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
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.
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