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Australia and Canada's rightward turn on immigration

By Suzy Khimm

Advocates for greater immigration restrictions often compare America (unfavorably) to other Western industrialized countries that have tried to tighten up their policies for accepting newcomers. In fact, a strikingly similar immigration debate is playing out right now in Australia and Canada, which both have a profile akin to the United States as young nations built up on centuries of immigration.

In place of targeting illegal Latino immigrants, conservatives in Canada have recently seized upon Tamil asylum-seekers from Sri Lanka who have been arriving in large groups via boat -- a phenomenon that began in Australia during the 1990s. They allege that some of the Tamil immigrants are falsely claiming to be refugees, having paid thousands to human smugglers, and are being used by the Tamil Tigers to build up terrorist networks abroad.

Such arguments have inflamed the Australian immigration debate for years -- and they also echo the attacks that the American right has made on illegal immigrants for allegedly exploiting the system and sending "terror babies" over the border. Fueled by the continuing controversy over asylum-seekers, immigration emerged as a major political issue in the Australian elections this year, which happened this past weekend and could end up empowering some immigration hawks.

But while the similarities to the current U.S. debate are notable, so
are some of the differences. In Australia, business groups have rushed to make the economic case for a pro-immigration policy. The Wall Street Journal quotes Katie Lahey, chief executive of the Business Council of Australia:

"Population growth, and immigration as part of it, are an important and positive part of our nation's history. … There's a temptation around election time to pitch to perceived short-term self-interest rather than the long-term national interest."

Ms. Lahey argues population growth will offset the effects of Australia's aging population and ensure future governments have the tax revenue to fund health care, education, infrastructure and
environmental measures.

It wasn't that long ago that big businesses were making the same argument here in the United States after President George W. Bush convinced the business community to support his immigration reform bill. American business leaders acknowledged that immigration — managed correctly — would be a key part of the country’s long-term economic competitiveness, not a hindrance to it, keeping the labor pool young and attracting talent who might opt to go to Canada or Australia instead.

That such voices have all but disappeared shows just how far the U.S. immigration debate has shifted to the right. Just imagine how
different the tone of the current discussion would be if, say, the
Chamber of Commerce rebutted restrictionist fear-mongering about unchecked population growth and anchor babies.

Suzy Khimm is a political reporter in the Washington bureau of Mother Jones.

By Washington Post Editors  |  August 24, 2010; 2:45 PM ET
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Interesting story! If you want another perspective on current events, politics, international relations, and even just some cultural commentary check out my blog called “Power Walk.” Here is the link to check it out: (no dots after the www). I hope that it doesn’t disappoint!

Posted by: PowerWalkBlog | August 24, 2010 2:51 PM | Report abuse

Did it every occur to you that people in developed nations have turned against mass Third World immigration, not because of political "fearmongering" by "the right wing", but because they have had negative experiences with it in their own, personal lives? In the case of Australia, there have been many negative encounters between natives and Muslim immigrants who simply refuse to "fit in" to the local culture. In the US, people have lost small businesses due to competition with illegal immigrants, to name just one example of negative impacts. Moreover, Americans, Canadians, and Australians have shown themselves to be open to immigration, even of the uneducated, low-skilled Third World kind, but the huge, indiscriminate numbers being thrown at us currently are deeply disruptive and burdensome -- culturally as well as economically.

People aren't irreplaceable economic units, no matter how much global corporate apologists like Ms. Khimm try to promote the idea that they are just that. People are people.

You just can't smash people with wildly divergent cultural values,histories, educations, skills, and expectations together and expect to get a happy ending. It just doesn't happen.

The whole world cannot live in Australia, Canada, the US, New Zealand, and Western Europe. Non-Western nations have to learn how to create First World economies out of their own cultures, like the Japanese, Taiwanese, and South Koreans have done. If they can't do that, it is not the fault of Western nations that they can't, it's the fault of those cultures for being incompatible with First World economic and cultural requirements.

Posted by: MaryJessel | August 24, 2010 3:15 PM | Report abuse

It would be nice if Suzy Khimm told the whole story or accurately reported the story. The Canadians gave asylum to the Tamils because they claimed they fled their homeland in fear of their lives. Simply put, they said if they remained they would be killed. Now the Canadians are finding that a large proportion of Tamils who claimed their lives were in danger have returned home. Guess their lives were and are not in danger. This is not the first time the Canadians have found that people who claimed asylum on the ground their lives were in danger have in fact returned home. They learned this fact in 2008 when a large percentage of people who fled Lebanon claiming their lives were in danger obtained Canadian citizenship had returned home to Lebanon. The Canadians have learned to their dismay that they had been generous with their asylum policies and that they had been gamed. It would be nice if Suzy Khimm had told the whole story - or simple accurately reported what was happening in Canada - but I guess honest reporting is something beyond this individual.

Posted by: jeffreed | August 24, 2010 4:52 PM | Report abuse

My only problem with this post is the phrase " shows just how far the U.S. immigration debate has shifted to the right."
What do you mean by "the right"?
Other columnists/bloggers at the Post have called libertarian groups (who generally favor wide-open immigration/labor policies) "right-wing" groups, but surely you don't think that people who support open immigration are trying to make people afraid of immigrants, do you?
Your sloppy language is a monument to the political laziness that runs rampant among bloggers and journalists.

Posted by: chadreese | August 24, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

It's worth noting that this same shift in attitudes has happened across western Europe as well.

Also, I think comparisons with Australia and Canada break down to some extent because the scale of the issue is so much larger here in the US.

Posted by: tomtildrum | August 24, 2010 6:12 PM | Report abuse

Once again,let's remember that there are 4 groups that support illegal immigration in the U.S.

1. Latinos -- for obvious reasons.

2. The Chamber of Commerce -- for obvious reasons-- they want cheap labor.

3. The leadership of the Democratic Party. But the rank-and-file, by contrast, are not supportive. According to the polls, they are split down the middle. In fact, it would be odd if they supported the Chamber of Commerce's demand for cheap labor. In Harry Truman’s day they would never have been on the same side.

4. Journalists -- the people who pontificate but were caught completely off-guard by polls showing that the vast majority of Americans supported the Arizona law. They also apparently don't understand enough about economics to understand why the Chamber of Commerce wants more immigrants.

I guess this last group obviously includes Suzy Khimm. Opposing an open border not just a "right wing phenomenon." Most liberal economists would agree with Paul Krugman that a strong safety net and an open border are inconsistent.

Posted by: kevin9 | August 24, 2010 9:15 PM | Report abuse

So, when you say Australia and Canada are shifting to the right, do you mean they are now going to INTENTIONALLY increase illegal immigration for the purpose of providing a low wage labor pool for bug business, and maybe even grant amnesty to all illegals (as Reagan did)?

Posted by: Lomillialor | August 25, 2010 4:26 AM | Report abuse

Our current immigration policy, if there really is one, is unsustainable. The U.S. can't continue to take in massive number of immigrants, illegal or legal, from every third world country in the world. Especially one that sits right on our southern border. A country's immigration policy should be in place to benefit the country as a whole and mass migration of unskilled laborers who use more government services than they pay for through taxes does not benefit this country. Our immigration policy should be skewed towards expediting the entry of skilled workers into theis country. Right now it takes years and years to get a green card and even longer to get citizinship if you go through the legal channels. Whereas a person can cross the southern border illegally and if he keeps his head down really doesn't have to worry to much about getting kicked out. Certain special interests in this country love our current immigration policy, or lack thereof, but the country as a whole is paying the price.

Posted by: RobT1 | August 25, 2010 7:32 AM | Report abuse

"Restrictionist fear-mongering"?? It's not fear-mongering to wish to retain your country's sovereignty and heritage,protect our resources and environment, and maintain a level of national security that protects our citizens. It's not fear-mongering to resent that people abuse our very generous immigration system and combine to destroy our environment, deplete our resources, cost the taxpayer billions for law enforcement, schools, hospitals and medical care, prisons, and for supporting dual language in every facet of our lives. I wish, for once, the prententious, self styled intellectuals who pen this drivel would use their brains for something other than puffing themselves up.

Posted by: Lilycat11 | August 25, 2010 8:54 AM | Report abuse

Australia has been a master at using the U.S.S.A.'s Capitalism as a blueprint to build their country. It is now (wisely) using the U.S.S.A.'s idiotic 'politically correct' ACLU, immigration, and kiss-them-on-all-four-cheeks foreign policy as examples of how NOT to destroy their sovereignty. At least the past 50 years of our inept social engineering is benefiting Australian by demonstrating what NOT to do.

Posted by: IQ168 | August 25, 2010 9:12 AM | Report abuse

There already is a "pathway to citizenship." You start from your country of origin, you then apply to migrate LEGALLY into the USA. Then, you wait while you are checked out, verified, and if and only if approved, THEN you may enter the USA and become a citizen. THAT is the pathway to citizenship. If you are in the USA illegally, go back home to your country of origin, get back to the end of the line. MAYBE then you can earn the right to be a citizen.

Enforce CURRENT immigration laws already on the books. Arrest and deport every illegal immigrant. Deny anchor babies the right to citizenship if both parents are not legal citizens. 12-20 million people living in the USA illegally are not immigrants, they are invaders.

Secure the border, and you will stop the flow of drugs and illegal immigrants. The Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, and the current security walls in Israel/West Bank ALL prove that if you are serious about securing your borders, it CAN BE DONE. To those who say "you can't expect all 12-20 million illegal immigrants to leave:" YES WE CAN, if we want to. It's been done before, Mexican Repatriation it was called, back then. See: Wikipedia entry for Mexican Repatriation:

There is an endless pot of taxpayer money to throw at Iraq, Afganistan, and policing the oil industries' (and China's export cargo ships') safe passage. I say it's time to use our tax dollars to DEFEND the USA. It is time for us to use the National Guard literally, to guard the nation's borders.

Please spare me the sob story of breaking up families; if parents are here illegally, they can take their children back home to the parent's country of origin when deported. If you wed an illegal immigrant, you most likely knew that going into it, and if not, then your marriage is based on lies and deception. No family need be broken up; keep the family together by having them ALL go at once when the illegal is deported.

Mark Pepp
Chicago IL

Posted by: pobox10275 | August 25, 2010 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Pretty weak blog post. Australia's immigration policy against unauthorized entrances was much more right wing 4 years ago under John Howard than the previous labor government (Howard would intercept the boats, transfer them to remote islands for processing and then ship most of them back home) They even cut off a piece of Australia (Christmas Island) so that even if they landed on that Island they couldn't say they were on Australian soil. Then the Lefties softened up a bit and the boats started coming again. 2 weeks before the election the Labor PM tried to harden up again but the flip flopping failed miserably.

The HUGE difference between Australia's (and Canada's) immigration policies is that if a University educated person wants to move to Australia there is actually a way to do that, outside of winning a Green Card lottery. The crazy part of the Immigration debate in the US is the question of what to do with "illegals" stops anyone from considering how to attract the world's talent to bring about the next Google or Sun Microsystems (both founded by immigrants or 2nd generation immigrants).

Posted by: ChicagoIndependant | August 25, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

In Australia I have observed a concerted campaign of conflation since the mid 90s to alarm Australians of all political colours (but predominantly white) by some parts of "academia", think tanks, political advisors, politicians and media.

This has been exemplified by agressively highlighting negative issues in media through misinformation, personal views, images of "boat people", "Moslems" etc. with themes which revolve round social cohesion, national identity, religion, population growth "statistics", environment, employment, housing etc. etc.

A polite description was that it is a proxy debate for infrastructure issues and problems that are related, which is partly true. Unfortunately, as a white middle class Australian, I see it as simply racist or "neo white Australian" policy. This is confirmed when the protagonists claim "political correctness" is stifling debate, which then encourages all sorts of hatred and wacky ideas to spill out and influence others lacking critical analysis skills. Not unlike tactics used by holocaust deniers ....

Posted by: AndrewSmithAIEC | August 25, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

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