Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Brown, Arizona, and Immigration

Gordon Brown is not suited for the modern political campaign. He recognizes this and anyone who watched the debates recognize this. But his recent gaff, and the appearances he made immediately after it, makes me think Brown doesn’t know what era he is trying to get elected in. From the Independent:
Gordon Brown described himself as a "penitent sinner" today after personally apologizing to a voter he described as a "bigoted woman".

The Prime Minister had described Mrs Duffy as a "bigoted woman" in unguarded comments to an aide after she had tackled him on immigration, benefits, the national debt and tax policy.

Mr Brown was still wearing a radio microphone as he got into his car following a campaign visit in Rochdale.”
Amazingly stupid. Brown has stated that he had misheard the woman’s comments, resulting in him calling her a bigot. I don’t know if that is true or not, but it sounds like a feeble dodge to me, and exposes a major problem in how liberals and the left frame immigration.

The recent Arizona immigration ruling, that makes illegal immigration a State as well as federal crime, allows the police to ask for any individual’s identification papers if they have “reasonable suspicion” that the individual is in the U.S. illegally. John Judis at the New Republic had this to say about it:
“The bill is ostensibly aimed at discouraging illegal immigrants from staying in Arizona, but it would also affect Arizona’s Latino citizens and probably, too, its Native Americans, who would be subject to arrest if they fail to allay a policeman’s suspicion that they are in the country illegally. Los Angeles Archbishop Roger Mahony called the bill “the country's most retrogressive, mean-spirited and useless anti-immigrant law.” Mahoney also questioned whether Arizonans are “now reverting to German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques.” That is, perhaps, rhetorical overkill, but there is a disturbing echo here of the worst periods in American and European history.”

The law is undoubtedly dim, and some unsavory individuals have contributed to its disposition. Police officers have enough on their hands dealing with serious crimes to now also act as Border Patrol agents. I can only imagine how uncomfortable it is going to be for Latin Americans living in Arizona, who will be asked to verify their citizenship or residency status anytime a police officer has “reasonable cause.” Some of the rhetoric coming from opponents of the bill, comparing it to fascism is outlandish, but this is surely not the proper legal, moral, or reasonable response to the Southwest’s immigration issues.

But there are negative consequences to the illegal immigration status quo that exists in the United States. It does cost American taxpayers a great deal to have the number of illegal residents we currently have. It also hurts existing blue collar workers, specifically by running their wages down and undermining many of the benefits achieved through decades of struggle.

When leftists, liberals, and Gordon Brown react to workers concerned with their (non-existent) jobs and wages by calling them racists and bigots, it does them no good politically or ideologically. There are benefits economically and culturally to large numbers of foreign born workers living in our societies. I completely reject the cultural arguments made by palecons like Pat Buchannan, who argue that the influx of foreigners is destroying American society. The American nation has always been in flux and is constantly changing demographically, but I do not find that the new batch of immigrants is changing the political or social character of the state detrimentally.

However, the extreme Arizona law is a result of a lack of action taken on immigration issues at the Federal level. When all concerns over illegal immigration are framed as the ravings of racist Klansmen, it does a disservice to rational debate. These more extreme rulings will continue to be supported by people who have faced the negative results of the current immigration system, and it requires internationalists and moderates to face these issues sincerely and pragmatically.


Concerning the Arizona law, both E.D. Kain and the New Centrist have some fine commentary worth reading.


Charles Reardon said...

Just as conservatives need to be wary of the snarling tone they sometimes use when discussing illegal immigration the left also needs to be wary of screaming "raaaaacist" every time a citizen expresses their concern over immigration. Excellent post.

kellie said...

There's a problem with trying to jam these two stories together: Gillian Duffy didn't talk about illegal immigration, she talked/complained about people migrating from eastern europe. Citizens of all European Union countries, including eastern european members, have the legal right to live and work in the UK. As they are legal migrants they must pay tax, and are legally protected by minimum wage and other employment legislation.

TNC said...

Nice post.

I agree with Kellie re: the difference between undocumented immigrants in the US and legal labour migrants in the UK/EU.

Here's my take on the Arizona law and American politics:

Roland Dodds said...

Kellie: While you are right that the specifics around the two immigration scenarios is different, I think there is still a link between the two cases and how the left discusses immigration. Whether it is legal workers coming to the UK from Poland or illegal laborers from Mexico moving into Arizona, there is a feeling among blue collar workers that their jobs are being taken or undermined by the new labour force. Gordon Brown’s initial answer to the woman’s question about too many Polish workers in her town was correct but still problematic: he made clear that free trade and the legal movement of people in Europe also creates many jobs. While that is correct, and I commend him for saying it, it doesn’t mean much to the worker who did lose their job because of these policies.

My main point is not to argue that legal workers in the EU zone are the same as undocumented ones entering America from Mexico, just that working class concerns over immigration have often been brushed off as ignorant or racist. They may be both of those things, but the left needs to address these concerns with more honesty than I feel they have in the last 15 years.

kellie said...

I don't think it's correct to talk about jobs being taken in the scenario you describe. If a certain number of jobs are available at a certain wage in one location, but there aren't enough people from the area willing or able to do them, the workers coming from another area aren't taking them away from local workers in any straightforward meaning of the word. You can argue that the greater availability of cheap labour is depressing wages, but not that jobs are being taken away. This then becomes an issue over minimum wage legislation and not migration.

The scenario in which jobs can be said to be taken away is where a company moves jobs to another location with lower wage levels. The only solution to this within the EU would seem to be greater economic integration, and I don't see how that can happen without freedom of movement.

The prejudice over East European workers should be compared with the discrimination against 'Okies' described in The Grapes of Wrath. These are fellow citizens of a common political entity, with full legal rights to work in this territory.

John McCain said...

Seen this great new ad from McCain?

Didn't you vote for this a-hole?

Liberal my ass.

Roland Dodds said...

Wow! John McCain posted on my blog! That is almost as large an honor as getting a response from Frank Moore.

kellie said...

Powerpoint warrior Tom Barnett has a post suggesting that "our immigration system isn't broken nearly as much as our low-wage labor market".