Tuesday, May 02, 2006

On Immigration

I was going to reply to Cheryl's post on immigration, but since my reply ended up being longer than her post, I thought it should probably go here instead.

Immigration has been on the news a lot recently. Here in the UK it's been the wave of immigration from Eastern Europe which has made the headlines most recently.

When countries like Poland etc. joined the EU, that in theory meant that Polish citizens were free to work anywhere else in the EU and vice-versa. Many countries put in temporary controls to prevent a much-feared mass wave of immigration, but the UK did not. As a result we've seen a large wave of immigration, but we certainly haven't been swamped.

Interestingly, whereas previous waves of immigration here focused on the big cities, this new wave is happening all over the country. Sleepy rural villages where they've never seen a black or asian person are now hearing conversations in Polish, Slovenian etc. Not everyone likes it. But the effect on the economy has been very significant and very positive. There is no doubt that this wave of legal immigrants has put mroe into the economy than they have taken out in benefits, state education, health care etc.

In the US, which Cheryl commented on, the news focused on the "strike" by illegal immigrants (mainly from Latin America). Their point was that, legal or not, they are a key part of the US economy, that therefore the US should embrace them (and offer them increased legality) rather than resisting them and criminalizing them.

So both the UK and US have immigrants as a key part of their economy, the difference being their legal status. Fundamentally I think that immigration is a good thing. It's good for the economy at large, so "generally" everyone benfits. Also, if you have free trade which allows money to go from one country to another, then it's only fair to allow people to do the same.

I do have a problem with illegal immigrants, but it's not the common one of "they come here and steal our jobs". I think in the US system it's the immigrants who are exploited. Because they are not allowed to be in the country and work, they don't have full access to the law – they can't demand the same minimum wage and benefits as legal employees. This is what causes the problems both for them and, perhaps, for the locals – although arguably not in the UK, as illegals here tend to do the jobs that locals are not prepared to do. So if the illegals themselves (and possibly local workers) are the losers from making immigration illegal, who are the winners? The answer is the shady companies which employ them. In the US two of the country's biggest food companies were seriously affected by yesterday's withdrawal of illegal labour.

I think the balance of criminality needs to be shifted. We should not seek to prosecute illegal immigrants. We should, however, prosecute heavily those who employ them. Perhaps we could even offer amnesty (and a work permit) to anyone who is willing to turn their employer in?

The other problem in the UK which makes the news from time to time is that of "people smugglers" who are payed large amounts of money to smuggle people into the UK. To my mind the problem is not the would-be immigrants but the law: if people are willing to pay to work here (or in the US), why not let them do so and have the government take the money?

What annoys me most about immigration is when people lose their historical perspective. Both in the UK and US, almost everyone is an immigrant. If my ancestors came to the country uninvited and took land by force, what right does that give me to turn away someone who is coming in peace and only seeks the right to earn a living?

I did a speech in my Spanish class a couple of years ago about immigration. I summed it up by saying that in my opinion what made the US the powerhouse it now is wasn't the constitution or the bill of rights: it was the words written on the statue of liberty and sadly no longer in vogue: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free".


Blogger McSwain said...

Hi Tom-- You posted much of my "future post" here. :) I am 100% in agreement with you on the issue of exploitation of workers.

However, the primary issue in the U.S. is not "they take our jobs." I live in an area that is heavily impacted by illegal immigration. I can't remember the last time I heard the "they take our jobs" complaint. The problem is that we have created a huge underclass, many are not employed at all, and they are taking our social services. There simply are not enough jobs.

The U.S. has many, many legal immigrants just like every other country. However, we've had a huge, huge wave of illegal immigrants, particularly from over our Southern border. And no, I don't believe the U.S. should, any more than any other country, be forced to allow every single body who wished to live here to come.

Don't even get me started on the impact on our schools. It's ugly.

6:10 AM  
Blogger McSwain said...

A quick p.s.: When my ex and I worked in the UK in the 90's, we had to have the proper paperwork. Just like we require a green card here.

6:11 AM  
Blogger McSwain said...

Hey! I owe you a letter. I hereby give you the letter "D." Have fun with that!

9:29 PM  

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