There can be hardly anyone in the Western hemisphere who has not noticed how immigration has become a raging issue in a number of countries these days. The recent riots in France were blamed upon it by some, in the UK it has become a red hot political issue to the point where a recent survey in April showed that up to 25% of people would not consider voting for the far right wing BNP party, and in America vigilante groups such as the Minutemen have taken to actually building a wall around the Southern border to keep illegal immigrants out.
In reality however, immigration has now become a new global problem for just about everyone, and a solution to it is almost certainly going to have to be found by looking at it in that context rather with each country handling it their own way.
Nonetheless, one has to see some of the rich ironies involved here, not the last of which is how this issue is pushing its way further into the spotlight as the era of globalisation emerges upon us. As the dawn of a new economic reality rises upon the world, perhaps we have yet to discover some of the possible side effects of it. If multi national companies can entirely uproot themselves and relocate to poorer countries to gain greater wealth, who then is to say there is anything wrong with migrant masses doing essentially the very same thing, by moving to richer countries to gain great wealth? That is not to suggest that a poverty stricken father of three in Senegal has read with fascination in the Financial Times about how America Online has no moved all it’s call centers to India but what is to say is if it’s a good enough tactic for one then the same thing done conversely can hardly be so objectionable.
The same logic applies with the only difference being that one entity did it legitimately and, that in itself, was almost solely due to their access to great financial resources in the first place. Even in the US, it only requires a capital sum of $500,000 to set up a company there, plus all the visas that you get to go with that. Imagine then what a drop on the ocean it represents for multi national when the same sum is required overseas in the local currency?
For many of us who live in the US or the EU, we are the benefactors of open market economics, and the better standards of living that we enjoy are a result of that. Our high streets are full of chain stores, whose ability to provide us with our goods is at the very least substantially attributable to their ability to access them from overseas where workers are employed at a fraction of the cost of what it would cost at home. For us then, as consumers, it seems that it’s OK if these people have jobs as long as they stay and do them there, but should they dare to decide to come to the promised land and make a better life for themselves then that is not acceptable anymore.
And, as if to top off the hypocrisy of that, equally ironic here perhaps is the manner in which immigration is increasingly forcer 1st World nations to address a problem that it has successfully managed to top-toe around for decades extreme poverty in the 3rd World.
How soothing it has been on our consciences to never have to really face up to the effects of such a crippling and destructive problem when it was always just suitably far enough away. We could see it on TV documentaries and make token contributions to the Red Cross but were we ever doing little more than just paying for someone else to take the problem away from us?
In the goal of a united and further expanded European Union it seems that what was overlooked was how powerful a magnet such a thing would represent for the people of poorer countries, who we have repeatedly failed to help in any real meaningful way. After all, did we really think they would just sit there and willingly starve to death? Even President George W. Bush had enough wisdom to recognise that a worker who can earn $50 a day as opposed to $5 will look abroad, and the moral bankruptcy of legislation such as that introduced into France last month by Interior Minister Nicholas Sarkozy, making entry more difficult for unskilled migrants, epitomises how staggeringly short sighted politicians can be.
But when all of the poorest of the poor have been penned into one area and the inevitable, unpleasant and probably violent backlash ensues years down the line, people like him will not be there to suffer the consequences.
For now however the problem lands itself squarely on our own doorstep, and maybe now we will take the time to actually try and solve it with talk of aid packages for sub Saharan nations. If it all results in richer nations helping out the poorer ones then ultimately it may have proven to be worthwhile of course a commonly felt burden that should have been commonly shared a long time ago anyway.
Yet amidst all this, what has so often been avoided here is what the motives of anti-immigration groups really are anyway. What is their real agenda here?
The spectre of racism has in many ways become the 300lbs elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about, and yet there is a clear pattern here. The same people who oppose immigration reform now are often the same ones who opposed affirmative action campaigns and quotas to help for ethnic minorities. You will frequently see them, for example, as the first ones to jump to the defense of law enforcement when an incident of racial abuse is reported. Some claim they are motivated by little more then the desire to see the law being upheld, and yet it seems the only the part of the law they are concerned about is the one that throws illegal immigrants out of the country, the majority of whom it conveniently tends to be the case are not white.
They like to reminisce about the past and how all they seek is to preserve a culture and way of life, but one wonders how far back in time many of them would really like to turn to clock to. Perhaps a point in history when no Hispanic immigrants crossed the border from Mexico at all, or would they maybe like it in an even earlier time post the Civil Rights era of the 1960s in the US? It is currently estimated that there are around 47 million first or second generation Irish people in America now, and yet no one would seriously suggest that they have taken the country over and turned it into a mini-version of their own homeland. To suggest there is something to fear from large numbers of immigrants coming in from anywhere, no matter where it be, is simple fear mongering at it’s worst.
The truth is that far too many of those who now support the harshest possible treatment of immigrants are people who have never been sympathetic to the plight of people of colour or ethnic minorities.
Bristle as they may as how they are stereotyped, it is a fact of life, and a particularly sad one in this case, that sometimes if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck then that may very well be because it is a duck.
Media consultant and ex-contributory editor to Pravda
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