May 20, 2002


Let them all come : It's not a soft touch welfare system that makes Britain a magnet for immigrants; it's our need for cheap labour. (Nick Cohen, 5/20/02, New Statesman)
In January last year, Barbara Roche--now, thankfully, a forgotten politician--published an extraordinary report. Britain, the Home Office minister said, needed 150,000 immigrants from outside the EU every year for the next 20 years. They had to come to keep the economy moving and provide doctors, nurses, computer programmers, engineers, skivvies and navvies. Roche had advanced her career by pushing political asylum-seekers into penury and using every method she could devise to keep genuine refugees out. Yet in her last months at the Home Office, economic reality had forced her to abandon rabble-rousing and propose mass immigration. No one took much notice.

The projections are more startling in the rest of the European Union. At the same time as Roche's report came out, Jean-Pierre Chevenement, then the French interior minister, said that the EU needed 75 million immigrants by 2050. Admittedly, no one can guarantee that these estimates are accurate. But the nature of an honest debate is easy enough to imagine.

It would begin with a blunt statement that Britain and the rest of the European Union have falling birth-rates and an ageing population. The EU will need millions of immigrants if it is to pay the pensions of today's workers. Honesty would then require a discussion about who should be let in. If the government had total control, it might prefer, for instance, a website designer to a specialist in Arab poetry from Iraq without portable skills. But the government doesn't have total control and insists it doesn't want it. New Labour says it wants to uphold international law and has nothing against refugees who can prove that they have a genuine fear of persecution. It merely wants to stop economic migrants getting in by posing as refugees.

Those on the other side might reply that they have honest arguments of their own. They might say that there is a limit to how many foreigners a culture can absorb. It would be better for Britain to be poorer than more ethnically diverse. They might say that they are prepared to sacrifice the wealth of pensioners to protect the unskilled working class, whose wages could well be held down, and trade unions, which could be weakened by the influx of cheap labour.

This is the reality of immigration : if we don't want the immigrants we need to accept economic decline. Westerners just aren't reproducing in sufficient numbers to fill all the undesirable jobs in our economy or for our younger generations to support the retirement of the elder generations. There are some steps, unrelated to immigration, that we could take to counter these trends--the first and most important is to recriminalize abortion which has devastated the educated upper and middle classes of the West--but we're still going to need to import workers in massive numbers for the foreseeable future. Yet the concerns about assimilation are legitimate and that is where we really need to focus our efforts.

Here are some reforms we might undertake that would attempt to balance our need for immigrants with our desire to maintain some control over our borders and the coherence of our culture :

(1) Allow anyone to come so long as they have no criminal background or history of psychiatric problems.

(2) Document them all, giving them some form of immigrant worker status and a uniform ID card with a ten year duration. Anyone who does not undergo such a background check and receive such documentation shall be deported and be ineligible to immigrate in the future.

(3) At the end of ten years (or reaching age 18 in the case of children) immigrants can take a citizenship test and, upon passing, become US citizens (and give up any prior citizenship of another nation), or they must leave.

(4) Any immigrant who qualifies for national service (military or other) and performs a full tour of duty, shall immediately be eligible for citizenship, upon passing the exam.

(5) Prior to receiving their U.S. citizenship, no immigrant shall be eligible for federal assistance--Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.

(6) Repeal the Constitutional provision that requires the President be native born.

The attempt here would be to make immigrants feel welcome and valued in America, while making it clear that becoming American, besides offering them great opportunity, entails certain responsibilities, and that we expect them to fulfill those responsibilities and to become Americans.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 20, 2002 9:14 AM
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