Refugees, Immigration, and Citizenship


In silly mistakes today (or at least that I saw today), I would like to nominate Maclean's magazine. They surveyed a bunch of Canadians on a bunch of questions (because of Canada 150). So far, so good. The weird thing is that one of the questions was whether Canada should accept more Canadian refugees (p.13). This immediately raises 3 important questions:
  1. Are there Canadian refugees?
  2. Why would they go to Canada?
  3. Maybe they meant Syrian refugees?
As it turns out, they did mean Syrian refugees. And apparently this is a question people like to argue over. Personally, I don't care. I assume that taking in 40,000 Syrians refugees (apparently what we ended up with) means taking in 40,000 fewer refugees from somewhere else (over the long term, Canada normally takes about 25,000 refugees per year). And since they are helping the same number of people at about the same cost either way, I don't have to worry about it.

The article also claimed that (previous) immigrants were the people most opposed to refugees. I have heard this before about the U.S., so I am included to believe it. There are a few explanations on why bouncing around, and I have no idea which (if any) involved actually asking the people who are opposed. And once again, I don't really care. I am not convinced that there is really a big split in Canadian society over immigration. My guess is that, since the U.S. and a lot of Europe do have one, people want to talk about it here so we don't feel left out.

More generally, immigration issues seem to split along standard political lines these days. The Left seems in favor and the Right is opposed. Or maybe it is just that media people are labeling groups Right and Left based on what they think about immigration. The labels already mean a lot of (sometimes-incompatible) things, so I wouldn't put it past them.

One of my long-term theories about the world is that the issues that produce huge disagreements aren't new disagreements. Instead, people are already using quite different ways of understanding the world and have been for a long time. But since they arrive at the same conclusions most of the time (e.g. yes to electricity, no to plagues), most people don't really notice much. The big issues are just the rare cases whether the different ways give widely divergent answers.

The underlying disagreement here seems to be "who is us and who is them?" or, since most people are part of a lot of "us"es, "what is citizenship?". I think that the pro-immigration faction focuses on things like where you live, and pay taxes, and what laws you are under (although these people are also in favor of the laws being about the same everywhere). In contrast, the anti-immigration faction thinks that they are missing the key point, which is that they are being asked to accept the immigrants as full members of the tribe. You could say this is diversity vs. uniformity, but I think it is deeper.

I came across something a while ago (in the Economist) that illustrates this quite well. Someone had done a study (I think on the U.S.) about the effect that immigration has on jobs. The conclusion was that immigrants don't take jobs from natives, but they do take them from earlier immigrants. The implied meaning was that the "immigrants steal our jobs" argument was invalid. Then someone wrote in a letter arguing that, since the earlier immigrants were now citizens, they had just as much right to government job protection as anyone else. I think that that's the core of the problem: what does it mean to be "us"?

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