Lost in the exchange about how the poem and statue are related is whether or not the poem actually defines anything real about what do with the 'homeless, tempest-tost' and what policy actually serves the interest of the 'huddled masses'. To this end, Stephen Miller was right to ask Jim Acosta just what number could be sufficient to fulfill the aspirations of the poem. Nobody likes to talk about the numbers.
Taking an even larger view, one could forget about America for a moment and see the migrant crisis in Europe and wonder what exactly is going on. Migrants from warzones such as Syria have arrived in great numbers, but also economic migrants from the Middle East and Africa arrive at a constant rate.
To be specific, "migrant crisis" may be a poor choice of words as migration in many instances is a crisis of another means. However, whatever the reasons behind migration, ultimately the crisis faced by developed, stable countries is having to strictly define the parameters of lawful migration and what do when illegal migration happens. Countries are doing a bad job dealing with migration as many have not had to deal with such a sustained rate of migration in modern history.
So, why is more migration happening now? Outside of the obvious warzone scenario, there are a number of factors that appear to be increasing immigration levels:
Learning about another nation and then deciding to move there even a few decades ago was prohibitively difficult. This was true even when dealing between two 'rich' countries. Paper forms, business hour phone calls, fax machines - things that happen in seconds now was often a days long bureaucratic nightmare.
Communication tools give everyone in the world the ability to immediately see how things are working out for our friend in London, and then very simply join them after being persuaded of the benefits of the move. Within days, connections can be made, money can be moved and a plan can form. These connections and this information eliminates a lot of risk posed by travel.
Even with a plan, the physical move must be possible. Fortunately, there are a great number of widely distributed tools that will move ever greater numbers of people more reliably than ever before. More reliable automobiles. More flights. More boats.
Quite simply, migrants have money. It's difficult to move somewhere without money. More people have more wealth, more capabilities, and more choices. One of those choices is to move to where they can earn higher wages. Consistent migration routes are not funded by starving people.
Despite the coverage of very evil players in the human trafficking business, it's actually very difficult to move starving people to a rich country and then rely on slavery for repayment. It's much simpler to just receive payment upfront from moderately wealthy individuals. Like every other business operates.
Given these factors, and the current pattern of migration, what can one assume about migration in the future?
- Outside of a natural disaster, war or political conflict of a large scale, most migration will be primarily about economic motivations
- Economic motivations will remain as long as massive differences in economic realities exist between nations
What is so great about immigration, anyway?
"Open borders!/The more the merrier/there's plenty of room/nobody has a right to impede movement/borders shouldn't exist"
There are many narratives to read that debunk the idea about a Mathusian population crisis as it relates to immigration - we have, it is said, the technology to not starve when newcomers arrive. And it's certainly true - cities in wealthy nations could be more dense, and wealthy nations are already wasting most food that is produced.
Despite the future probably not being a dystopian Soylent Green tragedy, there are also conflicting narratives in 'progressive' circles about gentrification, sovereignty and respect of indigenous peoples and ideas about 'safe spaces' on campus.
For example, what happens when an indigenous woman dates a black man? What happens when 'wealthy' people move into the wrong part of Los Angeles? What happens when bigoted people show up at Berkeley? What happens when Jennifer Lawrence sits on the wrong rock? (1)
All of these issues concern a negative view of migration (even including a negative view of the category of 'temporary work') yet they are completely 'progressive' conceptions. Some may argue that the negative view is a matter of context, but it remains to be see how one can truly avoid gentrification, cultural disrespect or 'appropriation', 'colonial invasion' into sovereign indigenous lands and exposure to unsettling opinions under a truly inclusive 'open borders' approach to the movement of people.
"Immigration is great for the economy!"
It's taken as a rule across the political spectrum that immigration has a positive impact on economic activity and there are a lot of statistics to back this up. More people = more trade, it's inevitable.
It is an insidious conversation ender as the argument appeals to libertarian free-market zealots as much as it does communists looking for an ever greater number of comrades. The only people that don't really buy the 'immigration is economic growth' slogan are people that occupy a weird middle zone in the labor movement -- those people that somehow still have union membership and view able-bodied people with dire needs as potential strikebreakers.
The problem with the economic argument is nobody really gives a damn about 'the economy'. One could work out the math and discover that overall everyone would be richer - yet people are already keenly aware about the economic benefits of acquiring a new roommate. Nobody needs to really learn economic math behind choosing to live with more roommates or more neighbors - the choice is already well understood. And in fact groups like the Cato Institute are backing up a lot of 'common sense' assumptions - for example, that immigration inflates home prices. (Other papers here) Inflated home prices is indeed a good thing for a certain segment of the existing population, yet it is not necessarily universally good for all. Other people may rely on positive job growth in certain sectors that is correlated with immigration (tech is a good example) but yet there is a lot of evidence to suggest low skill immigration has a negative impact on low income 'working class' roles.
But the real problem with the immigration-for-economy argument is that it's coupled with the inevitable discovery that newcomers are not doing as well as the rest of the population. Muslim women in the UK are underemployed, as are Syrian refugees that missed decades of German schooling. Employers either don't hire or don't make desired accommodations, leading to economic outcomes that are measurably worse for the same immigrants that are supposed to energizing pillars of new economic growth.
This would be acceptable under some medieval feudalism that is not watching Gini coefficients, poverty lines and does not care much about inequities between ethnicity. But this is not the world we live in, where every transaction is subject to a thinkpiece that portrays every piece of capitalism as a moral crisis in one's backyard.
Instead of immigration proving to be a libertarian wet dream, it's apparent the way immigration makes global inequity a localized problem will lead to increased calls for government intervention to shield newcomers from harsh economic divides. It's morally uncomfortable for citizens with multi-generational wealth to be in the same postcode with families that arrive from war torn areas with literally no assets that are immediately expected to use unexceptional skills to climb an mile-high economic ladder. Nobody likes to think of themselves as having a Marie Antionette-like role in society, as it is much more fashionable to believe oneself as a deserving member of the comfortably middle class. Upsetting this applecart may not be the wisest thing to do.
"Immigrants do jobs that we don't!/Immigrants will solve our demographic problem!"
Recently Canada introduced an economic plan that was advertised explicitly as immigration solving a demographic problem:
Hussen said the new targets will bring Canada's immigration to nearly one per cent of the population by 2020, which will help offset an aging demographic. He called it a historic and responsible plan and "the most ambitious" in recent history.
"Our government believes that newcomers play a vital role in our society," Hussen said. "Five million Canadians are set to retire by 2035 and we have fewer people working to support seniors and retirees."
In 1971 there were 6.6 people of working age for each senior, Hussen said, but by 2012 that ratio had gone to 4.2 to 1 and projections show it will be at 2 to 1 by 2036, when almost 100 per cent of population growth will be a result of immigration; it stands at about 75 per cent today.
During the government's consultation period, the Canadian Immigrant Settlement Sector Alliance presented "Vision 2020," what it called a "bold" three-year plan to address growing demographic shifts underway in the country, calling for increased numbers in the economic, family and refugee categories.
"Nothing is going to impact this country [more] besides increased automation and technology than immigration will and this impact will grow in response to [the] declining birth rate, aging population and accelerated retirements," he told CBC News.
While this might be an 'uncomfortable truth' that western nations have a 'demographic problem' wherein their population graph is no longer a wide pyramid as birthrates have declined, the approach to solve it via immigration fixes a problem by relying on another.
Immigration solving a demographic problem assumes:
- Immigrants don't have their own aging families to worry about - they're either unattached or baby factories
- Immigrants are eager to solve problems in wealthy nations by directly being caregivers or taking a larger tax burden to continue social services
- It remains politically acceptable to be so obviously calculating the value of migrants with respect to a nation's problems - 'you're here to solve a problem we have'
- Childbirth keeps being thought of as undesirable emotional and financial suicide in developed countries
- Old people are simply dead weight and are economically useless
The 'demographic solution' plan will work just fine as long as the rest of the world remains an undesirable place to stay, and the established wealthy populations see the benefits of this 'deal'. Change these variables and things get nasty very quickly - economic futures in jeopardy, resentment between old people and young immigrants. The makings of a Trump-ese electoral catastrophe and political polarization.
Relying on immigration for age demographic change is a Faustian bargain that covers up a perceived social problem with a time-limited band-aid that may be ripped off in surprisingly reactionary ways.
The Second Generation Problem
Much of the focus on the immigration debate is put on the economic impacts of first-generation migrants. That is, the economic consequences of the first few decades after new arrivals step off the symbolic boat. These consequences are measured by impact on inflation and the job market. Ignored is the simple fact that immigrants have children.
For an example of the second generation problem in action, we can look at Europe. Currently many 'alt-right', Nazi and white supremacist websites may speak of a 'white genocide' that is replacing the 'indigenous white' European population. More often than not, it is a psychosis that can be ignored as an ignorance of math married to a preoccupation with skin color.
Despite the crazy white nationalists being crazy, it's however undeniable that the future is not entirely rosy.
Indifference towards immigrants
Many wealthy nations, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand are said to be 'nations of immigrants' as their economic and political power can be historically tied to waves of migration and as a consequence these countries contain a cultural diversity that many wealthy western countries do not.
For example, the arrival of a million or so Syrian migrants in Germany happened under completely different circumstances than migration to other nations. The migration was not directly a consequence of Germany's colonial past or moral failings. It was not obviously a 'blowback' from Germany's interaction with world - it was more to do with Germany's economic standing and the consequences of a civil war.
The problem with Germany's migrants is Germany and the German population may view the presence of refugees as a charity to new arrivals. Germany can be said to have already given migrants something, so what is making Germans feel the need for additional stewardship of the success of newcomers?
Put another way, if integration of Syrian people into Germany does not go very well, Germans themselves may not feel responsible for the problems. Lack of feelings of social responsibility inevitably leads to problems if the fault lines fall between newcomers and the rest of the population.
Second generation resentment
While the rest of the population might not care, at the very same time the second generation immigrants may feel their futures are not held back by their parent's choices but by the choices of the country their parents chose - that is, everything would be fantastic if only their nation of refuge was more hospitable.
Many well-meaning media outlets are spreading the lie that 'refugees have killed zero people in terrorist attacks'. Even if examples like the Boston bombing did not immediately refute the claim, (the Tsarnaev family was absolutely the beneficiary of refuge) the answer is that the problem lies in the second generation. Ahmad Khan Rahimi is another example of a person granted asylum that perpetrated a terrorist attack. But more relevant examples are Omar Mateen & Syed Rizwan Farook - two men among many that were undeniably born in America and therefore 'homegrown terror' although also children of first-generation immigrants.
First-generation immigrants may cherish the nation that they've chosen - people tend to think positively about choices they cannot realistically revisit. Yet all parents can understand that children have their own opinions and may not view their cultural heritage within the narrative of an accepting western nation providing safe harbour to a strong willed family looking for a better life.
For example, what is battling the Islamist narrative that migration occurs because 'Zionist' 'colonialist' 'infidel' nations have ruined muslim countries? Instead of negating this view with facts, western academics fuel it with notions that terrorism is just a cerebral response to foreign policy foibles.
While the bootstraps story of the first-generation migrant is featured on a feel-good Nickelodeon show, the second generation immigrant is undoutedly in their seventh year of deconstructing the political decisions of Dwight Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in a 'decolonialist' lens that regards western societies as steeped in sinful and undeserved entitlements.
It isn't that second generation immigrants do not integrate - it is that they integrate entirely too well with a western rhetoric that is confused and consumed by regret over historical political decisions most of the non-academic world has long forgotten about.
If western academics do not see much to like about the west, why would second generation immigrants feel any differently?
What Not To Do
It is informative to have an example of something to avoid. To this end, perhaps a demonstration of a complete and utter failure of immigration policy can be witnessed in the Grenfell tragedy and the fallout. Immigrants in substandard housing that were burned alive by failures of government, for all in London to see. A government that cared so little about the well-being of these people that it did not even know who was in the building.
In the aftermath of the disaster, one of the responses was an immigration amnesty - dealing with the crisis in any other way would simply pile on the inhumanity of the situation. Yet the amnesty has not granted the state a lot more information about the deceased - the deceased are not around to ask for amnesty. In the meantime, pop stars and other figures stir up conspiracy theory about government covering up what they know to be true about Grenfell to avoid tough questions about state treatment of 'marginalized' classes and undocumented migrants.
What To Do
Instead of wealthy nations hoping to fix economic and social woes by filling the worst of their housing stock and job prospects with people it knows little about, wealthy nations could do the following:
- Commit to fixing political landscape in developing countries
- Contributors to The Guardian may say this is 'colonialism', but
- For the price of a few flats in London, one could house very many more refugees overseas
- Do this until the developing world is not seen as a demographic miracle
- People with job offers and indicators that they will have lasting success over the long term
This approach is costly but these are things that must be done over the long term even if one chooses a very resolutely pro-immigration stance. That is, one can have "open borders" from here on out, but it would still do nothing to address one's moral responsibility to improve the lot of humanity on earth no matter which boundaries people happen to live. Thus mass immigration means one is challenged twice - address socially & psychologically & fiscally costly inequity at home and then still having to fix extreme despair abroad.
Despite all evidence, many may still choose to have a positive view of immigration. It could be simple to think of the problems as being somewhat exceptional - speedbumps on the road of progress. However if immigration is overall good, then the most bizarre thing is why developing countries are not the first beneficiary of immigration.
For example, more people cross into Bangladesh as refugees in one day than Canada aims to bring in a similar immigration category in an entire year. Nobody in Bangladesh is rejoicing about potential economic benefits or cultural enrichment.
Similarly, few op-eds are currently written about the political stability and economic boom that Palestinians brought to Jordan or new Russian arrivals bring to Eastern Ukraine. In fact, most muslim nations are trying to expel muslims or ban symbols of Islamic conservatism - if countries as desperate for change as Pakistan happen to think Afghan arrivals are a liability instead of a dividend, why should anyone have a different view?
Believing the western world has a uniquely powerful capability to assimilate people and maximize their potential is to believe in the cultural superiority of the west to such an amazing extent that it borders on the shameless. This is especially so when one looks at the comparatively modest rates of immigration in recent memory.
Instead of faith-based politics & feel-good narratives, immigration should be based on practical realities.