The Life of First-Generation Immigrants in Canada

As part of our efforts to better understand global migration, we accept submissions from people or groups who have experience or direct involvement with immigration. This post, submitted by My Visa Source, a Canadian immigration firm, examines the experience of first-generation immigrants to Canada.

Leaving your familiar homeland to live out your life in a new and radically different environment is an experience both difficult and rewarding. Despite the demands of learning a new language and cultural framework and the many risks inherent in the transition to a new country, millions choose to take up this challenge every single year.

Why Do People Choose the Life of a First-Generation Immigrant?

Few opt for the life of an immigrant out of a mere sense of adventure and curiosity. In most cases, one or more of the following factors will be involved in the decision:

  • The prospect of a better economic situation
  • The opportunity for the immigrant or his/her children to achieve important educational goals
  • The desire to be with relatives or friends who have already immigrated
  • Conditions of poverty, persecution, or discrimination in their native land

In sum, we could say that most immigrants are looking for a chance to live a better life. They often have not only their own futures in view, but also the future betterment of their children and grandchildren.

How Is a First-Generation Immigrant Defined?

“First-generation immigrant,” as used here and in most other contexts, refers to a foreign-born individual who becomes a citizen or permanent resident of another nation. Some have used the term to refer to the first generation born in the new land, but we shall refer to that as “second generation” immigrant. In Canada, 55% of second generation immigrants had two foreign-born parents, with the remaining 45% having only one.

The National Household Survey of 2011 broke down the Canadian population as follows:

  1. 22% were first-generation immigrants
  2. 17% were second-generation
  3. 61% were third-generation or more

Where Do Most First-Generation Immigrants Live?

Over 80% of Canadian immigrant families live in major metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. They are fairly evenly spread across the country, but British Columbia and Ontario are the only two provinces where first and second generation immigrants total over 50% of the population. Quebec and Newfoundland have significantly low numbers of immigrants.

How Long Does Assimilation Take?

Most second generation immigrants in Canada are fully assimilated, but those born abroad may take a life time to adjust to the culture. In the process, they will also contribute to the culture, enriching it and expanding it. Canadian immigrants come from over 200 nations of the world, so it is not surprising if many immigrants experience intense “culture shock” upon first arrival. Nonetheless, with a willingness to be flexible and learn new things, a greater “blending in” will inevitably occur with the passing of time.

One of the main challenges to Canadian first-generation immigrants is simply finding adequate employment. Studies of Canadian immigrants over the last 25 years have shown that linguistic, cultural, and informational barriers tend to make their employment opportunities fewer and lower-paying initially. In the long-term, however, immigrants actually out-perform their Canadian-born counterparts. Blending into the workforce, or “economic assimilation,” is one important aspect of immigrant assimilation.

While immigrants to Canada were mostly from Europe, today most come from Asia. This has increased the linguistic and cultural “distance” at which immigrants begin assimilation, but this has not changed the fact that those born in Canada grow up well integrated into the new language and cultural systems. Even ethnic “visibility” decreases over time: 60% of first-generation immigrants to Canada are considered “visible immigrants,” 30% of second-generation, and only 1% of third-generation. Finally, there is some debate as to whether Canada will be a “melting pot” or a “cultural mosaic” in years ahead. If the latter, the degree of assimilation required will be lessened.

How Strong are First-Generation Immigrant Families?

Most Canadian immigrants tend to have very strong familial bonds. Partly, this stems from the cultural milieu of their country of origin, but it also is tied in with the immigrant situation. A strong sense of family obligation often leads children of first-generation immigrants to high academic achievement as well as long-term residence with/near their parents. While the stresses and strains of the immigration undertaking can be great, the overall effect on immigrant families is generally beneficial in every realm: academic, economic, and social.

The Prospects for Assimilation for First-Generation Immigrants

While immigrant communities often tend to initially form small enclaves in major cities, it only takes one generation for assimilation to occur. First-generation immigrants may never fully forget the ways of “the old country,” but they can gradually acquire a second culture in “the new country.” Total immersion will, over time, wear away the effects of culture shock. New friends and acquaintances, local family ties, and participation in social events will help them to “feel at home” and gain a sense of belonging. Like transplanted trees, first-generation immigrants’ lives will thrive as they put down deep roots in new soil.

Related reading

This section has been added by Open Borders: The Case editorial staff. The author of the original piece is not responsible for it.

Related Open Borders: The Case blog posts:

Other related material:

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Our Wedding and Immigration Disaster

This post is part of a series by Justin Merrill describing his personal experience with immigration and his embrace of open borders. It is part of our ongoing series of posts that are based on personal anecdotes. The first post in the series is here.

I was a senior in high school when terrorists attacked on September 11, 2001. I was at a critical point in deciding what to do after graduation and decided to enlist in the Marine Corps. I went to boot camp one year after 9/11. After I finished my combat and job training, I was sent to my first duty station in Okinawa, Japan. My time in Okinawa was bittersweet because our command was really strict and paternalistic and my office made me work incredibly long hours. But unlike many of my peers, I made an effort to soak up the culture and experience more of the off-base life than just bars. As mentioned in my previous post, I was raised around Japanese exchange students and I also did karate as a kid, so my starting level of Japanese was basic, but higher than most (counting and common phrases).

Eri, my future wife, and I met and started chatting through Yahoo Messenger in 2003. She is from Toyota, Japan (yes, where they make the cars), which is on mainland Japan. Okinawa is a tropical island far to the south, sometimes called the “Hawaii of Japan”. Our relationship was more of a friendly pen pal nature, mostly because there wasn’t any expectation of meeting in the future. I also was opposed to having a serious relationship while in the Marine Corps because I saw how high the strain of military life is on relationships. My tour in Okinawa was only one year and a vacation to visit her wasn’t practical. Eri spoke English well because she was an exchange student in North Carolina for two years and studied English in Australia after graduating from high school. We kept in touch over the years and got to know each other pretty well. After my year in Okinawa, my final duty station was in the Washington, DC area for the remainder of my term. Even though I was raised on the west coast, I liked the DC area so much that I decided to stay there after I got out. I shared an apartment with my newlywed friends and was putting down roots on my terminal leave when Eri told me that she would be visiting her host family that she lived with while in North Carolina. I pointed out that the timing was perfect and that we should meet up. We agreed to spend three weeks together and instantly hit it off. A week after we met we decided to get married. We spent a week in NYC, a first for both of us, during Christmas and New Year’s and bought our wedding rings in the Diamond District. Our families were both very happy for us, but I didn’t want to do a shotgun wedding. I wanted to meet her family first and have the ceremony in Japan, especially since we are both Buddhist and Eri’s mom’s temple offered to perform the ceremony. So we arranged to have receptions in Toyota and Utah for both our families. The wedding was scheduled for February. Eri’s tourist visa would expire soon so she returned to Japan to start planning the wedding and I began looking for a new apartment in DC for us to move in to after the receptions.

Before our wedding, in order for our marriage to be recognized in the States, we had to get a marriage certificate from the US embassy consulate in Osaka, which is pretty far from Toyota. The only day that happened to fit in our busy schedule was Valentine’s Day. We chose against having the wedding on Valentine’s Day because it seemed too cheesy, but our marriage certificate states we were legally wedded on that day. Now we celebrate our anniversary on Feb. 14th and tell people we were “accidentally” married on that day. Only my mom could attend on my side of the family, but our wedding and reception in Japan were great. Her family helped pay for an extravagant celebration and all her friends and family came and supported us. It’s not common to marry a gaijin (foreigner) in Japan. After the wedding we had a honeymoon of sorts and stayed with Eri’s friends, Phil and Yukako, who attended our wedding and who were a couple like us (former Marine husband and Japanese wife). Eri was an exchange student in North Carolina with Yukako and they became best friends; it’s funny they would both marry Marines. Phil was working as a civilian on the Marine Corps Air Base in Iwakuni, which is far to the south. After spending time with them, Eri and I were to fly to Utah to prepare for our reception for my family.

For some reason, I think because I was using a Delta buddy pass, we had to fly on different flights and I arrived a couple days before her. Fortunately I bought ourselves new cell phones and added her to my plan before I left, since we were planning on living in the States. As I was on my way to pick her up in Salt Lake City she texted me that she wouldn’t be arriving and was being taken into custody. She had a layover and her port of entry was Minneapolis, MN. When she went through customs they were suspicious because she had recently visited the States. They searched her luggage and found wedding photos and deduced that she was trying to live in the US. They took her into custody and interrogated her for hours, even playing a good cop/bad cop routine, while I was standing at her terminal, horrified by the nightmare that was beginning. They denied her entry and put a flag on her passport so that she could not reenter the States until we went through the process and got her green card. We later discovered that this was incorrect; she would not be able to enter the country under any condition, something that would have been nice to know before we went through the entire process. Luckily we found a loop hole.

Eri was flown back to Japan through Holland. She spent over three days straight on an airplane without a chance to even shower. With only days until our reception, we were trying frantically on both ends to find a way to get her into the country. She went back to the embassy consulate in Osaka and I was contacting my representative and USCIS. Unfortunately there was nothing they could do. They said there was no discretion on this matter and no way to even allow her to temporarily visit for our reception. This close to the reception it was impossible to cancel. Her parents could attend and it was nice that our families could meet, but it was sad that it was under these circumstances. My mother-in-law served as a substitute bride and cut the cake with me. We made the best of the situation.

The stressful part would be to decide what to do next. Fortunately I wasn’t so rooted that I was able to sell off my belongings, cancel and get a refund on my deposit for our new apartment, and cancel our phone plan. I had to sell my recording studio (I started a record label) and back out of a real estate foreclosure deal that would have earned me $200k, but I couldn’t find a lawyer to be my agent while I was out of the country. I mailed the rest of my belongings to our friends, Phil and Yukako. We devised a plan where I could get a job on base before my tourist visa expires and the base would sponsor my visa and let me stay in Japan. I had to take the first job I could get and move up from there, but it was worth it. Eri and I got our own little house and started our new lives together in Iwakuni, Japan.

We both sacrificed a lot, but we just wanted to be together. We were young and naïve and didn’t even know we were breaking the law. We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa (turns out that’s exactly how I did it in Japan). It’s not like she was intending to overstay her visa. We were so busy planning and traveling that we didn’t properly research and the immigrants I did consult immigrated to the US before 9/11 and their information was out of date. I was shocked how they treated Eri like a criminal or terrorist, she was only twenty years old and didn’t fit the profile. I was also surprised at how the policy overrode common sense. It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me. The immigration policy ended up costing us a lot of money, hardship, and productivity and career opportunities over the years, and I must say it felt unnecessary.

To be continued …

Some related background and links (added by our editorial team)

A United States visa does not guarantee entry into the United States. All it does is allow the holder to travel to the United States and present himself or herself at a port of entry. The officer at the port of entry has discretionary authority to deny admission if the officer suspects immigrant intent or other violations of the terms of the visa.

Nationals of about 50 countries (including Japan, where Eri was from) are eligible to enter the United States for short term business and pleasure trips through the Visa Waiver Program. VWP entries are treated similarly to entries made while on a B1/B2 visa. A person can be denied entry based on the VWP or B1/B2 visa if it transpires that the person intends to transition to a long-term non-immigrant or immigrant status. It is also not generally permissible for somebody in the US on VWP or B1/B2 travel to transition while within the United States to a long-term non-immigrant status (such as F student status or H-1B status) or immigrant status (that Eri would have been eligible for as the wife of a US citizen).

Some related reading on denial at a port of entry:

  • Friend, relative, etc. denied entry to the U.S., U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
  • DHS Traveler Redress Inquiry Program (DHS TRIP), United States Department of Homeland Security.
  • At the U.S. Border or Airport: What to Expect When Entering. Entering the U.S. may not be easy, even with a valid visa in hand. (NOLO.com).
  • A Tale of “Voluntary Departure” from the Comments by Bryan Caplan, EconLog, August 22, 2011, quoting Tim Worstall:

    Having been caught up in the US system once “voluntary departure” is anything but.

    On entering the country on a 10 year, multi-entry, business visa (I owned a small business in the US at the time) immigration officials decided that I should not be allowed to enter.

    I was not allowed legal representation of any kind. I was interviewed and then the notes of the interview were written up afterwards (ie, what the officer remembered he and I had said, not what was actually said).

    I refused to sign such misleading notes. I was told that if I did not I would be deported, my passport declared invalid for travel to the US for the rest of my life.

    So of course I signed and then made my “voluntary departure” which included being held in a cell until the time of my flight, being threatened with being handcuffed while going to the flight and the return of my passport only upon arrival in London.

    My 10 year multi entry visa had of course been cancelled. My attempts to get matters sorted out, so that I could visit my business, were rather hampered by the way that the interview notes which I had signed under duress were taken to be the only valid evidence by the INS (as was) that should be discussed when deciding upon visa status.

    I lost the business and haven’t bothered returning to the country in the more than decade since.

    There is no law, evidence, representation nor even accurate recording of proceedings in such “voluntary departures”. It is entirely at the whim of the agents at the border post. I was actually told by one agent “I’m gonna screw you over”.

    Something of a difference from what’s scrawled over that statue in New York really. And I’m most certainly not the only business person this sort of thing has happened to.

Some other general reading:

UPDATE: Victoria Ferauge, who has previously written a guest post for the site, wrote a post on her personal blog titled A US Immigration Tale commenting on the story:

In the last paragraph of his post I can hear his bitterness at how his wife was treated.

We were young and naïve and didn’t even know we were breaking the law. We thought that getting a spouse visa was as simple as applying after you entered on a tourist visa (turns out that’s exactly how I did it in Japan). It’s not like she was intending to overstay her visa. We were so busy planning and traveling that we didn’t properly research and the immigrants I did consult immigrated to the US before 9/11 and their information was out of date. I was shocked how they treated Eri like a criminal or terrorist, she was only twenty years old and didn’t fit the profile. I was also surprised at how the policy overrode common sense. It was actually harder for Eri to enter the country because she was married to me.

And as I read this I was amazed at how things had changed in just a few short years. Pre-911 my French husband got his Green Card in Seattle. He had landed in the US on one kind of visa and it was just a matter of going down to immigration and filling out the paperwork to get residency status based on his marriage to me, l’américaine. Very simple. No one at immigration so much as blinked twice when we explained what we wanted. The final interview lasted less than 10 minutes. That’s all it took for the very pleasant official to decide that my husband merited a Green Card.

We were just as naive as Merrill and his wife. We took for granted that because we were married, we could choose which country we wanted to live in. And our assumptions proved true at that time.

In this story we can see how a vigorous and punctilious application of immigration law can hurt not only the immigrant but the native citizen as well. Please note that the US not only lost an immigrant, but they forced one of their own into emigrating. Merrill and his wife didn’t get to choose where they wanted to live – they were forced in the direction of the country that would take both of them.

Interestingly enough, that turned out to be Japan – a country that many Americans consider to be unfriendly to immigrants.

Oh, the irony…

UPDATE 2: The post was picked up by MetaFilter and got 34 comments there. Read the MetaFilter thread: my mother-in-law served as a substitute bride.

The photograph featured at the top of this post is of Mario Chavez embracing his wife Lizeth through the US-Mexico border fence at Playas de Tijuana. The original photograph is copyright David Maung, and was published by Human Rights Watch; a higher-resolution version is available at their website.

March 2015 in review

March 2015 has been one of the two busiest months for Open Borders: The Case, tying closely with November 2014 for top spot. The highlight of the month was Open Borders Day, observed on March 16, and our publication of the Open Borders Manifesto on that day, which has received about 150 signatures so far.

Social media successes

The following pages and posts did best on social media:

We also had some success with older posts. There was a surge of interest in the post Bangladesh and India: move towards open borders by Vipul Naik, January 15, 2015, after the publication of the anonymous post about the day in Wagah alluded to above. The Bangladesh-India post rose to 118 Facebook engagements from about 45 at the beginning of the month.

Substantive, highly appreciated posts

Sebastian Nickel’s blog post Overview of the Open Philanthropy Project’s work on migration liberalisation, published March 18, 2015, got 24 Facebook engagements and 7 Twitter engagements. It was based on a thorough review of the work on migration done by the Open Philanthropy Project, a joint initiative of GiveWell and Good Ventures.

Open Borders Day

We already did an Open Borders Day 2015 roundup post that lists reactions to Open Borders Day from around the web. In our review of traffic for the month, we discuss the surge of interest due to and during Open Borders Day.

Open Borders Action Group highlights

Site traffic: details

Pageviews for Open Border: The Case:

Month and year Pageview count (WordPress) Pageview count (Google Analytics)
March 2015 38,289 36,826
February 2015 26,205 25,351
January 2015 28,149 25,702*
March 2014 22,808 23,329
February 2014 14,964 15,409
January 2014 17,521 17,709

*Google Analytics was dysfunctional for a few days and a few hours on other days, causing that number to be an underestimate.

Here is the WordPress traffic by day for the past few weeks:

Screenshot of WordPress traffic for the months of March and a few days before and after.
Screenshot of WordPress traffic for the months of March and a few days before and after.

Here is the Google Analytics traffic by day for the month:

March 2015 Google Analytics screenshot
March 2015 Google Analytics screenshot

Confusing public and private: the nonsensical private property argument against open borders

A popular argument against open borders runs as follows:

  • Individuals who own their own homes and businesses have the right to exclude anyone they like from their property
  • Immigration controls are a way for groups of individuals to collectively exclude people they don’t like from their property
  • Ergo, reducing or abolishing immigration controls infringe these individuals’ property rights

I think this cartoon that ran in the Indianapolis Star analogising immigrants to trespassers is a pretty good summary of how people who make this argument view laws that protect freedom of movement:

Indianapolis Star anti-amnesty cartoonA simpler version of this argument is: if you want open borders so bad, why don’t you leave your front door open and let in anyone who wants to sleep in your bed?

The legal/philosophical pedigree of this argument is somewhat thin, although neo-reactionary/libertarian scholar Hans-Hermann Hoppe is often cited in its support. Nevertheless, the “why don’t you open your front door?” argument is a popular one in discussions of immigration.

I must say I like Bryan Caplan’s pithy retort to this:

The biggest problem with this kind of “respect my property rights!” reasoning is that it confuses the public and the private. Removing border controls would no more obligate citizens to let foreigners sleep in their beds than the status quo obligates me as a US resident to let any US citizen commandeer my bed. Border controls act to exclude foreign individuals from the public square, from the marketplace, from the streets.

It is this use of public power to exclude foreign people from our public spaces that open borders advocates challenge. Governments cannot simply declare our public squares off-limits to anyone without good reason. If you don’t like having foreign people in your home, that’s your personal choice. I respect that. But if I want to host a foreign person in my home, you need a better reason than “But they’re not from this country!” to order my friend deported. What happened to my property rights?

More than respecting the private spaces of those who would welcome migrants and strangers, it is particularly important that we challenge the arbitrary exclusion of these people from our public spaces. Banning foreigners from hawking their goods, applying for jobs, or simply going for a stroll may not violate any individual’s property rights per se. But the use of government power to exclude people based on a characteristic out of their control — where they were born — is inherently suspect. This is particularly so when a favourite justification of those who advocate this exclusion seems to boil down to: “I don’t like these people and I wouldn’t allow them onto my private property, so I think society should enforce my personal preferences on everyone, and force these people out of all our public spaces altogether.”

There may be good reasons to single out foreigners for special treatment, maybe even for banishment or exclusion (espionage and invasion are the obvious examples here). But the point is that you need a reason rooted in the public interest to justify excluding someone by the violent force of the state. It is fine if you want to exclude someone from your property, and call the cops to enforce your private rights. But that is not at all the same as siccing the cops on someone applying for a job because that someone is an immigrant. Dressing this process up by electing legislators who pass exclusionary laws that allow you to sic the cops on peaceful foreigners in the public square does not alter the fundamental reality here: you have misleadingly appropriated your private rights to impose your personal preferences and prejudices on the public at large.

Confusing the public and the private is hardly unique to questions of freedom of movement and residence. I was reminded of this by another comic, this time from XKCD:

XKCD free_speech

In this instance, cartoonist Randall Munroe is addressing people who object to criticisms of their speech by responding: “I have the right to freedom of speech!” Yes, you do: the government cannot infringe your freedom of speech without good reason (violent incitement, slander, and so on). But other private individuals can respond to your speech as they please.

Objecting to others’ freedom of movement because “I have the right to peacefully enjoy my private property!” is the flipside of this. Yes, you do have that right, and if others are threatening your peaceful enjoyment, you can seek government intervention to enjoin them from disturbing you. But so long as others are not disturbing you, you have no basis for complaining about them.

Most immigrants are not criminals, not soldiers in an invading army. They don’t want to disturb you: they want to study, to live in a safe home, to work, to play, to love in peace. Unless they are causing a disturbance, you do not have a reason to demand their exclusion from the public square. Imposing your personal preferences on the public is not exercising your private property rights. It is the arrogant assumption of dictatorial power over public spaces: you are claiming the public square as your own private property, to the exclusion of anyone who happens to displease you.

Some disclaim the weak “You wouldn’t let an immigrant sleep in your bed” private property arguments, but insist that as a collective, the nation privately owns its land and can exclude non-citizens at will. In this version of the argument, the nation as a collective owns its public spaces, and morally may exclude foreign nationals from these public spaces.

This more sophisticated version of the private property argument falls flat for a different reason: it holds public stewards of law and order to the same bar as private property owners. In this telling, a democratic majority, or democratically-elected government, may exclude anyone from public spaces, because they are acting as private property owners.

But private property owners aren’t accountable in the same way that a public government is. The organs of the state are not the private property of a democratic majority. Public institutions do not belong to their citizens in quite the same way that I own my personal computer or refrigerator. I can do whatever I like with my personal property. Governments cannot do whatever they like with the organs of the state, even if a majority of citizens approve.

The most fundamental function of the state is to dispense justice. The organs of the state are accountable for dispensing justice; I as a private property-owner am not. If I wastefully throw away my food before its expiry date instead of giving it to someone in need, or if I burn my books instead of giving them to the local library, I may be doing something morally wrong, perhaps even unjust. But I am not accountable to the public for the choices I make about my property. I am not accountable for disposing of my property in a fair and just manner.

Governments are clearly different. If the sole function of government was to do whatever the majority wants it to do, then government could rightly exclude targeted minorities from the public square. It could confiscate the property of hated minorities, ban them from pursuing opportunities, and even jail or deport them. In fact, this is what governments used to (and some still) do: the victims of injustice have ranged from ethnic minorities to sexual minorities, to almost any human characteristic or grouping you can name.

Foreign individuals are just such another unjustly targeted minority. Just as homosexuals were once banned in many countries from certain occupations and hunted down by the police, our governments today persecute people for the audacity to live their lives outside the country they were born in. Author Orson Scott Card put it well when he criticised proposals in the US that would punish immigrants who don’t speak English:

Efforts to “protect English” are the exact equivalent of those signs saying “No Irish Need Apply” or the rules limiting the number of Jews who could be admitted to prestigious universities or the laws telling black people where they could and could not sit in buses and trains. English doesn’t need protection. People need protection from those who would hurt them because they weren’t born to English-speaking parents.

You might object that this is not an injustice: that the difference between other minorities versus immigrants is only that it’s unjust to persecute or exclude any citizen. In this view, non-citizens are fair game: it is just for government to exclude foreigners from our public spaces, as long as that’s what citizens determine through a democratic process.

Now, I agree it is fair for governments to discriminate against foreigners in a number of circumstances. But state-sponsored exclusion from the public square and from the marketplace is not one of these. As economist Steve Landsburg puts it:

Yes, the U.S. government is elected by Americans to serve Americans. There was a time when a lot of southern sheriffs could have said they’d been elected by white citizens to serve white citizens. It does not follow that it’s okay to run roughshod over the rights of everyone else.

…It is no more inappropriate for the U.S. Army to defend Americans instead of Peruvians than it is for Burger King to provide food for Burger King customers instead of McDonald’s customers. But the labor market isn’t like that at all… After all, if it’s okay to enrich ourselves by denying foreigners the right to earn a living, why not enrich ourselves by invading peaceful countries and seizing their assets? Most of us don’t think that’s a good idea, and not just because it might backfire. We don’t think it’s a good idea because we believe human beings have human rights, whatever their color and wherever they live. Stealing assets is wrong, and so is stealing the right to earn a living, no matter where the victim was born.

How did we conclude that it is wrong and unjust for the state to violently exclude racial, religious, or sexual minorities from public spaces? We view such exclusion as fundamentally wrong because access to the streets, the square, the marketplace is essential for an ordinary life. To force people into the shadows without good reason is wrong.

Are foreigners not people too? “Yes, they are,” says the immigration restrictionist. “But if they want to live an ordinary life, they can do that in their country. They have no right to live such a life here.” That is the nub of the moral disagreement: I think people have the right to live an ordinary life in any country they please, as long as they submit to the same laws that apply to its citizens.

I do not question the state’s ability to exclude foreigners, or the capability of a democratic majority to demand their government banish the alien. These are self-evident. But I question the justice and morality of any law that excludes people simply by the alien condition of their birth.

Justice is blind. The state’s obligation to dispense justice does not disappear when one party to the dispute is foreign. Foreigners have the same right to the fruits of their labour as anyone else, the same right to pay rent for a safe home as anyone else — the same right as any citizen to walk the street in peace. Attacking someone in the street because of their birthplace is just as wrong when the government does it in the name of a democratic majority as it would be wrong when done by a lynch mob in the name of xenophobic prejudice.

The image featured at the top of this post is from Detroit, Michigan in the mid-20th century, when denizens protested African-Americans settling in their community. The original photo can be found at the Library of Congress.

Why Many Jews Might Support Open Borders

Which groups of people are most receptive to the open borders message? The list of individuals who have signed on to the recently posted Open Borders Manifesto suggests that academics may be especially amenable to supporting open borders. Another group that would be likely to support largely unrestricted immigration comprises those who are seeking to migrate to a new country but are unable to do so because of immigration restrictions, as would their family members already residing in the intended destination countries. Nathan Smith has argued that devout Christians are potentially a good source of support for open borders. At the same time, many secularists, who have been polled as having “the most favorable views of immigrants” compared with Catholics and Protestants, may be open to open borders as well.  Here I argue that Jews, especially American Jews, also could be a potentially strong source of support for open borders.

Nathan provides one reason why many Jews might support open borders: the Old Testament. He states that “from my reading of the Old Testament, it’s quite clear that the Bible supports open borders, full stop.”  For example, Nathan points out verses such as “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 22:21)” In 2008, the president of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society echoed Nathan by writing that Jews “are taught to internalize the lesson that… we must ‘welcome the stranger,’ ‘not oppress the stranger,’ ‘protect the stranger,’ ‘have one law for the stranger and the citizen among you,’ because ‘you were strangers in the land of Egypt…’ it is neither moral nor practical to carve out a system that admits Jews but restricts others, slamming the door to America behind us.”(Jewish Review (Portland, Oregon) April 15, 2008) Nathan concludes that “Old Testament law is favorable to immigrants to the point that it could well be embraced by the open borders movement as a template of the kind of immigration policy we would want to see.” While many Jews don’t consult the Bible for guidance for their positions on public policy, its message on immigration may subtly point Jews towards open borders, as the aid society president suggests.

In addition, Jewish history may have imprinted upon Jews a tendency to support open borders. For the last two thousand years, many Jews have migrated from place to place, either because of expulsions, a need to flee oppression, or the desire for improved economic circumstances.  For example, Spain forced hundreds of thousand of Jews out of the country in 1492.  Even in 2015, given the rise in anti-Semitism in Europe, Jeffrey Goldberg asks, “Is it time for the Jews to leave?”  He also notes that “for millennia, Jews have been asking this question: Where, exactly, is it safe?”

The expulsions, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, “left their impress on the entire nation and its history, both materially and spiritually. They maintained and constantly intensified the feeling of foreignness of the Jews in the Diaspora.”  This was illustrated recently in an online comment responding to a study that found that many Jewish students have experienced anti-Semitism on American college campuses: “I repeatedly told my adult sons as they were growing up that we Jews are guests here in America, that even as we love this country, our birth here is an incident of fate. Too bad that so many Jewish families forget that we’ve lived in many lands with different degrees of acceptance. Our German brothers and sisters thought they were German until they were taken away in box cars, our French brothers and sisters thought they were French until the Vel’ d’Hiv Roundup, etc. etc. We Jews really need to awake from our delusions and tell our kids the ugly truth. Keep your passports current and your bags packed.”  This perception by some Jews of a tenuous status in their countries of residence and the implied understanding of the importance of having available places to which they can emigrate may lead to empathy for non-Jews who wish to migrate; if one senses that migration may be necessary at some time in their own life, one comprehends on a visceral level the need of others to migrate.

Based on their history, many Jews might support open borders today as they supported the civil rights movement in the U.S. The companion website to the film “From Swastika to Jim Crow” suggests that the historical oppression of Jews has made them sympathetic to the plight of African-Americans.  It notes that “in the early 1900s, Jewish newspapers drew parallels between the Black movement out of the South and the Jews’ escape from Egypt, pointing out that both Blacks and Jews lived in ghettos, and calling anti-Black riots in the South ‘pogroms’.” It also describes how Jews helped form the NAACP and the Urban League, how Jewish organizations played an important part in the campaign against prejudice, and how Jews monetarily supported civil rights organizations. In addition, it states that “about 50 percent of the civil rights attorneys in the South during the 1960s were Jews, as were over 50 percent of the Whites who went to Mississippi in 1964 to challenge Jim Crow Laws.”

The history of Jewish immigration to the U.S. in particular may lead American Jews towards supporting open borders. Thomas Sowell writes in Ethnic America that “The great majority of Jews in America are descended from the millions who emigrated from Russia, Poland, and other eastern European countries in the last two decades of the nineteenth century and the first two decades of the twentieth century. In that period, one-third of all the Jews in eastern Europe migrated to America.” (p. 69) Why did they come? Maldwyn Jones, in American Immigration, explains that “the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881 set off a wave of anti-Jewish riots and led to strict enforcement of the requirement that all Jews must reside within the Pale of Settlement, an area bordering on Germany, Austria, and Rumania. A year later came the notorious May Laws, which placed restrictions on Jewish worship, virtually debarred Jews from agriculture, industry, and the professions, excluded them from public office, and denied them educational opportunities. Persecution now became systematic, persistent, and ruthless; worst of all there were the frightful pogroms of 1881-82, 1891, and 1905-06 in which countless Jews were massacred. Largely in consequence, Russian arrivals in the United States rose from 5,000 in 1880 to 81,000 in 1892 and then bounded upward to a peak of 258,000 in 1907.” (pp. 201-202)

America turned out to be an excellent choice for these eastern European immigrants and their descendants. Mr. Sowell notes that “the overwhelming majority of these Jewish immigrants came to stay. The rate of return migration was lower among Jews than among any other large group of immigrants.” (p. 79) This apparently testifies to the appeal of being in America versus their homelands. While many of these Eastern European Jews came to America impoverished and experienced poverty and slum living in America (p. 83 and p. 85) “the upward movement of American Jews—across broad economic, intellectual, social, and political arenas—was unprecedented and unparalleled.” (p. 88) In addition, “American anti-Semitism has never reached the levels seen in Europe.” (p. 93) Furthermore, had the mass turn of the century Jewish immigration not occurred, those immigrants and their descendants would have perished in the Holocaust of the 1940s.

Many American Jews must understand that this immigration was able to occur largely because European immigration to the U.S. was generally unrestricted until the early 1920s. Notwithstanding his opposition to open borders, the economist Paul Krugman has noted that he is “instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration” and that “he is grateful that the door was open when my grandparents fled Russia.”  Jeffrey Goldberg has written that “… I am an American Jew–which is to say, a person who exists because his ancestors made a run for it when they could.”

Many American Jews must also grasp the negative consequences of the 1920s immigration restrictions on European Jewry. As I noted in a previous post,  the restrictions, together with other bureaucratic maneuvering, kept many Jews from fleeing the Nazis in the 1930s and 1940s. A dramatic example of this was the refusal of the U.S. to accept hundreds of Jewish refugees aboard the St. Louis in 1939, even as the ship reached the Florida coast. Many of these refugees later died in the Holocaust. Furthermore, after World War II many European Jews languished in concentration camps taken over by the Americans, according to  Eric Lichtblau in The Nazis Next Door.  He writes that “… with Britain blocking Jews from going to Palestine and the United States closing its own doors for the most part, Truman agonized over the situation in the DP camps.  ‘Everyone else who’s been dragged from his country has somewhere to go back to,’ Truman said, ‘but the Jews have no place to go.'” (p. 5) Former U.S. Representative Barney Frank understands the significance of immigration restrictions, suggesting that had immigration policies been more restrictive when his grandparents left Russia for the U.S., they wouldn’t have been allowed in and the family would have perished in the Holocaust. (Washington News Observer, 10/7/09)

When America had borders that were largely open to immigrants, it was a great refuge for Jews fleeing undesirable situations in other countries. Conversely, when this period of mostly open borders ended, restrictionist immigration policies had disastrous consequences for would-be Jewish immigrants. Many American Jews may recognize the value of open borders to their ancestors and may generalize this appreciation of open borders, applying it universally, just as their historical experience of oppression contributed to their support for the civil rights movement for African Americans.

One concern Jews around the world might have about open borders is that it would allow potentially greatly increased Muslim immigration to places where many Jews reside, such as the U.S., France, and the U.K.  In Mr. Goldberg’s article on rising anti-Semitism in Europe, he writes that “… the chief propagators of contemporary European anti-Semitism may be found in the Continent’s large and disenfranchised Muslim immigrant communities–communities that are themselves harassed and assaulted by hooligans associated with Europe’s surging right…” He adds that “the failure of Europe to integrate Muslim immigrants has contributed to their exploitation by anti-Semetic propagandists and by recruiters for such radical projects as the Islamic State…” (The unemployment rate among Muslims in France is higher than the rest of the population, and in some French suburbs with large minority populations, the unemployment rate, particularly among the young, is very high.  (See here and here and here.))  He notes that “in 2014, Jews in Europe were murdered, raped, beaten, stalked, chased, harassed, spat on, and insulted for being Jewish.  Sale Juif–‘dirty Jew’–rang in the streets, as did ‘Death to the Jews,’ and ‘Jews to the gas.'”

However, it should be remembered that Muslims, like any group, should not be stereotyped.  In a previous post, I quoted Philippe Legrain, author of Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them: “We should not fall into the trap of thinking that Muslims are a uniform and separate community whose identity is wholly defined by their religion, still less an inevitably hostile or violent one.” (page 304)  In addition, it appears that a contributor to Muslim anti-Semitic acts in Europe may be Muslims’ disenfranchisement and lack of integration in their host countries, as Mr. Goldberg suggests.  Mr. Legrain emphasizes that creating harmonious, ethnically diverse societies depends greatly on how citizens receive immigrants: “It’s not rocket science. Societies need to make every effort to ensure that everyone feels included and has an opportunity to participate fully in economic and social life. But they also need to accept the diversity of all their members—not just those of foreign descent—while insisting that all adhere to the fundamental principles on which they are based. The watchwords are tolerance and respect for the law. Learning the local language and how institutions work, and promoting cultural understanding are also important, without seeking to impose a uniform culture or behavioural norms.” (p. 288)  He highlights Toronto, Canada as successfully integrating its ethnically diverse population but cites France and Holland for failing to integrate its immigrants. (p. 265, pp. 272-273)

Mr. Legrain appears confident in America’s ability to integrate immigrants into society:  “Immigrants have to pledge their allegiance to the United States and sign up to the values in the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, but they don’t have to adopt any particular cultural habits, Anglo-Protestant or otherwise. Over time, each influx of immigrants changes and enriches American culture, while they adapt freely to American ways, although they may retain some of their cultural heritage.” (p. 266) Clive Crook  argues in The Atlantic that America’s economic system is more effective at integrating immigrants compared to Europe.  He writes that  “America’s harsher insistence on work is not just economically advantageous (which is self-evident) but socially beneficial as well (which some may find surprising). Jobs alone are not enough to ensure successful assimilation of immigrants, but jobs are a necessary condition. By insisting that immigrants work, the host country attacks the incumbents’ intellectual and emotional resistance to immigration. The work requirement increases the dispersed economic benefits; it reduces or eliminates the net fiscal burden; and it lowers cultural barriers.”  He notes that higher unemployment among immigrants in Europe leads to native opposition, but it must also lead to frustration among immigrants, which in turn may lead to anti-Semitic acts.  I am not excusing these acts in any way, but the analysis by Mr. Legrain and Mr. Crook suggests ways to avoid the ethnic tumult that is occurring in Europe, even with high levels of immigration.  It will be difficult to reverse the situation in Europe, but the U.S. and city of Toronto appear to be structured to have mostly harmoniously societies with open borders. (See here and here for examples of Muslims who view the U.S. as an especially tolerant place to live.)

Dean Obeidallah, who is Muslim-American, wrote last year that at a Muslim-American event, Keith Ellison, who is a Muslim congressman, was heartily cheered when he said “‘There’s absolutely no place for anti-Semitism in discussing Israeli policy.'”  Mr. Obeidallah further noted that “that reaction is not atypical in my experience” at other Muslim-American events, although he acknowledges that there is some anti-Semitism in “my own community.”  Unfortunately, a study on Muslim anti-Semitism in North America did find higher levels among Muslims than Christians.  Overall, however, it is apparent that in the U.S., as a Vox article noted, “… Muslim and Jewish communities are on much better terms” than in Europe.  There is nothing in the U.S. like the volume of anti-Semitic acts committed by Muslims in Europe.

In summary, the historical memory of Jews, particularly American Jews, plus the pro-open borders message of the Old Testament, should make many Jews receptive to the open borders message. Open borders advocates are likely to convince many Jews to support open borders by reminding them of their history and the admonitions in their Bible.  They can also note that America in particular is structured to successfully integrate large numbers of Muslims into its society, thereby likely preventing widespread anti-Semitic acts by Muslims.

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