Tag Archives: assimilation

How Did We Get Here? The Origins of Immigration Restrictions: The Chinese Exclusion Act

As promised, here is the start of my historical examination of immigration rule changes, and we begin with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. For those interested in the text of the act itself it can be found here.

For a little background, the first restriction on immigration to the US was actually the Page Act of 1875. This act too focused on Asian immigrants attempting to limit people being brought over for forced labor or prostitution. In practice that latter provision was a significant limiting factor on Chinese women coming to the United States, less because of most emigrating Chinese women actually being prostitutes than officials being overly skeptical towards claims of virtue. This association of the Chinese with crime was one of the major arguments used by anti-Chinese restrictionists in the years leading up to the exclusion act’s passage and parallels modern arguments about immigrant criminality. To explore this (and other major restrictionist arguments) the internet has made easily accessible wonderful resources such as arguments made before the California State Senate (the state with the highest Chinese population) by State Senator Creed Haymond. On page 4 he argues:

The State of California has a population variously estimated at from seven hundred thousand to eight hundred thousand, of which one hundred twenty-five thousand are Chinese…The evidence demonstrates beyond cavil that nearly the entire immigration comes from the lowest orders of the Chinese people, and mainly those having no homes or occupations on the land, but living on boats on the rivers, especially those in the vicinity of Canton.

This class of the people, according to the castes into which Chinese society is divided, are virtually pariahs—the dregs of the population. None of them are  admitted into any of the privileges of the orders ranking above them. And while rudimentary education is encouraged, and even enforced among the masses of the people, the fishermen and those living on the waters and harbors of China are excluded by the rigid and hoary constitutions of caster from participation in such advantages.

It would seem to be a necessary consequence, flowing from this class of immigration, that a large proportion of criminals should be found among it; and this deduction is abundantly sustained by the facts before us, for of five hundred and forty-five of the foreign criminals in our State Prison, one hundred and ninety-eight are Chinese—nearly two-fifths of the whole—while our jails and reformatories swarm with the lower grade of malefactors.

(Emphasis mine).

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Zen and the Art of Opening Borders

One of the biggest challenges in trying to present the case for open borders to those who don’t agree is choosing the right mix of logic, evidence, and appeal to emotion. When people talk about the moral case for open borders, it often seems that what they are referring to is moral logic. That is, they are discussing the logical consequences of certain moral propositions.

In my experience, people are usually not convinced by logic. While they might tend to agree with a statement like “we should not discriminate based on arbitrary factors over which people have no control”, if you extend that principle to conclude that they should afford non-citizens the exact same treatment as citizens they will feel trapped by the logic and seek to find a way out. The logic didn’t address all of their concerns, so it feels like a trick.

However, I do think logic plays a major role in understanding how people feel, and in trying to frame arguments in a way that will make sense to them. With that in mind, here is my candidate for an argument in favor of open borders that attempts to balance these concerns:

Proposition 1: As Americans (or citizens of another wealthy western nation) we benefit from a valuable cultural and institutional heritage.

Proposition 2: We have a duty both to protect this heritage and to share it with as many people as we can.

Proposition 3: One of the most best ways to share our heritage with others is to allow them to live and work within our national borders.

This line of argument explicitly acknowledges the importance national identity. Most Americans identify as Americans, and they think that means something special. I agree.

It also acknowledges that we have a duty to protect our heritage. This means that we need to take seriously the question of whether allowing too many immigrants into the country will undermine what makes the country special. It is okay to admit that at some point, enough unrestricted immigration can have negative consequences. I personally think that the optimal level is probably an order of magnitude or so higher than what we currently have, but trying to protect our national culture and institutions is a legitimate concern.

Finally, the argument puts open borders in a category of other useful things that we can do to share our heritage that a lot of other people agree with, such as providing support for emerging democracies and encouraging forms of economic integration that allow people from poor countries to participate in our economy without moving here. (I am a big fan of the web based work sourcing site Odesk. Look it up if you haven’t heard of it.)

What this argument does not do is try to gain a lot of ground by reasoning about whether we have a right to close our borders, or whether closing them should be considered refusing to help or actively doing harm.  These are interesting philosophical questions, but I don’t think they are effective for making public arguments.

The three propositions are quite general, and there are many details to be specified. For example, what exactly is it about our heritage that is so valuable? In some cases we can measure the impact of institutional differences. For example, there is evidence that countries with a legal system that developed based on English common law experience faster economic growth. Other aspects of our culture are not so easily quantified. How valuable is the widespread expectation that the government will not censor the media?

Another important question is once we accept that we need to protect our national heritage what is the best way to do it? Does it require limiting the number of immigrants to a certain quota? If every citizen were instantly replaced by someone from a different cultural background, our heritage would probably be lost. But this is not really how immigration works. When large numbers of immigrants enter the country it takes time before they begin to occupy the most culturally influential positions in society. That is, our judges, journalists, teachers, congressmen, and artists would be largely the same until the new groups began to assimilate

So I personally don’t think  a quota would be necessary if we implemented some of the keyhole solutions discussed here. A student of mine whose family entered the country illegally from Mexico claims that a good coyote can cost up to $25,000 per head these days (Although the average cost is probably much lower). Charging each immigrant a one time fee of $10,000-$20,000 would spare them the risks associated with crossing illegally and mitigate any strain strain they place on the education and welfare systems. It would also create a more flexible constraint on the number of immigrants that enter the country.

These propositions are not meant to specify a certain policy , but rather as a rhetorical framework for discussing the issues. They are meant as a way to put the arguments for open borders in language that makes more sense to people outside the open borders community. I would be very interested to know whether other advocates of open borders find them acceptable.

Immigration restrictions and casual moral assumptions

David Goodhart, a British writer and thinker, has some interesting thoughts on the interplay between immigration, multiculturalism, and policy. I think he does a great job of pointing out some problems with traditional approaches to multiculturalism, and how the left is often too blithe about the problems that living in a plural society can create. However, early on in the interview, he makes some comments that I find questionable. The first is where he quite rightly calls out immigration liberals for making unrealistic assumptions:

In a nutshell, what is the historical context of today’s multicultural Britain?

Britain had an open door policy from 1948 to 1962, when anybody from the empire or Commonwealth could come and live in Britain. That is essentially saying to some 600 million people around the world, most of them from the working classes or the peasantry, that there are no restrictions on their entry. Which was a magnificent idea, but also a bit of a disaster. Those who framed the legislation thought that no-one would come, but they did – half a million came between ’48 and ’62, albeit a small number compared to today’s figure.

Which is over half a million during the last year alone.

Yes, in terms of inflow – although there is also quite a bit of outflow. We had a parallel situation two generations later in the early 2000s, with Eastern Europeans coming to Britain from the EU. Only 15,000 were meant to come, but in reality a much larger number did.

Yes, the liberals were wrong in their estimates of how many would come. But how wrong were they about the harmful impacts of immigration? Did the UK economy collapse because hundreds of thousands instead of tens of thousands came under the EU’s open borders? This is an obvious question, but it’s left undiscussed. The casual assumption is that lots of immigrants are obviously harmful, and the interviewer does not challenge this. Goodhart explains in theoretical terms why he believes they are harmful, citing Robert Putnam’s work on social capital, but he never points to concrete instances of harm from European immigration, nor does he explain a clear causal mechanism for how lower immigrant inflows would have facilitated assimilation.

Moreover, it’s taken for granted that Putnam’s research (assuming it is correct in finding that diversity has undermined social capital in the US) is easily generalisable to other contexts. Abdolmodhammad Kazemipur attempted to reproduce Putnam’s research in Canada, and actually found the opposite: Canadian communities with greater diversity have more social capital than their homogeneous counterparts.

Goodhart makes an interesting point that historically, Britain has pursued a “light touch” when it comes to integrating non-British into its society, citing its approach to colonial governance. I’m not sure how true this is, however: in past centuries the UK had little trouble integrating Huguenot refugees or other European immigrants, even though they initially formed ethnic enclaves of their own. Goodhart makes a fair point that UK policymakers did in fact make some false assumptions about assimilation in the era of Commonwealth open borders: to my knowledge, it is true that contemporarily many people erroneously assumed the working class Briton would embrace his Commonwealth peers from Asia and the Caribbean. Stories abound of Caribbean immigrants entering the UK only to be astonished to find that although they considered themselves British, the Britons did not think the same.

Once we’ve breezily assumed that immigration must by definition reduce social capital, and assumed that this reduction in social capital outweighs all the relevant benefits of immigration (Goodhart does not clearly spell out how he is performing this cost-benefit analysis), the obvious conclusion is to reduce immigration levels:

What is to be done?

I think levels of immigration must be reduced. I certainly favour a cap, although it’s a little arbitrary and difficult to manage. But we also need to relearn how to encourage people to join in. We need to develop better ideas of integration and of what it is to be a British citizen, particularly in areas with high immigration settlement like Tower Hamlets in London, dominated by Bangladeshis, or Bradford in Yorkshire dominated by Pakistanis.

Britain has not set up patterns of residence, schooling and employment that make it easy for people to join in. Certain groups that have the cultural resilience do join in and often flourish, even if they often remain residentially segregated. But other groups tend to live separately in all areas of life, and have reproduced many of the institutions of their home country in England.

If the problem is with integration policy, why not fix integration policy? Arbitrarily forcing people to stay out of the UK is by definition incredibly harmful to all these immigrants, as any exercise of government coercive force would be. As Goodhart concedes, it is also incredibly difficult to implement. I find it particularly galling that Goodhart so breezily assumes away the problems of coercion and arbitrariness in capping immigration that he feels he should spend most of his time dwelling on integration policy instead. If immigration liberals have been too blithe in their assumptions about assimilation or quantifying immigration, this shows incredible blitheness about the injustice and difficulties involved with arbitrarily restricting immigration.

I link to this interview because I think Goodhart has interesting ideas about the challenges of integrating immigrants into British society. Many of his recommendations seem sensible. But I find it interesting that an otherwise sensible person makes so many blithe assumptions of his own about the impact of immigration, and casually embraces arbitrary use of government force against prospective immigrants. The most dangerous assumptions tend to be the ones we don’t even realise we are making.

The cartoon featured in the header of this post dates to 1899, and depicts a Chinese man who has murdered a white woman. The original caption reads: “The Yellow Terror in all his glory.”

Open borders encourages assimilation: a lesson from the EU?

The Economist recently ran an interesting story on intra-EU migration. Relative to Greece and Spain, Germany has an economy chugging along well. Peripheral immigration to Germany is growing, which was the whole point of the common labour market in the first place. But though visas may no longer be an issue, language remains a challenge. So prospective immigrants are adapting:

When the euro crisis began, the branches in southern Europe of the Goethe Institute, the German equivalent of the British Council, were overwhelmed by demand for German courses, says Heike Uhlig, the institute’s director of language programmes. That demand was also different, she adds: less about yearning to read Goethe’s “Faust” than about finding work. So the institute retooled, offering courses geared to the technical German used by engineers, nurses or doctors.

Britain, thanks to English, has an advantage in the competition for foreign talent, which big German firms try to minimise by accepting English as their working language. But many of the job openings in Germany are to be found in medium-sized and private Mittelstand firms, often in remote places, where speaking German is still a must. That’s why Mr Gómez is advising his friends back home in Spain to bone up on the language and then “leave, get out”.

The common labour market is actually encouraging pre-assimilation, because of the incentive it provides for workers to learn the languages of thriving economies. If people have to cross borders unlawfully in times of economic crisis, it is harder for them to command a wage that corresponds to their productivity, since they must work under the table. Consequently, they have less reason to invest in pre-assimilation, or assimilation itself: the marginal return to investing in learning the language is not going to be great, especially if you’re going there to be a janitor instead of a technician, and especially if there’s little reasonable chance of moving up the career ladder.

If immigrants can cross in the full light of day, they have more reason to expect a better career trajectory in their new country. How far they can go will depend more on how much they invest in their careers; they aren’t arbitrarily circumscribed by immigration restrictions. They will have more reason to learn their new country’s language, more reason to try and fit into the new working culture. It is difficult to tell under a closed-borders regime how prospective immigrants would approach assimilation under true open borders (as opposed to more economically distortionary schemes, such as those specifically targeting open borders for refugees or open borders for citizens’ relatives). But the early read from the EU may have lessons for us here.

Deportation, assimilation, and Piers Morgan

I recently came to learn about a petition to the White House to deport UK citizen Piers Morgan from the United States. The petition has been the subject of news articles on BBC (UK), Business Insider (US) and has even earned a mention on Piers Morgan’s Wikipedia page (permalink to current version of page).

In case you’re wondering what this is about, Piers Morgan is a UK citizen currently working in the United States for CNN (a news network). On a show that he hosted, he made some disparaging and deprecatory comments about gun rights. The petition argues that these comments constitute an attack on the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution and that Morgan should be deported for this hostile action. Here’s the full text of the petition:

British Citizen and CNN television host Piers Morgan is engaged in a hostile attack against the U.S. Constitution by targeting the Second Amendment. We demand that Mr. Morgan be deported immediately for his effort to undermine the Bill of Rights and for exploiting his position as a national network television host to stage attacks against the rights of American citizens.

Although some might dismiss the petition as a mere publicity stunt, I think it’s illustrative of a number of things related to immigration and restrictionist concerns about immigrants’ failure to assimilate. The stereotype of the “failed to assimilate” immigrant in the minds of many is an unskilled worker who doesn’t know English and doesn’t have the right skin color. Even VDARE, which tends to oppose immigration in all shapes and forms, can be sympathetic to the plight of English-speaking immigrants from the UK who are pursuing higher education — Lauren Bell is a case in point.

But the deportation petition for Piers Morgan, a person who meets all the outward criteria for assimilation — English-speaking, well-educated (with a college degree according to Wikipedia), high-skilled, high-earning, and looks just like an ordinary American (in terms of skin complexion) — reveals that concerns about assimilation and the foreignness of immigrants are more than just skin deep. Despite the outward markers of assimilation, Morgan’s hostility to the American tradition of the Second Amendment is reason enough for him to be deported, the First Amendment notwithstanding.

To see this, consider what would happen if a US citizen (of any race or ethnicity) had made statements similar to those that Morgan did. Morgan’s opponents would likely have called for his employer to fire him, for advertisers and viewers to boycott his shows, or even for people to flood CNN with angry letters against Morgan. But one thing they wouldn’t have suggested was deportation. And, in fact, there are lots of US citizens who have expressed sentiments similar to Morgan. Angry denunciations of gun rights in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting have been quite common.

Despite the fact that most Americans’ commitment to free speech is largely lip service (see the State of the First Amendment surveys and judge for yourself), it is still true that Americans, generally speaking, accept (resignedly) that their opponents, however abominable these opponents may seem, have legal rights to free speech and the only legitimate tools to counter them are by peacefully urging their employers, advertisers, supporters, and viewers to not give them a platform — i.e., by more speech, and by the exercise of the rights of association and exclusion. When it comes to foreigners, however, disagreement is a sign of failure of assimilation and of not being fit to live in the country, and there is a tool to deal with dissident foreigners that would never be used to deal with equally obnoxious citizens — government coercion in the form of forced deportation.

PS: For those wondering whether constitutional protections such as the First Amendment apply only to citizens, the answer is that these protections apply to all people in the territory of the United States. Here’s a quote from a paper discussing the issue (quote from Page 370, HT: Chris):

The Constitution does distinguish in some respects between the rights of citizens and noncitizens: the right not to be discriminatorily denied the vote and the right to run for federal elective office are expressly restricted to citizens. All other rights, however, are written without such a limitation. The Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment due process and equal protection guarantees extend to all “persons.” The rights attaching to criminal trials,including the right to a public trial, a trial by jury, the assistance of a lawyer, and the right to confront adverse witnesses, all apply to “the accused.” And both the First Amendment’s protections of political and religious freedoms and the Fourth Amendment’s protection of privacy and liberty apply to “the people.” [emphasis mine]

PS2: Anti-immigration site VDARE has a piece by Washington Watcher on Piers Morgan titled Deport Piers Morgan—Along With About 8 Million Hispanic Immigrants?

PS3: I forgot to mention this in the main post, but I’ve written previously about the morality of viewpoint-based immigration restrictions in a blog post titled free speech absolutism versus viewpoint-based immigration restrictions.

PS4: A legal expert offers an opinion, saying that Piers Morgan’s remarks cannot be used to deport him as per US law.