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Alien Nation Review: Peculiar racial ideas mar immigration book
By Daniel Stoffman
The Toronto Star
Alien Nation: Common Sense About America's Immigration Disaster
By Peter Brimelow Random House, 306 pages, $33.50
In Canada, immigration is usually portrayed as a left-right issue, with the left in favor and the right against. In fact, the political right is deeply split on this sensitive subject. That's why rightwinger Peter Brimelow finds himself attacking his ideological soulmates as he dissects American immigration policy in his book Alien Nation.
Open, unselective immigration—the prevailing policy in both Canada and the U.S.—is a logical outgrowth of neoconservative ideology. Neoconservatives believe that market forces, not governments, should determine how many immigrants come to a country. The true believer wants to remove as much power as possible from government, including the power to control the nation's borders. He rejects the counter-argument that uncontrolled immigration is damaging to the national or collective interest. For him, there is no such thing as the collective interest, only individual interests.
The second reason the right typically favors wide-open immigration is practical rather than ideological: Increasing the supply of labor decreases its price. Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservative government, representing Bay Street, dumped the traditional Canadian immigration program, which was one of moderate, fluctuating levels with an emphasis on skills, in favor of a new program of permanent high immigration levels.
The populist right, on the other hand, includes in its constituency people who actually work for hourly wages and therefore disapprove of polices aimed at depressing them. This explains why the Reform Party, representing Main Street, supports a return to normal immigration levels.
Brimelow, who used to live in Canada where he wrote for Maclean's and the Financial Post and now writes for the business elites who read the Wall Street Journal and Forbes, comes down on the side of the populists. By urging a sharp cut in U.S. immigration, he takes issue with the Journal's ultraconservative editor, Robert Bartley, who wants totally open borders.
Brimelow minces no words about who benefits from the sort of policies the Journal advocates. Drawing on the work of the economist George Borjas, he demonstrates that current U.S. immigration policy has only one significant economic impact—to drive down the wages of U.S. workers by $120 billion a year.
Where does this vast sum go? Into the pockets of the capitalists, of course. "The American elite's support for immigration may not be idealistic at all," concludes Brimelow, "but self-interested—as a way to prey on their fellow Americans."
Alien Nation is full of informative data like this, much of it as relevant to Canadians as to Americans because, on a per capita basis, we have twice as much immigration as the Americans do and our immigration program, like theirs, is now based chiefly on family relationships rather than skills.
Unfortunately, the book is marred by Brimelow's peculiar ideas on the subject of race.
Until the Immigration and Nationality Act amendments of 1965, the U.S. favored whites over non-whites in its immigration policy. Canada got rid of a similar policy about the same time. But by choosing to accept immigrants mainly on the basis of family relationships, both countries now, in effect, restrict immigration to residents of a handful of non-white countries because they are the only ones who have recently-arrived relatives who wish to sponsor them. This is unfair to prospective immigrants who don't have sponsors and gives the receiving country no control over who gets in.
But Brimelow thinks the sponsorship system is bad mainly because it is tilting the racial balance of the U.S., which was 90 per cent white 30 years ago and should, in his opinion, have stayed that way. A British immigrant himself, he seems to think the U.S. is essentially a white, British nation. This is a profound misunderstanding of a country that has always been multicultural and whose major contribution to world civilization is jazz music, a black invention.
Brimelow nowhere suggests that nonwhites are inferior but he believes that different races can't get along and that countries with racially diverse populations will inevitably succumb to "multiethnic mayhem." His argument is unconvincing; Canada, Britain, and Australia are examples of countries where people of different races co-exist peacefully. Moreover, racial and cultural uniformity is no guarantee of social harmony. Somalia, for example, is one of the most homogeneous nations in the world and [VDARE.COM note: Actually, no. See Unravelling Somalia, by Catherine Lowe Besteman for a portrayal of what Lord Durham called "Two nations warring in the bosom of a single state."] yet it destroyed itself in a civil war.
By his misguided emphasis on race, Brimelow gives those he calls "immigration enthusiasts" a chance to dismiss the rest of the book, when they might learn something by reading it.
High immigration levels are neither necessary nor beneficial to the economy. Mass immigration hurts those at the bottom of the social ladder. The skill levels of immigrants are in freefall. Massive non-white immigration coupled with affirmative action quotas make an explosive combination. These are just a few of the points Brimelow makes and they are just as applicable to Canada as to the U.S.
His best argument is the "what if" question. What if those who favor the current policy are wrong? The result will be severe and longstanding economic, social, and environmental problems. But what if those who favor less immigration are wrong? The result would be a temporary labor shortage that could easily be fixed by opening the immigration tap a bit wider. In other words, the consequences of too little immigration are minimal while those of too much are grave.
There is no good reason to risk those consequences. As Brimelow points out, high immigration levels are not an unstoppable natural phenomenon but rather the result of deliberate government policy. And, since that policy is both unnecessary and deeply unpopular, Brimelow is probably right in predicting that it will soon be changed.
Daniel Stoffman made a study of immigration policy as the 1991-1992 Atkinson Fellowship winner, and has published many articles on the subject.
Copyright © 1995 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.