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Immigration: A conversation over the rights and responsibilities of those immigrating and the countries they migrate to

The following conversation was based off the guiding question: What are the real debates surrounding immigration in an increasingly globalized world?, as inspired by historian and professor Yuval Harari's book "21 Lessons for the 21st Century". 


The excerpt pertaining to this topic from this book can be found here: The terms that will be focused on for this virtual dialogue are as follows: 

Term 1: The host country allows the immigrants in.

Term 2: In return, the immigrants must embrace at least the core norms and values of the host country, even if that means giving up some of their traditional norms and values.

Our participants expressed their opinion on the above terms over a series of weeks and explained why they agree or disagree with the statements. I, as moderator, interjected with some guiding questions as well as attempts to help maintain civil communication. The result was certainly a substantive conversation well worth the read! I would like to take a moment here to thank you both debaters for their time and patience in participating in this debate.

For some brief introductions:

Daniel Mollenkamp, who has debated on Citizen Jane before, is an independent journalist who has filed reports from three continents. He has focused on East Africa and North American markets, in particular, and has worked in a variety of newsroom and online settings. He is on the board of Abukloi, a secondary school in South Sudan. He holds a BA in government from the College of William and Mary.

Eric Blair, who has chosen to use a pseudonym, describes himself as someone who likes to travel and explore in an attempt to observe and understand the circumstances that shape public opinion and political outcomes.

With that, I will let them take it away:


Eric: As humans, we have evolved to travel large distances. Many of us call home a land strange to generations before. Despite an exploratory history, humans are no less tribal than our primate brothers. At least since the advent of agriculture much of humanity has been domestic. This creates an irony in taking any permanent side on the topic. However discussing it is important not just for local communities but for all of humanity. 

Immigration is an interaction between the two groups. The hosts and the immigrants. While no one has a timeless monopoly of either group, people tend to develop a strong identity with the temporary group they find themselves in. 

Each group has expectations, aspirations and ideals about interacting with the other.  In a perfect world, each side finds what is wants. However, when the expectations are unmet, or worse, when expectations remain unclear, tensions arise. Recent times have recorded such rising tensions between hosts and immigrants. While trying to analyze them,a nuanced understanding is needed that accounts for hopes, diversity, culture and history.   

I would like to approach the conversation as an attempt to explore rational expectations and how it fits into the general attitudes of the day and find an answer to the question what is the sustainably right thing to do? How does a group do it? 


Daniel: I’ll comment on the general trend of immigration in the US in a second, as a way of grounding things. First, Yuvall Noah Harari’s taxonomy of immigration, at least as it is described by the terms of the contract he lays out in that piece, is reactionary and perhaps even ahistorical. It is true that the children of immigrants often let go of the traditions, values, norms of their parents. But it has been known for a long time that their presence enriches a culture on the whole, it does not diminish it, and it enriches the culture precisely by that change.

It is more than a little totalitarian to suggest, as Harari seems to do, that the cultural values above and beyond the law should be policed by the government on immigrant populations. Speaking only for the American compact or “contract” on immigration, it explicitly promises not to police the culture in this way. I speak only for the American system since that is one I live under and know best. But the multicultural point could be abstracted out. The original ideological promise of the colonies (the draw), as it pertained to immigration and developed into the American state, was freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of association, freedom of commerce, freedom of movement, and above all freedom of religion. That freedom— what Roger Williams, who himself was hounded for his new and “dangerous” ideas (for, in other words, shaping and changing the culture) would have called this “liberty of conscience”. It is those promises, which amount to a promise to immigrants to a significant degree, which mark the country. If anything, the tangled ironies of early American history were how resolutely we failed to keep those promises. The moral arc of history needed a stiff shove every now and then. 

These ideals were fascinating not only because they offered perhaps unrealistic promises, but also because they recognized that identity is not static. One of the risible things about the European identitarians, who have made so much noise, is that they presume an ability to hold a national culture in stasis. Honoring tradition is one thing, holding a culture hostage because of it is not honorable even if it is a practiced tradition. 

That’s one level of analysis. But it would be shameful not to mention the reality of this as it is now practiced. In America, at the moment, children are being held in concentration camps for this impulse. This shames us. It makes nonsense of both the history of promises and ideals, and the international understanding of human rights. And, to the extent that any contract is in place, it all but shreds it. 


You also dropped the third term described by Harari, which to my ear suggests full rights are hinged on assimilation in this compact (namely: “If immigrants assimilate sufficiently, they’re equal and full members of the host country.”).


Eric: Thank you, Daniel.

Countries that are considered successful typically display 2 accomplishments. They manage to provide for the people at the bottom of their own society while having the ability to bring in people from various backgrounds together.

Successful multicultural societies are an exception and not the norm in history. America’s history has been a shining success story for immigrants. It remains an ideal for any society intended on similar progress. However, it is not an easy thing to imitate such success. Especially in monolithic cultures found in the countries of Europe.

Neither identity nor ideals are static. They flow. Identity metamorphosizes not just with geography but also with time. It would find it difficult for any citizen to immediately fit into their own country if we fast forward or rewind time by a few decades. It is doubtful if any of us would immediately fit in a society of the 1990s or the 2050s no matter where are from. People change, society adapts, and culture follows.

But there is something to be said about the pace and cause of such change. Unwelcome or unconsented changes are not sustainable ways of enriching culture. Particularly in a democratic society. Neither is tremendous change in a short period an easy transformation. The pace of change due to mass immigration in recent years has not been considered an enrichment of culture by its keepers.

Adding to the cultural issue, most countries have implemented welfare measures. Milton Freidman’s question on the infinite ability of a society with welfare measures to continue welcoming legal immigrants remains valid. Even in America, despite an open and generous society, it has been a challenge to provide basic welfare measures like food, medicine and education to citizens, let alone to immigrants.  

The current immigration system is unable to live up to ideals and it is not moral to isolate children even if it were to be legal. Society’s new favorite pastime in suspicions does not allow generosity. Many other conditions are a symptom of the pessimistic suspicious nature in political vogue.   

As the conversation matures, I expect we will discuss assimilation and the consequences of lacking it.  

You mention that a significant part of the promise for freedom is a promise to immigrants. I am keen on learning what exactly is promised to an immigrant. Are there limits and/or conditions to this promise?

I am interested in knowing what precisely you find ahistorical or radical about the author’s writings. I could not locate the totalitarian message you seem to have found. 

Daniel: Let’s try to be very clear about precisely where it is we disagree. You seem to agree that culture (and therefore cultural identity) is not static, by definition. You also appear to agree that multiculturalism is worth imitating. I would add that they are not only enviable but also in line with humanitarian and international principles in a way that some models of immigration (models which might count as ‘successful’ under the Harari model, for which you seem to be offering soft support) are not.

My observation to your response is that many of the people I know who are nervous about immigration are not merely anxious about the rates of cultural change in general, but they have specific immigrant communities in mind and they want to curb immigration in a targeted way. Certainly, that was true for countries like Hungary, who made a huge fuss over the immigration crisis; and it is undeniably true about the Trump regime’s immigration policies, which I’m glad to see we both agree are indefensible. The root of that might not just be anxiety over the pace of cultural change (like, say, a schoolmarm who doesn’t like the way the ‘kiddos don’t use proper English no more’). It is an attempt to rig the political structure in a grossly totalitarian way. 

I was attempting to remind us that there are multiple principles at play, and that Harari’s ‘contract’ is not an apolitical description of how immigration works. His framework is totalitarian in the sense that it stretches the role of government to policing nearly the ‘totality’, so to speak, of the culture. It also enshrines the desire to protect tradition over other possible values, such as the rights of immigrants in an international system or the right to retain aspects of your culture despite changing the country of origin on your passport. Thus he places political power directly in the hands of these ‘keepers’ you mention. I should also reiterate that Harari seems to suggest that full rights are hinged on complete cultural assimilation in that third term I quoted.

Welfare measures are a false trail for the moment. I’m not recommending open borders, and I don’t necessarily object to restrictions on immigration based on capacity. It depends on the particulars. 

At the end of your second statement your language is unclear to me. Do you mean to say, in the ‘society’s favorite pastime in suspicion’ ‘graph, (a) that concerns over security mean we cannot be as generous in our immigration policies, or (b) that the concentration camps are a consequence of suspicious, tribal thinking? It would be useful for me to know which you mean.

I can elaborate more if you like, but the promises made to immigrants tend to be international and humanitarian in nature. In the last century, it was discovered that one of the fall-outs of an international order that promotes national sovereignty above all else was unimaginable and indefensible cruelty. From there, the international order we know, and love to hate, in all of its tangled and imperfect in gloriousness, sprang up. There were numerous forms this took, but the gist is that the world was aimed at ending forever the concentration camps and the genocide and mass destruction and poverty. This is codified in numerous international agreements, and it is part of the world heritage, since we’re speaking of traditions. One instance: Hannah Arendt wrote eloquently about the ‘right to have rights’: a political principle meant to safeguard against the rampant statelessness and powerlessness of twentieth century refugees. The problem she saw, in my reductionistic summary, was that a class of people had emerged who couldn’t protect their political rights. One of the problems with statelessness is that it causes a lack of political membership. Thus to be forced to leave your home country due to persecution would be to give up having political rights at all. This may sound opaque but it has very real consequences. And there are other, structural questions that ride on this. For instance, the UN promises to end global poverty and many nation-states say they are concerned with global inequality. Well, is chronic lack of economic opportunity an argument for resettlement in the same way that chronic war or chronic famine are? I know some excellent political scientists who say yes.

Eric: As I see it, our difference in opinion is whether there is an inherent commitment to immigration. Especially when it runs against the tide of popular opinion expressed in a democratic election. Additionally, there is a different balance of idealism and realism that we find optimal.  

While we do agree there is great success to be found in multiculturalism, recent history has found such success elusive. The lesson to be learnt from the experience of monolithic nations is that multicultural societies can’t be manufactured. Even with the best intentions, a welcoming society does not necessarily find peace or prosperity within borders. There is a need for a  shared sense of purpose and acceptance. This exercise is achieved as a duet and requires good nature to be accompanied with thoughtfulness. Nations attempting to redeem their violent past will find that the historical guilt is not cheaply overcome.

While I accept universal brotherhood as a creed, I can’t find agreement with the perspective of international history. International institutions and agreements are important great tools that have led to laudable goals. However, no international institution or global humanitarian cause is effective until it has the lifeblood of democracy: ie, a backing from the will of the people. National sovereignty is not a perfect or even less hated system than any international institution, but the backing from an electoral process offers it greater legitimacy and flexibility (some nations don’t have such electoral processes).  Although internationalism is noble in attempting to guide humanity to heaven on paper, it requires the will of the people on the ground to prevent parts of the world from becoming hell.

There is also something to be said about how structurally anti-international internationalism is. Few, often-undemocratic, prosperous nations are prominent players and there is no platform for a large part of the voting world. Should it surprise anyone that so called international decisions are not even attempted in many countries? Especially those that are small and poverty stricken. 

The stench of tribalism masking an ugly face in an almost transparent veil is unappealing. Dividing people based on limited characteristics assigned at birth is a reduction of all identity to accidental fortune. As I read the article, I did not feel the author takes a side but rather organizes the conversation in terms of questions and key points to be addressed with a moral grounding in rational trade-offs. He ends by saying “We ought not to ignore our ethical responsibilities to people just because they live far away.”  

In my opinion, assimilation or integration is the key to successful immigration process. When is assimilation successful? When both sides can call each other one’s own. To see in each other a fellow citizen and expect the same rights as for oneself. It requires the right type of attitude, commitment and patience. It is not an easy thing to achieve at scale.

Without assimilation, there is a risk in creating a permanent underclass. This has become characteristic of a lot of societies who blinded by their better nature did not build the right strategies to facilitate acceptance. The resentment from and for such an underclass is sharply divisive. In time, it will have to be confronted.

The rise in extremely divisive policies on immigration is a burst of the public’s inability to express the urge for reform on immigration via the ballot. Countries that have installed individual oriented point-based systems have not seen the rise of the extreme tendencies. They even report popular acceptance of the immigration. Exact reverse in true in ones that did not.

Politically disenfranchised refugees are an important part of the immigration conversation but a minority of the total immigrant population. I do think any refuge escaping certain death should be accommodated. Even overriding democratic opinion. But even the cause of helping their plight is doomed without backing from the will of the people. Mass immigration can’t be dissolved in an unwilling society. Efforts should be made  to speak to unwilling people and understanding their concerns without the quick dismissal of their opinion. Not having an honest attempt to talk to anyone trying to “keep their culture” dooms immigrants to be an object of resentment, members of an underclass. This makes the citizen a stranger in his own land and an immigrant a pariah in his new community. 

Additionally, mass-emigration from an unfortunate society is an almost certain source of future humanitarian concern. Hallowed nations lacking people who can change it face more extreme situations. The worst thing to do in a country that we want to help build is to encourage its able citizenry to leave. 

To clarify my language, no person can be generous to another who he is suspicious of. It is not just for reasons of security but a sense of not sharing one’s values or not being one’s own. I think the tribalization of society into political lines and mindless  identity has made us incapable of having a sane conversation. I am unable to fit my opinion entirely in the binary choices you offer and hope I was able to clarify without picking one of the two.

I am glad to see that both of us have reasons and nuances for our opinions. I find it interesting that you feel welfare measures are a false trail. Would immigrants qualify for all current welfare measures in your judgement? Would they have a path to be eventual citizens? What, if any, criteria do you find acceptable in limiting immigration based on capacity? Is there a number or range you think is acceptable?

Moderator: Thank you both for your contributions thus far. I would like to jump in here with a question to help guide the conversation that you can address if you would like. Specifically, Eric, you wrote “ ...assimilation or integration is the key to successful immigration process. When is assimilation successful? When both sides can call each other one’s own. To see in each other a fellow citizen and expect the same rights as for oneself. It requires the right type of attitude, commitment and patience.” Can you both elaborate on this more? What is “successful assimilation?” Can you provide examples to support your case why this may or may not be necessary? Moreover, can and should democratic governments take steps to ease the assimilation process? What would these steps be? 

Eric: General opinions/ tendencies tend to be shared within citizenry of a country. For instance, while   there is 90% support from overall general public for outlawing discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation (up from 50 percent 30 years ago), British Muslims were reported to have 18% approval of homosexuality. Although I am yet to find in depth granular stats to prove the point, I suspect this is an example of a lack of assimilation.


I think assimilation can be done right. I do not have a recipe for it. 

A screening process based on individual points would go a long way. Questions like the ones the British Prime minister had “Do they believe in equality of all before the law? Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?“ are probably good predictors. 

Moderator: Based on this response, should assimilation thus be something tested for before the immigrant enters the country? Moreover, based on my reading of the article on David Cameron’s quote, he was speaking of human rights organizations, not individuals. To which do you feel a screening process is necessary?  

Eric: I think treating potential immigrants in terms of groups is not ideal. All groups contain good and bad people. Hence, my focus is on referring to individuals even though the comment was not directed such. 

Assimilation is not something that can be tested before. Alignment to a certain extent can be determined.  By using an individual level based screening we might try to predict but even that does not guarantee assimilation. 

Daniel: As for the assimilation question, Danielle. There’s a lot of meaningless kumbaya talk about assimilation in Eric’s quote. When it comes to it, the particulars of what he means when he says assimilation is what makes the difference. I started out by saying the thing that strikes me as gross and unproductive is the third term of Harari (present in the article but missing in the description for this debate) which hinges political rights on assimilation above mere respect for the law. Eric Blair has done nothing to counter this, except to say that he can’t see the distinction.

There’s also not necessarily this great democratic clamouring for curbing immigration figures. Some of these calls are definitely not mere abstract concern over immigraion rates but calls for specific, targeted immigration policies. Eric Blair has just said he’s against this; and he even honorably joined me in rebuking the actual implementation of these policies in the US. So he can’t be defending that (though, these “mandates” he crowes about, to the extent they exist, were initially for targeted policies). There are some calls for abstract immigration checks; however, the problem there is the other commitments. Immigrant rights are an extension of political representation rights. Since we live in a partly international/ partly national system, immigration is usually thought of as a national phenomena. However, as the so-called migrant crisis showed, the spillover effects are global, and like fiscal policy, sometimes immigration policy needs to be negotiated with regional or global interests in mind. If there really is a popular mandate, such as in the UK, for instance, the play was to step away from the EU, i.e. Brexit (It was a bundled choice in some sense). The “mandate” was actually much shakier than the reactionaries were pretending. A lot of UK voters seem to think they were hoodwinked into the leave position.

Slightly more minor point, but: Individual points check for things like wealth and education level, in addition to the stuff you’re probably thinking of, Eric Blair. So, you can’t say that you’re trying to avoid brain drain in one breadth and then offer blanket support for points-based immigration policies in the next, especially if you’re claiming to be sensitive to immigrants from poor countries with little to no educational or occupational opportunities. 


I want to add, separate from the reply to Danielle’s question, that there are some missing elements to the big picture story. Since Eric Blair implied it is concern for the well-being of immigrants that drives some of these assimilation policies, we should do this all the way.  The immigrant crisis is not hermetically sealed off from the global economy. Big pic: historically, the promises of global commerce and development were tied to political enfranchisement, which included economic enfranchisement, which by definition means it was limited. Disenfranchised peoples (domestically— non-whites; globally— the global south) took the stories being told to them about development and globalization seriously. They wanted in. The ‘developed world’ has realized this is not practical (i.e. sustainable) and perhaps not even possible. The mechanisms that elevated the globally-elite countries into ‘development’ (a combination of warfare, colonialism, debt-structures, and industry— and industry was largely bad for the environment or otherwise unsustainable) do not translate all that easily and would lower their standing even if they did. David Graeber describes how the old compact— that political rights are tied to economic rights— was torn apart under the Reagan/Thatcher era. Economic rights were swapped out for credit (read: debt). In this view, the subprime crisis was a consequence of extending this new compact— or new deal— to too many people. A lot of migrants are actually economic migrants (and one could make a case for expanding the class that Eric Blair agreed override his other concerns, namely, refugee status, to include people without economic opportunity or economic refugees, which I was trying to imply earlier). The migrant crisis, which this debate is an indirect consequence of, showed that many EU countries may be willing to revoke not just economic rights but the political rights of people in response to feeling overwhelmed with the effects of these policies and others (policies which were decided not by poor countries but by the countries which now want to curb immigration rates). These factors are worth keeping in mind because they drive things like immigration flows and rates. 

Now, I have not suggested that we simply ignore other considerations as irrelevant at all. Eric Blair can lecture us about needing to “honestly” engage with these concerns (slyly implying that I’m not honestly engaging already) all he wants. That is precisely what I’m trying to do.

Moderator: I would like to interject here to clarify for both sides that to my knowledge, neither is trying to imply the other is engaging in a dishonest representation of their opinion. I hope both sides feel that they are being heard appropriately. Feel free to clarify if you feel any of your points have been misinterpreted. 

I would like to provide another guiding question. Do you feel there is any example of a country that has a model immigration policy? Moreover, do you think there is a “model policy” or immigration policy should be country contingent? If so, what contingencies should be determinant? Should countries be responsible for taking immigrants if they are in partial historical/current fault for the need for refugee flow? 

Eric: If you don’t know my opinion or think it has contradictions, maybe trying to ask and clarify. You might learn something. It is ignorant to find binaries in nuanced opinions.

I am sure you read the quote  “if immigrants indeed make a sincere effort to assimilate – and in particular to adopt the value of tolerance – the host country is duty-bound to treat them as first-class citizens.” in the first sentence of the term you find gross, unproductive from the totalitarian author. It is not useful to try to address preconceived notions. Using brash adjectives comes across as a cheap stunt.

I have noted that in my judgment we disagree on whether “inherent commitment to immigration. Especially when it runs against the tide of popular opinion”. Please clarify if that your understanding of our disagreement.

To elaborate, immigrants have rights, but immigration itself is not a right. It is a privilege offered by the current citizenry. A path to citizenship (inclusive of all rights) can be part of this privilege that citizens offer. Denying someone of immigration is not the same as a denial of basic human rights (ie right to live, think, speak…).I repeat that even the type of immigrants (refugees, dissidents, economic migrants or rich billionaires) to be accommodated is up to the citizenry to decide. I have made the exception I find it necessary to make in my previous response. 

Political rights (ie the right to vote, represent in office) are meant for citizens and not for immigrants. Your quote “Immigrant rights are an extension of political representation rights.”  runs contrary to this basic understanding of democracy. About political rights being linked to economic rights, many unelected governments have offered significantly more economic freedom than democracies. 

I do think informed immigration policies should be concerned about the well being of immigrants and citizens. It is beyond me to understand how that is connected to the sub-prime crisis. Or how EU countries were trying to curb political rights or economic rights of migrants. I hope you can provide specific examples and reasons for saying so.

Does it make you feel smart when you loosely throw in vague terms like “globally-elite”, “global south”? Or when you say the migrant crisis was ‘so-called’ are you implying there was no crisis? Please elaborate and define vague terms so that it may be helpful to my understanding.

I am amused that you call me sly. If it makes you feel good, please continue to do so. Let the record show there were 4 questions asked which I will repeat.  

1.       Would immigrants qualify for all current welfare measures in your judgement?

2.       Would they have a path to be eventual citizens?

3.       What, if any, criteria do you find acceptable in limiting immigration based on capacity?

4.       Is there a number or range you think is acceptable?

Whether you dodge it or decide to answer remains to be seen. Lazily calling it a false trail unworthy of your valued recommendation without offering explanation does not help the conversation. 

Moderator: I want to step in here. I feel that we have gotten to a point of personally attacking one another, or feeling that we are being personally attacked by the other side. That is not the intent of this debate. I request that the language used is not used to deride the other specifically. Please let me know how I can help facilitate and avoid any miscommunication. 

Daniel: I should apologize if I hurt your feelings when I said you were being sly, that wasn’t my intention. In fact, I meant sly as an underhanded compliment. But the record will show you’ve called me worse than that.

When I describe the migrant crisis as so-called I mean to imply that the crisis might have been driven by other factors which are neatly avoided by focusing strictly on migration. As for the subprime comment, I thought it was relatively apparent that I was offering, as I plainly said, an expanded account that explained that “The immigrant crisis is not hermetically sealed off from the global economy.” And there’s nothing loose about my use of global south or global elite. 

I have already replied to questions one and two by pointing out that I don’t object to capacity limitations. That’s not what we’re arguing about. If you don’t think my response was adequate, that’s another matter. But your question three implies you’ve at least understood my point, even if it needs clarifying. Many of my objections would be partly handled by more good faith fiscal policies and forgiveness of foreign debts, and aid that was not solely meant to back foriegn policy decisions. I’m not even sure number four makes sense for me to answer, given that capacity is its own answer. My larger point was that there’s a connection between those policies and migration. And all I’ve done is to argue for an expanded version of what we count as refugee immigrants and to argue against targeted immigration reduction policies (on which I’m still not sure where you stand; if you’d care to clarify) and to argue that individual points doesn’t cover the concerns you seem to think it might.

You’ve said that assimilation cannot be tested for, but you seem to agree with Harari that attempts at immigration are what hinge political rights (first class citizenry, as you quote Harari as saying). How would you propose to sort that out in practice? 

A contradiction is not necessarily a binary, and not all binaries are false for that matter. Certainly you’d also like to clarify (another one of these annoying “binaries”) as to whether you really mean that political rights aren’t meant for immigrants but for citizens. Surely, we’re talking about paths to citizenship through assimilation. In other words, immigrants who get citizenship; in other words, these categories bleed into each other a little bit. Do you mean to suggest, then, that an immigrant has no rights until they receive bonafide status (until the moment they swear the oath)? Because, in the US at least, the path to citizenship is long and arduous and sometimes involves being in the country for many years waiting for the bureaucratic paper shuffle to settle. 

To answer your question, Danielle. I don’t feel as though there’s a particularly golden model of immigration policy out there, no. Immigration policies are highly contingent. As I’ve tried to suggest here there are non-national considerations to be had, in addition to national considerations like capacity or voter preference. I also suggest that sometimes those considerations outrank voter preference (I’ll point out again that Eric has already agreed to this in principle for refugees). Part of the reason I tried during our negotiations to get us to introduce a more specific policy question in the framework of the debate was that I think, as I said to Eric in our negotiations, that it would be almost impossible to address immigration without a descent into the particulars, and thus there can’t really be a Platonic ideal of immigration policies. Eric Blair was insistent that we not “limit” the conversation in that way, and we settled on a kind of informal conversational debate using Harari as a leaping off point. That kind of answer is never satisfying, I know. I hope that it is at least more clear where I stand.


Eric: Thank you for your clarifications. I find the term “elite” is usually used to decry the side one disagrees with. It is impressive to see how every side finds an elite in its opposition but can’t identify a definite group.

I have clarified that immigrants have basic human rights. Political rights like the (right to vote and represent office) are not meant for immigrants. Economic rights (like the right to purchase property, access any job market) can be restricted as well.  Even the pathway to citizenship is not a right. There is no doubt that the process of immigration remains arduous and confusing. All sides agree that making the rules of the process clear, simple and quick would be an improvement.  

As for the answer to my questions, I do find it inadequate to say  “depends on the particulars” to define capacity limitations. As long as we do not have some sense of what infrastructure (say job access, identity cards..) or welfare (say shelter, education, healthcare..) is to be made available for immigrants, it is going to be uninformed to discuss particulars of capacity limitations.  Each one of my questions is a limited narrow policy questions that you seemed keen on in the negotiations. I hoped we could discuss particulars better and understand the tradeoffs. I’ll explain why I did not think limiting the conversation to America or refugees was a good idea shortly.

As for practical assimilation, I repeat that I do not have a recipe. But I can see some ingredients of it. You rightly indicate a respect for the law as a key criterion. Harari includes a sincere effort to assimilate and adoption of the value of tolerance. Apart from that, there must be enough social infrastructure to help immigrants find dignity, friends and a place in the new society. Some countries are naturally endowed with this social infrastructure. Other countries that use merit-based systems (or capacity limitations) reduce the need to plan and build such infrastructure. The ones that do not do either often find an immigrant underclass that is divisive.  

What exactly is the kumbaya social infrastructure? It is basically helping immigrants interact freely in the new society. Whether through education (things like language or culture lessons) or through increased engagement (which presumes an open friendly attitude) it goes a long way in preventing tensions. Since this can’t be done easily at scale, mass immigration presents a difficult challenge to assimilation.

I started this conversation by saying that successful societies manage to take care of the people at their bottom. It is here that I think the difficult choices needs to be made. Even in the most prosperous society the state of the poor is abysmal. When any society is looking to accommodate immigrants based on non-national considerations, it is difficult for locals facing hardship to find common cause with such generosity. This, in my opinion, explains why the tide of anti-immigration has been a ground swell and not elite driven. 

To your question Danielle, the two of us seem in agreement that there is no one golden model and that it is contingent. Public attitude on immigration is not static. It responds to the current policy on immigration. The recent changes in public attitude to different policies have offered lessons to be learnt. If we take a closer look into changing political landscape that has surprised the world, these lessons should be clear. 

Every western nation (global north maybe) that had merit-based systems of immigration (Australia, Canada and New Zealand) did not see a significant rise in anti-immigration politics. The western nations that did not have a merit-based process saw a sharp rise in popularity of anti-immigration sentiment. Small EU countries that found the sharpest rise of anti-immigrant politics do not have a large say in the continental government which reserves the final say in Europe. Larger EU countries (with a larger say in the continental governance) have a smaller yet significant rise in anti-immigration. The increase in anti-immigration tendencies seems to be inversely proportional to the capacity of people to have a democratic say in the matter.

The case of UK with Brexit is interesting. UK has two systems for immigration. One is a merit-based system for non-EU citizens (implemented strictly since 2010) and a second one for EU citizens which is not merit based. If the decision to leave (which is a bundled vote as Daniel points out) was a vote against immigration, it is a vote against one form of mass immigration. Even the Leave movement’s chaotic leadership do not worry of reducing their support when they publicly welcome high skilled immigration. They found an anchor among the disenfranchised in this one topic. Even if they were unpalatable in every other way. Had moderate voices taken up their concern earlier, things may probably have Remained. 

It is to capture this contrast as a global phenomenon in different countries that I was opposed to limiting conversation to only the US or refugees. I am not against discussing any policies or particulars. Infact, I was keen on my questions leading to it. I hope my stances are better clarified as well.

I reciprocate the apology if I came across as unrestrained in my last response. While I do not deliver my compliments underhandedly, I have  no desire to be the first to offend.


Daniel: Underhanded is certainly the most entertaining way to give a compliment. But there’s no need for apologies as far as I’m concerned. I’ve been called far worse for less provocation; though, for laser-like specificity, “unrestrained” is not the word I would have used...

I was particularly keen, as I have told Danielle, to limit the conversation from the beginning because while some topics lend themselves well to general conversation immigration isn’t one of them. That said, I don't regret doing the debate. It wasn't particularly productive, but I wouldn’t say I entirely wasted my time. There are a few points that strike me as new, or at least more nuanced elaborations of your previous comments. I’ll offer a brief overview, since I think this last response contains new elaborations. But I intend to cap it there, and I think a careful reader can probably guess how I might respond to some of the statements. 

In no particular order, then. Your questions were not about specific policies for specific countries. Depending on which countries we’re talking about I’d give different answers. In other words, they were generalized which was what I objected to in the first place. No golden ideal. 

Nothing loose about my use of the word elite, either. Look for the countries that have argued for austerity measures over the last half-century through the IMF. That’s a concrete category for you. And that was really my point. You may have said that immigrants have “basic human rights,” sure. However, I have attempted to complicate the picture of what counts as basic, and I haven’t heard much in return on that point. Given the state of the global economy, is access to economic opportunity or the eradication of severe poverty or the right to develop “basic”? If not, you’ve ceded more than political rights over. Either way, you’re looking at national and international political structures. In fact, what I have heard you say is that they don’t get political rights and that you think it’s fine to restrict their economic rights, presumably at a global scale. (Of course, we separate these things out of habit but they’re not especially separate). Well, that was sort of my point in the first place: the structure you’re describing systematically disenfranchises large swaths of people. 

If you’re going to open it up to global considerations (and not strictly old-fashioned national policy questions) then you really should do it all the way. I can only say the general historical point I had in the back of my mind (which is why I said this was bordering on ahistorical earlier): A lot of these countries (the ones people want to immigrate to) benefit from predatory lending practices at a global scale which causes unpayable debt and doesn’t lead to development, and they simultaneously clamp down on immigration and they meddle in domestic policy for other countries and they discourage any change in the economic structure. The best thing they do is offer aid which any aid worker in the US will tell you is not impartial (it’s merely foreign policy by another means, a sister to sanctions; meaning that it’s not aimed at cleaning up poverty so much as reinforcing political goals). I have been very modest in my claims. All I have done is point this out as a structural flaw.

As I’ve said already, I don’t think that the “leave” vote was a good indicator for anti-global or anti-mass immigration sentiment (and more than a few UK voters seem to agree with me). It was exploited by demagogues and some voters have since said they were confused or that they wouldn’t vote that way again; so I’m not convinced it reflects the current political or popular temperature, even in the UK. Does that mean there wasn't a popular call for these policies anywhere? Of course not. In some places there was. (However, for that matter, Australia and New Zealand and Canada were simply less impacted by the immigration crisis; none of them are members of the EU; however, the US did see a swell of anti-immigration sentiment. The crisis was very good for Donald Trump’s candidacy, but the concern in the US was always immigration from places like Mexico, which is often economic in nature; ask anyone who supports strict immigration in the US and they’ll back it up with an economic argument; I know because I’ve talked to many of them). That, of course, raises the larger question of who is calling for stricter immigration policies, for which you’ve offered some nominal support early in this exchange (for instance, saying they were “keepers” who weren’t being listened to). I think that’s half-true, as I’ve said. 

I’ll end where I began. In the general terms offered by you and Harari, there seems to be a direct invitation to police immigration rates to influence the culture (above and beyond things I view as defensible such as abiding by the law). I view that as gross and totalitarian. Also, if you’re going to paint a picture of national policy questions surrounding immigration, you do have to consider the structural consequences of those policies. Finis.

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