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The Immigration Debate

Entry 1779, on 2016-03-22 at 10:13:14 (Rating 3, Politics)

Should the freedom to move be a basic human right? By "moving" in this case I mean the ability to live in any country of the person's choice. Of course, this issue has become prominent recently because of the Syrian refugee crisis. Should those refugees have the right to move to another country when they want to?

That right has gone through various phases in the past. At some points the US, for example, has had almost no restrictions on immigration but currently has fairly strong regulations - and those could get more severe still if Donald Trump becomes president!

National borders are largely arbitrary and which country a person is born in is not a choice that person voluntarily makes. So should any person have the option to live where they want?

Well, a case could be made both ways, and it's very unclear what is the morally correct position. In most cases it is to the benefit of the person who wants to move so I will just accept that and look at the affects on the country the person is moving to.

Different countries have different values and that affects the standard of living of that country's people. But it works the other way too: people to some extent determine the politics, economics, and society of their country. So people moving from a country which has failed might take some of the factors causing that failure to their new home.

But immigration undoubtedly (as shown by both common sense and empirical research) has a positive impact too. It brings new people with new ideas into a society which might become somewhat unoriginal otherwise.

Let's have a look at some examples...

Two recent atrocities can be traced to immigrants. Abdelhamid Abaaoud participated in the Paris terror attacks and was also involved in other terrorist activities. He was born in Brussels but his father emigrated to Belgium from Morocco in 1975. The San Bernadino shootings were carried out by Tashfeen Malik who was born in Pakistan and lived most of her life in Saudi Arabia, and Rizwan Farook who was born in Chicago but whose parents had immigrated from Pakistan.

Tighter immigration policies might have prevented these two horrible attacks which have a clear association with Islamic extremism. It is far less likely that a non-immigrant who hadn't been subject to the same social-religious conditioning would have carried out an action of that sort.

But then there are the counter-examples. Andrew Grove was born in a Jewish family in Budapest, Hungary and escaped the Nazis in World War II. He made his way to the United States in 1957 where he eventually became CEO of Intel, the world's biggest manufacturer of semiconductors and of the CPUs that most common computers use.

In fact, in the US 40% of Fortune 500 companies were founded by migrants or their children.

Despite the clear advantages of immigration it seems that having a completely open policy is no longer viable. There are too many people (mainly Islamic extremists) who would make that situation untenable even if the majority of immigrants do not have violent and anti-social tendencies.

And there is one other point I want to mention that I haven't seen widely discussed elsewhere. That is about a country protecting its distinctive communities and social value systems by maintaining traditional principles and moral codes (wow, I sound like some sort of Christian conservative there).

If there is unfettered immigration in every country it seems likely that the distinctive, individual characters of countries will be gradually replaced with a sort of global mediocrity. For example, if one country has little religious basis to its laws but another bases its laws around religious principles then that gives human civilisation as a whole some divergence.

One or the other might turn out to be more appropriate in the future but at least the variation exists. If ideas migrate across borders we might end up with the same basic structures everywhere. Not only might that not be good for adapting to future situations but it is also rather boring.

So yes, this seems to be a difficult issue to reach a conclusion on. The first response that most people who are basically liberal (like myself) have is to allow all immigration (including refugees), but I really don't think anyone would want that if they really thought about it.

Maybe the current piecemeal and inconsistent laws are the best we can really do. And if that means there are far more immigrants and refugees than can be accepted using those laws then that is just unfortunate. Maybe fixing the problems in Syria should be a higher priority for the international community rather than trying to disguise the problem by accepting all the refugees.

One thing's for sure: the immigration debate won't be resolved any time soon.


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