Part III – Motives Behind Negative Attitudes to Immigration

Perhaps more insight can be gained by returning to the comparison with Canada which has not been roiled by the immigration issue even though a 2017 poll indicated that, as in many European countries, a majority favoured the intake of fewer immigrants and refugees. The reasons are many, and I list some below, more or less in their order of importance:

management – loss of control

employment competition, ironically most acute amongst a previous immigration cohort

blaming new migrants for an increase in crime even though crime rates have fallen and evidence shows that immigration reduced crime rates and immigrants committed far fewer crimes than native-born Canadians

the shortage of housing and its high cost even though research has shown that a good part of the upward pressure on costs has come from laundered money from overseas in cities like Vancouver and Toronto

health and health care costs; on this the evidence is more indirect – rising health costs are mostly attributable to an increase in the age of a country’s population and immigration helps reduce the average age of the population; further, a 2016 study found that immigrants are typically healthier than the native-born population, less prone to suicide and far more resistant to the opioid crisis

educational deterioration; though the higher the percentage of non-native speaking immigrants, the more difficult the class is to teach, evidence suggests that the greater motivation of immigrant children more than compensates for this disadvantage

national identity – cultural conflict is a very important factor for a significant minority of Canadians

environmental concerns; in 2013, Canada’s most famous environmentalist, David Suzuki, declared Canada as “full” and denounced immigration policy, not only for bringing in more pressure on the Canadian environment, but for contributing to the brain drain from poorer countries, but this is a view held by only a small group of radical environmentalists

religious difference – of some importance in Quebec but relatively small impact elsewhere

welfare: a lower percentage of immigrants are on welfare and receive fewer benefits than Canadian-born citizens and complaints over welfare are not a prominent part of the anti-immigration agenda in Canada

ignorance of and isolation from new immigrants are factors in anti-immigration sentiments but are not offered as reasons by those critical of current rates of immigration

What about the benefits which David Frum acknowledges?

  • A tool to fight global poverty by increased income for migrants and increased support for poorer source countries because of remittances sent to family members
  • Returnees take back skills and networks as is the case with Mexicans returning from the U.S.
  • unskilled immigrants fill jobs that native workers do not want; for example, currently there is a shortage of 137,000 jobs in the restaurant industry in Canada
  • skilled immigrants enhance technical, specialized and managerial positions, thereby increasing overall productivity
  • as Frum acknowledges in reference to Nobel prize winners, the multicultural character of Silicon Valley, immigrants enrich the intellectual and scientific output of a country.

The reality is that a stand for or against immigration levels is not determined primarily by a comparative consequentialist calculation of benefits and costs, otherwise rationality would prevail and large majorities would support increased levels of immigration. The Democratic candidates that David Frum chastises for promoting a more open immigration system or a more forgiving one towards illegals already in the U.S., oppose the way immigration is enforced – exclusively against migrants and none against employers. As Frum wrote, “developed and better implemented, and inspections against hiring of irregular workers would have to be more intrusive and widespread.”

Nor is it determined primarily by a contest over rights. David Frum insists that non-felons in the U.S. have no right to stay. But that is an argument about the management and enforcement of the system and not about migration per se. Further, even those who would grant them citizenship do not generally do so as a right but as a preferable system for management rather than mass deportation.

Further, look at the way Frum described the impact of the caravans from Central America that Trump raised to a fever pitch. Frum wrote, “Thousands of people were indeed approaching the U.S. border, many hoping to force their way across by weight of numbers.” That is simply false. It is not true that many hoped to force their way across the border by weight of numbers. They were fleeing violence and did not intend to instigate it.  According to Doctors Without Borders, Central American “citizens are murdered with impunity, kidnappings and extortion are daily occurrences. Non-state actors perpetuate insecurity and forcibly recruit individuals into their ranks, and use sexual violence as a tool of intimidation and control.” Further, forcing themselves at the border would also be almost impossible. Finally, the vast majority expressed a desire to file a legal refugee claim with an American immigration officer.

However, Frum is not out to attack migration or asylum seekers but to protect democracy from unscrupulous politicians who exploit anti-immigrant sentiments. “Political elites have to devise solutions to those problems. If difficult issues go unaddressed by responsible leaders, they will be exploited by irresponsible ones.” However, the issue is not simply about the positive and negative pull factors but about the push factors behind the increased pressures from migration.

With help from Alex Zisman

To be continued


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