Canadian federalism applied to immigration

Bloomberg has an interesting piece today arguing that Canada shows the US a way forward on immigration policy: states should be allowed to sponsor any immigrant they like. Obviously there are reasonable bounds: the Canadian federal government performs basic health and criminal background checks on prospective immigrants. But beyond that, any province of Canada can invite anyone it likes to settle in it, up to a federally-determined quota.

The appeal of this is that states which don’t want immigrants don’t have to use their quotas. An interesting question is whether immigrants might settle in another state and later on internally migrate to more restrictive states, and the piece doesn’t address this. But given that people tend not to want to immigrate to areas that demonstrate they don’t welcome immigrants, I see no reason to believe this would be a major problem.

The other main point made is that this presents a tidy solution to the problem of determining how to handle skilled versus unskilled labour: there are no guest worker visas, and rather each province invites immigrants based on its own needs. In the US case, I take this to mean that New York would probably invite plenty of high-skilled finance workers, while Idaho might invite potato farmers.

A problem I see with this is that this doesn’t consider the fact that “guest worker” situations might apply reasonably well to some people. It’s quite common to want to work in another country for a few years, without actually desiring to settle there. One could just as easily make provision for states to sponsor easily-renewable work visas, in addition to regular immigrant visas.

In spite of this, it seems to me that Canada is on the right track: giving provinces a stake in immigration policy gives their governments additional levers to pull to support their economic and social progress. While the federal model may not work for all countries, those organised under a federal system of government should at least consider adoption of the Canadian model of state-sponsored immigration.

“No Irish need apply”

First, this post is not anti-Irish. I’m not Irish, at all, but I attended Notre Dame (the “Fighting Irish”), and I lived in Scotland for a while when I was 16 and love Scottish music, and maybe even more, Irish music. There was an Irish band called Colcannon my family and I used to listen to when I was a kid. I like to sing Irish songs like “The Fields of Athenry,” “Raglan Road,” “The Patriot Game,” “The Sally Gardens,” and “There’s Whiskey in the Jar.” In 2008, I went to a St. Patrick’s Day parade in Lousiville, Kentucky, and rode one of the floats singing and playing guitar in the rain, to cheering crowds. More generally, Americans nowadays have a soft spot for the Irish. St. Patrick’s Day, Ireland’s national holiday, is now more or less recognized as an American holiday too. I think John Kerry tried to pretend at one point to be Irish, and Joe Biden joked that his running mate was “O’Bama”– the point is not to mock politicians, but that there was a perception that Irishness is an electoral asset. Two of the most popular presidents in US history, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, were of Irish ancestry. Everyone now more or less sees Irish immigration as a success story that America can rejoice and take pride in.

But it wasn’t always thus, and part of the folklore I grew up with is that back in the bad old days, there used to be prejudice against the Irish, with employment advertisements sometimes saying “No Irish need apply.” There’s a song about it. You can listen to it here, it’s fun. Lyrics:

No Irish Need Apply

I’m a decent boy just landed
From the town of Ballyfad
I want a situation,
And want it very bad
I have seen employment advertised
It’s just the thing” says I
But the dirty spalpeen ended with
No Irish Need Apply’ “
“Whoa,” says I, “that’s an insult
But to get the job I’ll try”
So I went to see the blackguard
With his “No Irish Need Apply”
Some do count it a misfortune
 To be christened Pat or Dan
But to me it is an honor
To be born an Irishman
I started out to find the place,
I got it mighty soon
There I found the old chap seated
He was reading the Tribune
I told him what I came for
When he in a rage did fly
“No!” he says, “You are a Paddy
And no Irish need apply”
Then I gets my dander rising
And I’d like to black his eye,
But I cooled it down and asked him why
No Irish Need Apply
Some do think it a misfortune
To be christened Pat or Dan
But to me it is an honor
To be born an Irishman.
And says I to hime your ancesters
 came over here like me,
To try and make a living
in this land of liberty
They were greeted here with dignity
And thought to reep and sow,
By the Indians who owned this land
They didn’t tell you no,
But I’ll get a job in spite of you
For I’m willing heart in hand,
Thank God there’s better men than you
All over this great land.
Some do think it a misfortune
To be christened Pat or Dan
But to me it is an honor
To be born an Irishman.
And they say that in America
It always is the plan
That an Irishman is just as good
As any other man,
A home and hospitality
They never will deny
To strangers here forever say
No Irish need apply,
But there’s some bad apples everywhere
A dirty lot says I,
And a decent man may never write
No Irish need apply.
Some do think it a misfortune
To be christened Pat or Dan
But to me it is an honor
To be born an Irishman.

The whole song is a splendid libertarian parable. The immigrant comes seeking work. He faces discrimination: “No Irish need apply.” No one doubts his right to come. No one doubts the employer’s legal right to discriminate, but the narrator thinks it’s morally offensive to discriminate. He goes to meet the employer, and while he doesn’t get the job, he gives him his moral comeuppance by expressing his contempt, appealing by the way to the Pilgrims as a precedent, as I did in my last post. In spite of his disappointment and the temporary setback, he’s confident that he’ll get a job, since he’s confident that only some employers discriminate against the Irish. One of the lessons of the economics of discrimination is that it shouldn’t matter much if a few people discriminate, as long as many others don’t. Continue reading ““No Irish need apply”” »

Aviva Chomsky on open borders: weak on economics, stronger on politics and history

I recently finished reading Aviva Chomsky’s They Take Our Jobs: And 20 Other Myths About Immigration (Amazon ebook). Like co-blogger Vipul, I did not find the book on the whole convincing. Chomsky’s grasp of economics is questionable at best, and her suggestion that poor countries became or remain poor primarily because of oppression from the rich world may be true in some cases, but is likely not a good general principle of development economics. She also unwittingly trivialises the place premium by accepting the mistaken belief that the only thing keeping firms in developed countries from paying their employees developing world salaries are things like minimum wage laws. In spite of this, I would actually recommend Chomsky’s book to the critical reader with an open mind: her grasp of economics may be weak, but her social and political history is on stronger footing — and the political arguments she makes from historical backing are worth considering.

One of the important issues Chomsky raises is the question of suffrage and enfranchisement. She notes that historically in the US, non-citizens have been entitled to vote, and this generally held true until the advent of closed borders in the early 20th century. She does not dive into this in detail, but it’s also noteworthy that this remains true in some countries today. Citizens of the Commonwealth (such as myself, by virtue of my Malaysian citizenship) are entitled to vote and sometimes even stand for elections in the UK and in a number of other Commonwealth countries, provided we meet certain relatively loose residency requirements (I know plenty of Malaysians who voted in the UK simply because they were studying there).

Chomsky argues that immigrants should of right be entitled to the vote, because in a democratic society anyone who enjoys the rights and responsibilities of residence should also enjoy the rights and responsibilities of the ballot. If you are a stakeholder in the policies of your community, it seems foolish to disenfranchise you because you happened to have been born elsewhere. I can see the appeal of this argument, even though it is not one that I would necessarily embrace.

Unlike Chomsky, I don’t place a huge priority on voting rights for immigrants. It seems to me that each society should be entitled to decide who should be able to vote, and it’s up to the US, as well as its individual states and localities, to decide which foreigners, if any, should be entitled to vote. A political right is not a fundamental human right. I accept Chomsky’s argument that we should not arbitrarily tie the vote to citizenship, but it doesn’t seem to me that the disenfranchisement of non-citizens is even close to being the worst thing in the world. It isn’t hard to see why even a liberal-minded person would be skeptical of allowing anyone from anywhere to vote in their jurisdiction (though I suspect most attempts to use immigration policy to address this are trying to tackle the problem with a very blunt instrument).

I do think it is harmful to perpetuate the disenfranchisement of non-citizens who indicate a strong commitment to their adopted society. One can demonstrate this commitment in many ways; military service, lengthy residence, marrying a citizen. It would seem arbitrary and unjust to me to declare that because you happened to be born a non-citizen, you can never aspire to become a citizen. Immigrants should be able to expect greater political rights as they integrate into their adopted societies. But again, though I would place great importance on there being a path to citizenship, it is not the most important thing.

Where I think there is a higher bar, and where societies need to be absolutely transparent in how they decide their rules, is the simple act of immigration. Morally, a society is more or less entitled to decide in any arbitrary way it wants who gets to vote in its elections. But morally, a society is not entitled to decide in any arbitrary way who gets to be with their family, and who doesn’t. It is not entitled to decide in any arbitrary way who gets to seek gainful employment, and who doesn’t. It is free to restrict these rights, but it needs to explain itself when it does so.

The other interesting point which Chomsky brings up is the importance of equal protection under the law for immigrants. A recurring theme is how whether explicitly or implicitly, US law has denied non-citizen workers certain rights which citizen workers take for granted. In many cases, because the immigrant workers are unlawfully present, their employers refuse to pay them the legal minimum wage or offer them other forms of compensation (e.g. safety equipment, etc.) which citizens might expect. Immigrant workers are also often limited in their “exit options” — either they keep working with their current employer, or they go home. This is often true not only of illegal immigrants, but legal ones as well: most US work permits, including the H-1B visa for professionals, link immigrants to specific employers, and have a lengthy process (if there is one at all) for the immigrant to change their employer.

Chomsky and other leftists deplore this as yet another instance of the capitalist class oppressing the weak and needy, but one does not need to be an all-out Marxist to see the injustice in this situation. One very understandable fear many activists have when it comes to keyhole solutions such as guest worker programmes is that by tying immigration status to a specific employer, a country would effectively legalise indentured labour. I think most open borders advocates would agree: we cannot meaningfully call an immigration policy one of “open borders” if it really is “you can cross the border, only as long as you work for this specific employer”. That may be an improvement on the status quo, but that speaks more to the foolishness of the immigration policy status quo than anything else.

The other points Chomsky makes are interesting, but certainly open to question. A major pitfall of the book is that although its primary focus is immigration, a secondary focus seems to be attacking almost any non-leftist political ideology. Chomsky is prone to digress into tangential topics which aren’t totally relevant to the subject at hand, and the connections she draws seem tenuous at best. She is strongest when she discusses the sordid history of immigration law in the US, and explicitly articulates the reason for attacking specific policies; even if I disagree with her, I can understand where she is coming from and why her views are important. For this reason, I would recommend Chomsky’s book to the interested reader, subject to qualifications I’ve discussed here.

Addendum: I am currently reading Teresa Hayter’s Open Borders: The Case Against Immigration Controls, which makes arguments similar to Chomsky’s from a left-liberal British standpoint, but with a much tighter focus on immigration — especially on the issue of refugees. I intend to review Hayter’s book as well when I am finished with it.

In defense of the Pilgrims

By what right did 100 English Puritans, remembered as “the Pilgrims,” arrive at Cape Cod late in the year in 1620 and establish a new settlement called Plymouth Plantation? None was needed. Or if you prefer, by the right over the earth which God granted to all mankind when He told Adam and Eve:

Be fruitful and multiply: fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of heaven, and over every living thing that moves on the earth… Behold, I have given you every seed-bearing herb that sows seed on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. I also give every green plant as food for all the wild animals of the earth, for all the birds of heaven, and for everything that creeps on the earth in which is the breath of life. (Genesis 1:28-30)

The Pilgrims came to North America, not with the intention to harm anyone or to take the fruit of anyone else’s labor, but rather, to provide for their own sustenance through their own labor, and to practice their religion in peace. They had no authorization from the English king to settle in New England. They did have authorization from the English king to settle in Virginia, which had been carefully procured through their contacts in the Virginia Company. It seems clear, however, that they had few scruples about acquiring such authorization, regarding it rather as a guarantee that the monarch wouldn’t physically destroy any settlement they might establish. They had considered settling in Guyana, and ruled it out partly because the Spanish would likely destroy such a colony militarily, especially if it flourished. They had no authorization from the native Americans to settle. That is not because they regarded the natives as inherently inferior or as lacking human rights, as a certain detail in William Bradford’ history Of Plymouth Plantation makes especially clear. Having just reached Cape Cod, late in the year and short of supplies, at one point the Pilgrims took some food from the Indians after these had run away in fear:

After this, the shallop [a light sail-boat] being got ready, they set out again for the better discovery of this place, and the master of the ship desired to go himself, so there went some 30. men, but found it to be no harbor for ships but only for boats; there was also found two of their houses covered with mats, and sundry of their implements in them, but the people were run away and could not be seen; also there was found more of their corn, and of their beans of various colors. The corn and beans they brought away, purposing to give them full satisfaction when they should meet with any of them (as about some six months afterward they did, to their good content). And here is to be noted a special providence of God, and a great mercy to this poor people, that hear they got seed to plant them corn the next year, or else they might have starved, for they had none, nor any likelihood to get any till the season had been past (as the sequel did manifest). Neither is it likely they had had this, if the first voyage had not been made, for the ground was now all covered with snow, and hard frozen. But the Lord is never wanting to his in their greatest needs; let his holy name have all the praise.

In short, they stole.

About the later end of this month, one John Billington lost himself in the woods, and wandered up and down some five days, living on berries and what he could find. At length he lit on an Indian plantation, twenty miles south of this place, called Manamet, they conveyed him further off, to Nawsett, among those people that had before set upon the English when they were coasting, whilst the ship lay at the Cape, as is before noted. But the Governor caused him to be inquired for among the Indians, and at length Massassoyt sent word where he was, and the Governor sent a shallop for him, and had him delivered. Those people also came and made their peace; and they [the Pilgrims] gave full satisfaction to those whose corn they had found and taken when they were at Cape Cod.

Clearly, the Pilgrims did not regard their moral rules as applying only among themselves. They didn’t feel too guilty of a theft of food that they desperately needed, rather thanking God for the opportunity. But they were determined to repay it, and they did so. Indians and whites alike were men, and had the rights of men. The Pilgrims came neither to enslave, nor to dispossess. They did not initiate violence, and though heavily armed and not afraid to use force in a just cause, they sought a path of peace amidst the endemic warfare of the Indian tribes. They were not particularly resentful when the Indians did resort to violence, for they held themselves to a higher moral standard than they expected of the Indians, having benefited from the light of the Gospel, as the Indians had not. They were not violating the rights of the native Americans of those times by settling among them, just as undocumented immigrants today are not violating the rights of native Americans today by settling among us. Human rights consist in the safety of one’s person and property. Against this, one might suppose that there is some sort of a collective right over a slab of territory, which is controlled by the “sovereign” government or the majority or whatever, such that unauthorized immigrants like the Pilgrims or Mexican fruit-pickers are violating. But there isn’t. That’s why the Pilgrims did nothing wrong, and why it’s quite right that Americans continue to take pride in them and celebrate them.

If you accept this, you can accept the story of the First Thanksgiving in the proper spirit: as a sort of national epic for America, a great and heroic adventure leading to the founding of a nation, with this distinction from most other national epics: that it is (a) true, and (b) peaceful. It is a story of great faith and courage, but also of humility. Its heroes are common men. They take no credit but give it to God. It began with some rural Englishmen who took it upon themselves to be more devout than was fashionable at the time. They wanted to restore pristine Christianity. They began to assemble in certain congregations, and to be persecuted. Having heard that there was religious freedom in Holland, they resolved to emigrate. It is interesting to compare their twelve years’ sojourn in Holland with their arrival in America. From Bradford’s account, they seem to have asked no one’s leave to settle there, nor to encountered any hindrance to so doing. Bradford does not specially remark that Holland had open borders. It suffices to say that Holland was a “civil [civilized] country.” The Puritans had fears about moving to Holland: Continue reading “In defense of the Pilgrims” »

Thankful for Immigration

Here in the United States it’s Thanksgiving. When the Pilgrims celebrated their first Thanksgiving (not the actual first Thanksgiving in North America, the Spanish beat the Pilgrims in that by over 20 years), they were being thankful for their move to a new land (despite its numerous hardships). Furthermore, it was a celebration attended by immigrants and natives alike (the problem of later conflicts between the two groups I’ve discussed previously).

As is traditional, I’ll be taking the chance to be thankful for a few things enabled by immigration.

– I’m thankful that the early United States maintained open immigration so that my own ancestors could move here.

– I’m thankful for immigrants who come to this country and help strike blows for individual liberty.

– I’m thankful for immigrants who pick the foods I’m about to devour.

– I’m thankful for non-Americans crossing the borders of the United States, who give me the chance to blog about important issues.

– I’m thankful for the immigrants who start search engines that let me get all these neat links.

– And finally, I’m thankful for the internet that allows dialog and communication across the world as if there were no borders at all.

Happy Thanksgiving everybody!