The Politics of International Immigration and Refugees

July 4, 2017

The politics of international immigration – highlighted by the ongoing European refugee crisis and the drama of the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency – was the subject of Prof Mark Miller’s American Independence Day Catalyst Trust talk.

US-Mexico tensions had escalated in the wake of Trump’s plan to build a 2000 mile wall – but, he says “walls don’t work and Mexico won’t pay for it”.

Mexicans had served as a bogeyman throughout his campaign – leading to the worst relationship between the two neighbours in Prof Miller’s memory.

But the initial trigger for the movement that has swollen to 7 million illegal immigrants in the States was the extension of the Canadian – American trade deal NAFTA to include Mexico. This spelt the demise of Mexican peasant corn and rice growers who could not compete. Politicians were warned of the resultant huge wave of illegal immigration, for which the US had no credible deterrent.

Successive presidents tried, and failed, since the 1970s to get on top of the “treacherous politics” of immigration – and Trump’s policy stance has shown “dizzying zigzags” since his inauguration. Many of his key advisors are known alt-right immigrant hawks.

The Constitution says very little on immigration, giving the president and his chief appointees vast prerogative to prevent the entry of people who they feel might cause danger to American citizens, he said. The Supreme Court’s autumn session was likely to finally rule on Trump’s executive order to ban immigrants from six Muslim countries, which had caused “pandemonium”.

The future remains uncertain – including for the “sanctuary cities” that are refusing to cooperate with the Feds to finger “aliens” – with many of Trump’s key positions as yet unfilled and surprise being his administration’s hallmark. But Prof Miller said Americans could well be mobilised along the lines of the Vietnam War protests to prevent mass deportations.

International research showed that newcomers would generally be seen as “problematic” but within two generations, “will be seen as positive and will be of benefit to their host country”. That some bad apples became terrorists should not obscure this “universal truth,” he said.

New Zealand’s temporary worker scheme (mainly for agriculture) seemed very well administered, without the problems that usually afflicted such schemes.

The US had refused to acknowledge the North – South divide and its role in immigration from Africa in search of money, jobs and hope. This would continue until some moves are made to create a better global balance “and that’s a great tragedy”.

The US had been part of the causes and continuation of disintegration in the Middle East since the 2011 Arab Spring started in Tunisia, and the attendant displacement of millions of people. After explaining the multifarious threads involved in Syria’s conflicts, Prof Miller said he would be a magician if he could say what the outcome would be – beyond his prediction that the government would survive, even if it had little legitimacy, and the war will continue for some time yet.

He said the “father of the EU” saw migration as one of the four fundamental principles of the European Community, but wisely did not introduce freedom of migration until strong infrastructural spending had reduced the developmental gap between initial member countries.

Migration within the EU only became problematic after the collapse of Eastern Europe in the 1990s, he said. Especially, for Britain, Polish immigration. Brexit would “fundamentally damage the framework and stability that has been the foundation of peace in Europe since 1945”.