6.7.8.3 Managing Immigration in a Time of Great Change

As people increasingly move around the world, whether they are driven by economic factors (3.4.3.1) or as refugees from oppression, they have an impact on the neighbourhood they arrive in.  People are naturally concerned about immigrants: seeing them as taking jobs, needing houses and using public services such as health and education.  David Miller’s book, Strangers in our Midst: The Political Philosophy of Immigration, reviewed in Matthew Lister’s article Alien Ideas, argues that a country’s inhabitants have the right to control immigration and to decide what rights are to be assigned to the newcomers.  Lister partly agrees, but he points out that there are no easy solutions to the problems of deciding how many immigrants to admit and how to allow them to integrate.

Some of the issues in managing immigration were described earlier in this chapter, in the context of pluralism and identity (6.7.4), but there are additional considerations in a period of great social and economic change.  Job losses can be caused by automation, globalisation or climate change – but it is too easy for populist demagogues to persuade people that immigrants are taking people’s jobs.  Politicians must communicate very carefully, showing that they understand the problems and are providing appropriate help, to avoid a rise in anti-immigrant sentiments.

Donald Trump won the 2016 US presidential election with a strong anti-immigrant message: he promised to “build a great wall” on the Mexican border, for example, and he described Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and rapists.  His language was offensive and despicable, but criticisms should be reserved for him as an individual and for a few white supremacists who clustered under his political umbrella.  His opponent Hillary Clinton made a serious error when she called “half” of his supporters “a basket of deplorables”, thereby indirectly insulting everyone who had supported him – including those who had listened to his promise to bring back jobs in coalmining.  Although many people would applaud her liberal social attitudes, no-one has the right to be condescending and contemptuous towards people who are struggling financially.

National politicians need to explain to the population why it is necessary to absorb some immigrants and they need to describe and implement economic policies that will compensate the affected areas by providing government funding.  They should show that they empathise with those most affected by social and economic change.

Local politicians need to visibly manage the immigration: ensuring that there are adequate public services and infrastructure, and consulting with local community leaders and the immigrants themselves about cultural adaptation.  Policies for absorbing the immigrants need to be localised to be effective.  The problems are radically different in Dover (where refugees might arrive), London (which has a rich history of successfully absorbing immigration) and East Anglia (where immigration is necessary to pick fruit but there is now Fear and anger in once-wealthy town divided by insecurity and immigration).

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6783bhtm