Advocates of immigration reform occasionally feel tempted to use accusation of racism as an argumentative tactic. Most recently Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Attorney General Eric Holder, and other high ranking Democrats have suggested that the reason their Republican counterparts oppose immigration reform is due to the race of most migrants.
There is certainly a subset of open border opponents that could be classified as racists and oppose open grounds either due to a belief that migrants taint their superior race or that racial homogeneity is itself desirable and migrants pose a danger to this. Even if this is the case calling out our opponents as racists is counterproductive.
Accusing opponents of racism is a poor argumentative strategy because it antagonizes them. More importantly this strategy antagonizes those who were previously sympathetic but who identify with open border opponents. In the current immigration debate in the United States it causes pro-reform Republicans to defend their peers out of political tribalism. Open border advocates in the US are reminded that several leading Republicans support immigration reform including: the Bush family, Senator John McCain, Senator Lindsey Graham, Governor Rick Perry, and many others. Using race as an argumentative tactic could very well cost us these allies.
In an earlier post Vipul Naik discusses similar points to these and elaborates on why accusations of racism make for poor argumentation. I agree with Naik that accusing open border opponents of racism directly is poor strategy, but leading your opponent to reveal themselves as racists might be good strategy if done properly.
In argumentation one is considered to have conceded a point to their opponent if they do not attempt to refute claims made. As such, while I do not favor directly calling our opponents racist, I do not believe we should implicitly concede to them that migrants and natives are significantly different from one another culturally. A better tactic would be to emphasize that migrants aren’t significantly different from the native population and that it is the burden of our opponents to prove otherwise.
For example I personally advocate that the largest current migrant group to the United States, Hispanics, are ‘westerners’ and that the perceived differences between Hispanics and natives are smaller than they first appear. I use the term ‘westerner’ here to refer to a set of cultural pillars that are associated with Western Europe and those nations that have been influenced by the region through colonialism or other forms of prolonged cultural exchange. This includes the Americas, Australia, and certain regions of Africa and Asia such as South Africa and Japan respectively.
The United States views itself primarily as a ‘western’ nation, but what is considered ‘western’ and who is considered ‘western’ varies throughout time. There was a time when the Irish, Germans, and other Europeans weren’t seen as westerners and only Christian Anglo-Saxons from the United Kingdom and their American descendants fit the bill. Jews weren’t considered westerners even if their ancestry was firmly entrenched in the US or the United Kingdom, but today they too are considered westerners.
The definition of ‘westerner’ has since changed and will continue to change but today the major prerequisites are:
- To be associated with the Judeo-Christian faiths.
- To speak a European language.
- To support a representative government.
As I often remind friends who are skeptical about open borders, Hispanics are primarily Christian and speak a European language (Spanish, Portuguese, or English) as a native tongue. Hispanics all come from countries where republicanism is the norm. Mexico and Brazil both experimented with monarchies in their early histories, but have long since been staunch republics. The only extant monarchies in the Americas are Canada and the Anglo Caribbean. A Queen of Jamaica exists, but no Hispanic country recognizes a monarch over them.
United States popular culture prevails throughout Latin America. Fidel Castro once remarked that Mexican children knew Disney characters better than their own history. The comment offended Mexican officials but it was made with merit. No one in my extended family, most of whom were born and raised in Mexico, know that Mexico was ruled by Emperor Maximilian during the early 19th century. They can easily list Disney characters and keep up with the latest American fads though. In my family’s defense the 2010 Civics Report Card released by the US Department of Education showed that US residents weren’t that well versed in civics. Arguably this shared disdain for civics with their northern cousins is another example of how Hispanics are a western people.
Hispanics are westerners as far as religion, politics, linguistics, and popular culture are concern. I further argue that the third largest current migrant groups in the United States, Indians, are also westerners.
The Indian subcontinent was invaded and colonized extensively by European powers beginning in the 16th century. British Raj reached its peak during the 19th and 20th centuries. The Indian subcontinent was ruled by European powers for nearly half a millennium and only recently did it gain independence in the form of various polities, the largest being the Union of India. By no means should this post be taken to mean that European colonization of the Indian continent was morally right. However it cannot be denied that it changed the subcontinent and left it western character.
Politically India is the world’s largest democracy, a title that it has openly embraced. The last vestiges of India’s attachment to monarchy were severed in 1950 when a republic was proclaimed.
India today has twenty two official languages and several more with varying degrees of recognition. The working language of the Indian Union however is English with 350 million speakers, most of whom speak it as a second language. Hindi, the official language of the Union, has a larger amount of speakers at 422 million. Despite this English enjoys a preferential status as it is a neutral language that doesn’t favor any linguistic group and facilitates trade abroad.
Knowledge and use of English among Indian migrants in the US is greater still. According to the US Census’ 2012 American Community Survey approximately 80% of Indians in the US speak English ‘very well’. This is superior to the Mexican community’s 68% or Argentine’s 74%. These results shouldn’t be surprising as migrants self-select and those most likely to migrate and settle in the United States long term are those most likely to already have a deposition to become western.
The only measure by which Indians fail to qualify as westerners is in terms of religion. Arguably this is the least important qualifier as Judeo-Christianity is being challenged by secularism for dominance in the west. Linguistically English still enjoys a favorable position in India proper and among Indian migrants in the US. It is extremely doubtful that India will be trading its democracy for a new Mughal Empire anytime soon. As a matter of fact India is currently engaging in an five-week national election consisting of 814 million voters.
None of this should be misunderstood to mean that there are not differences among the world’s cultures. My point here is that we should emphasize similarities instead of differences when discussing immigration policy. As an argumentative tactic we should force our opponents to elaborate on what they mean by cultural differences and fight them for every inch. If they claim that Hispanics are different because they speak Spanish instead of English let us ask if they have similar views in regards to Germans. Germans are the United States’ largest ancestry group in no small part due to massive migration and various German languages still persist to this day, including Pennsylvania Dutch among the Amish people. If our opponents claim their concern is that Hispanics are primarily Catholics, ask them if they have similar views towards the Irish or ask them to elaborate on which sect of Christianity they believe the United States should adopt. Mormon?
It is well possible that our opponents will retort that they would have opposed both German and Irish migration. This is okay. If our opponents do this they will isolate those of German and Irish descent who might otherwise have been inclined to listen to them. Ultimately the goal of public debate is not to convince an opponent but to persuade the minds of those yet undecided or who are on the fence.
Asking an opponent to elaborate on how migrants and natives are different culturally is a good tactic when an immigration debate moves away from economics and towards culture as it causes opponents to attempt to get specific without offending natives who fail to meet the prerequisites for being considered western. In comparison calling our opponents racist ends the conversation or isolates those who might otherwise be sympathetic to open borders.
When using this tactic one should attempt to make it clear that they don’t necessarily support basing migration policy on whether a group is western or not. Co-blogger Chris Hendrix has addressed this issue previously. The purpose of this tactic is to get your opponent to expend energy on detailing on what grounds migrants are different from natives culturally and to hopefully have him isolate himself.
Finally, when using this argumentative tactic one should not forget to make the economic case for open borders. Immigration debates tend to start off discussing the economics of immigration. If the open borders advocate makes a strong economic case then the debate will move onto more abstract reasons for opposing open borders, including the above concerns of cultural differences between migrants and natives. If the debate takes this turn then using the above tactic can be useful. However if the open border advocate fails to make a compelling economic case then he should not move onto other areas. This tactic should be used to supplement, not substitute, the economic case for open borders.