Saturday, 1 September 2007

Some Thoughts on Immigration

A while ago, my father and I started to send each other links to political opinion pieces. My responses to his posts quickly grew in length, and I flatter myself to believe that others might find them of interest as well. So, given that I plan on discussing politics on this blog as well as science, I will repost my responses to my father's findings here.

This first article is one about immigration into the USA. This has been a popular rallying point for American conservatives of late; both sides of the issue are certainly prone to agree that there is in fact an issue, that illegal immigration is a problem. The article sent to me by my father, though, presents another angle. Since it is not my work, I will only link to it here; should that link not work, a quick search is likely to turn the article up. It regards the "immigration crisis" in the USA, and compares it to the situation in South Africa. The author, however, seems to think that SA was better off under apartheid, and has a surprisingly negative view of Nelson Mandela. I encourage my readers to read the whole thing first. My response to it follows.

I find this article interesting, in many less-than-complimentary senses of the term. Certainly, there is a germ of truth, but come on: Nelson Mandela is about as evil a man as Ghandi or MLK. Granted, neither of those men resorted to armed conflict, but Mandela has been a paragon of civility, thoughtfulness, and humility after he was released from prison. He has gone so far as to stop his own ANC from censoring references to their violent history. His days of inciting "revolution in the streets, strikes, civil unrest and... sheer terror and murder" are long over, copiously apologised for, and in all likelihood necessary. In the years since apartheid fell, South Africa has continued to be one of the saner places in Africa. Granted, it still has a long way to go, but if I were to settle in Africa, SA springs right to the top of the list of places to check out.

There is a substanatial difference between the USA's "immigration crisis" and SA's apartheid. Most prominently, apartheid was an appalling oppression of native peoples by a colonially-derived minority. The USA, on the other hand, is a nation of immigrants (save for a tiny few natives, hanging on to what shreds of land, culture, and respect have been left them by our colonially-derived majority), and the discrimination of immigrants from anywhere but the places from which the original colonists came has gone on for as long as those original colonists (and their descendants) have been on this continent. We no longer denigrate the Irish, Italians, or Jews, for instance, while Latin Americans were not an issue until recently. The
discrimination has persisted, although its targets have changed. The USA, and its particular flavour of Western culture, did not collapse as a result of a lessening of vigilance against cultural encroachment by any of those groups, and has arguably been strengthened by it.

That having been said, there is a substantial difference between the current and previous "immigration crises", in that Latin Americans come from the same continent, and so are able to arrive under their own power, often illegally. I do not question that this is a problem. However, I also do not see that allowing Latin Americans to immigrate legally will hurt things. We have been very bullish on free trade, generally without consideration of its consequences in other countries. Free trade has resulted in a widening of the gulf between the developed and developing countries, and an inevitable consequence of that is that people in the developing countries will want to move to the developed ones. The only way that free trade can also be made fair for all is if people are also allowed to move freely over borders; until we allow that, we are asking for those whose livelihoods we have rendered harder and harder to want to come here all the more desperately. If we are not to change our trade policies, we will have to deal with these unwanted immigrants one way or another. Like distributing condoms to teenagers or clean needles to drug addicts, I believe that it is better to deal with our problems in a conciliatory but humane and (most importantly) effective manner, rather than repress or deny them.

Do I worry about them changing our culture? Not terribly. One of the things that I have grown to appreciate from living in Canada is the extent to which the USA is truly a "melting pot", in which cultural differences do not persist beyond a generation. Maybe the average skin tone will become a little darker in the USA, maybe Spanish will be a more common language, maybe the percentage of Catholics will rise, but not so much as to overwhelm the current culture. I would go
so far as to say that America's cultural strength comes in large part from its assimilation of other cultures. There will always be those that resist the most prominent group being assimilated at any one time, but what they regard as "normal" contains a good deal of what their parents were resisting before them.

Meanwhile, I found much in this article to reveal more than was perhaps intended. Its author is obviously a social conservative (she puts gay rights in the same basket as pornography, for instance, two "problems" of very different nature). She has a shockingly dim view of non-Whites, implying that they do not share with us a desire to live peacefully and safely. Yes, there are many "primitive" aspects of indigenous African cultures, many of which really should be abolished (female genital mutilation, for instance, or some of the superstitions about health). There are also positive aspects of those cultures; the fact that I may not be able to name them does not mean that they do not exist (I am not an anthropologist, after all!), but I would be very surprised if they were not there. South Africa has many problems, but it is not as "broken" as this author implies, unless one is a white supremacist, as she appears to be.

I did a little bit of Internet research on "Gemma Meyer". This is the only piece of writing available attributed to her, and what is included here is the only bit of biography. She has no entry on Wikipedia. I suspect that "Gemma" is in fact an invention to lend credibility to this piece's reactionary stance. (The reactionary nature is emphasised by its being republished on a neo-Nazi site as well.) The only thing that implies otherwise is the article's lack of American optimism, but I am sufficiently cynical as to suspect this to be an attempt both to give the piece added realism and to spur American conservatives to more concerted action. I may well be wrong, but in any event I do not believe that this author is a reliable source.

Comments are welcomed!

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