) any Christians living in the areas they have conquered recently. And on and on. I hear few defending such forced mass movements.

    I see no more moral argument to justify the converse, i.e. “you can’t move,” instead of “you must move.”

    Yes, having people of different nationalities come here, or to any other country, will change the country. Koreans in Los Angeles running taco trucks. Who’d a thunk it? What gives anyone the right to decide that the country can not be/should not be changed in the future? That’s the kind of attitude that leads to hardening of the arteries in a country, an inflexibility that will eventually break a country. Cf. Japan’s struggles with a shrinking population and a stagnant economy. ditto Europe. Adapt or die!

    And “them” being here will change them, too. It is interesting to watch the evolution of immigrant peoples over the generations. Grandchildren who don’t speak the same language as their grandparents, despite the best efforts of their parents to make them learn the old country’s language. Parents tut-tutting their third generation children marrying people who aren’t of their ethnic group. The Mexican women’s national soccer team has players with Hispanic last names and first names like Emily because the players grew up in the United States. (They actually had to institute a rule that you have to pass a test on Spanish in order to play for Mexico!) I have a relative, by marriage, who is a Haitian-American, a MD who is married to a Japanese-American. He actually made the statement recently, “What I like about being Japanese is…..” In America, ethnic identity begins to wane significantly with the third generation.

    One of my friends is half Greek and half Mexican, a second generation American. He quotes his Greek father as saying that “the reason Europeans all hate Americans is that they know that all of us came from over there and that means that their families didn’t have the guts to get up off their ass and come over here, to make a life in a new country.” A second generation Irish-American spoke about how his father worked in the mines of Montana. “When I was 11, I asked him, “why do you do it? Why do you go down in that hole every day?” He looked at me and said, “Making a better life for the likes of you.” I never asked him about it again.” Why would you not want people like that to be here?

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  10. Thanks for your comment. I think I agree with almost all of it, but I’ll say two things.

    First, whatever reservations I have about immigration, fears about rending the “cultural fabric of ‘our’ unique American identity” is not one of them. In other words, I’m not upset that I have to press “2” to get an English speaking operator. On this point, I think you and I are pretty much in agreement.

    Second, here is where I see things a little differently:

    I see no more moral argument to justify the converse, i.e. “you can’t move,” instead of “you must move.”

    On the one hand, I agree. I have a hard time coming up with a moral argument that would empower the state to forbid people to move into its borders. Or at least, I have a hard time coming up with such an argument the logical consequences of which I’ll stand by.

    On the other hand, if we insert a qualifier in there, I can think of cases where it could be a closer call. If, for example, social services were very generously provided to all (or most) who asked for them, and if they were provided in practice regardless of immigrant or citizen status, I can see as legitimate someone else’s objection that unrestricted immigration might sap the resources for those social services. I’m not sure if that objection is therefore “moral,” but it’s not automatically “immoral.”

    Such things are not usually an “either/or”: it’s not always the case (I imagine at least) that unrestricted immigration stretches even the most generous services. And sometimes a sense of perspective is necessary for the would-be restrictionist. Maybe newcomers to put a strain on social services, but perhaps the amount of strain runs so far beyond the severe measure of restriction.

    Such are my musings. Thanks for reading and again, thanks for commenting.

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    • I understand your thoughts about social services and immigrants. There are a number of people who try to have their cake and deny it to others as well, those who say that social services should be denied to those who live here but who are not “citizens.” That doesn’t make me feel all warm inside, frankly, because it leaves them with a moral stance akin to what the Brits call “I’m alright, Jack. Bugger you.” I’ve got mine. Too bad about you. Why do I deserve these benefits and others don’t?

      If the answer is that we can’t afford to give them to everyone, then we are right back at the point of “I’m on this side of the river and, therefore, I get what’s rightfully mine.” Interesting, though, that we don’t hear any such argument within the United States that, say, unemployment benefits are better in California than in Alabama, so we should deny those benefits to people who move from Alabama to California because otherwise we can’t afford to pay them, but we do hear such arguments about people who moved here from states that are south of the Rio Grande River, instead of east of the Mississippi River.

      After all, those who are receiving such benefits are receiving government paid benefits, to which the recipient has not contributed, at least not net of benefits received. Someone else has funded those benefits and often funded them involuntarily. So what gives the recipient claim to benefits paid by someone else, someone who only paid for the benefits when faced with the alternative of having their funds seized by the government anyway? Does the payor have to be within 10 miles of the recipient? 100 miles? 1,000 miles? What if the Federal government is taking money from Texas and giving it to people in South Dakota? They’re only doing that because people in South Dakota can’t fund all of the benefits that their residents “deserve,” at least as the government has chosen to view the minimum level of benefits.

      In short, I think the overburdened social services argument is morally murky (“Jose was born here, so we’ll pay for him to go to school but Juan was brought here as an infant, so we won’t pay for him to go to school.”) and unsettled economically, at least as applied to immigrants as a group.

      I think it would also be interesting to think about the overburdened social services argument as applied to the 40% of undocumented people who came here legally. They are only illegal because they didn’t leave when their visa expired.

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      • I agree about the moral murkiness of the social services argument. And for what it’s worth, it wouldn’t surprise me if undocumented immigrants are in some cases net contributors. Say, for example, someone is undocumented but works under a false ssn. His or her taxes are withheld, I presume, but he or she probably can’t claim the refund. (I’m making assumptions here. I don’t know what the law says in such cases, and even if I did know, that wouldn’t necessarily tell me what the common practice is.)

        On this point, however, I do have a counter:

        Interesting, though, that we don’t hear any such argument within the United States that, say, unemployment benefits are better in California than in Alabama, so we should deny those benefits to people who move from Alabama to California because otherwise we can’t afford to pay them, but we do hear such arguments about people who moved here from states that are south of the Rio Grande River, instead of east of the Mississippi River.

        This made me think of the Okies and Arkies who, according to Steinbeck, were so mistreated by the Californian authorities, probably in part because it was feared the new migrants would be a charge on local resources. (And perhaps also because of feared jobs competition or even quasi-racialization of these “different” peoples.) Your overall point is taken, but if we grant some unusual circumstances, I could see something like that happening again.

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