The view that accusations of racism are an attempt by liberals to shut down debate on immigration is wide of the mark. In reality they are our killer argument.
I want you to imagine something. What would happen if the Mayor of London decided that in order to protect the wages of ordinary Londoners, he was going to prevent people from outside London coming to work in the capital? This would be regarded not only as completely barmy but also deeply unfair; Why should jobs in London only be available, when there are plenty of people in the rest of the UK perfectly capable of doing them? Surely, this is a rather nasty form of discrimination? Now replace the word ‘London’ with ‘America/Europe’ and ‘UK’ with ‘world’ and you have a pretty good description of the iniquities of immigration controls.
I raise this issue because on one of my favorite blogs, Dizzy Thinks, there is an entry asking: ‘How can you sell any immigration policy…without being called a racist?’ The answer is that you can’t because these policies are inherently discriminatory. They rest on the assumption that it is legitimate to deny certain rights and opportunities to people solely on the basis of their nationality.
I am not suggesting for a minute that the people advocating these policies are all skin headed neo-Nazis. It is entirely possible to support tougher limits on immigration without meaning to support a racist policy. This is not about the intentions behind a policy but there impact. That is why I am endeavoring to talk about these policies as ‘discriminatory’ rather than ‘racist.’ The problem for these accidentals racists is that many people are going to assume that because they are promoting a policy with racist results that they have racist motives.
A possible response by those who want to reduce immigration is to suggest the fact that white migrants are affected by controls means that they aren’t racist. This is true but it misses the point. They do not necessarily discriminate on the basis of skin colour (though the bulk of people they effect are non-white) but nationality. To suggest that someone opportunities in life should be determined by what passport they hold is no better than suggesting it should be on the basis of their race. Both are largely the result of an accident of birth rather than personal decisions.
Another commonly used to defense is to claim that it is legitimate for us to place the interests of British nationals above those of foreigners because the state’s primary responsibility is to the people that make up the political community. This does not really rebut the claim that immigration controls are discriminatory but instead tries to provide a justification for it and it is not even a terribly convincing one. In the American South during the era of segregation, the state authorities that imposed the race laws were representing a political community composed of white Americans that did not entitle that state to take actions designed to uphold the dominance of the white majority. The states responsibilities to its citizens is not a license to infringe the rights of foreign nationals.
If all people are created free and equal, then jobs should not be denied to talented individuals simply because they are, say, Mexican rather than American. What we have done by trying to block global migration is to reintroduce segregation, only this time on a global scale. It is unjust and should be ended.