Should We Launch a War on Immigration?

By Harry Shearer

immigration.JPGLast week Britain was convulsed in a media frenzy.  Unlike the one in the United States the week before, this controversy did not center around an event which, even if it had been true in every particular, still would have legitimately been a major news story only for broadcasters in Colorado. 

The UK fracas was over the invitation to the leader of the British National Party, Nick Griffin, to appear on the BBC's prime-time television debate program, "Question Time", and over his treatment on Thursday's broadcast. Griffin and his party are just to the right of Pat Buchanan, just to the left of Americans who kill census takers and scrawl "FED" on their corpses.

The other participants on the program (from the three mainstream parties), and the moderator, questioned Griffin relentlessly on issues of race and immigration, the matters on which the BNP has built its small inroad into the political system, two British seats in the European parliament.  On race, he's marvelously foolish, referring to white English people as "the aborigines of this country."   

Immigration, though, is the issue on which Griffin can be more explicit, less cagey. You can't go into a Starbucks or a fashion shop in London and be waited on by a Brit these days. In almost every instance, the smiling face handing you your caffeine or your frock is a young woman from Poland. The Labor government underestimated the amount of immigration from Eastern Europe once it entered the EU by a factor of ten. Youths from African and Caribbean countries are blamed for the introduction of "knife culture", and it doesn't mean a performance of "Aida" where the tenor carries a blade. Griffin wants an end to all this, a notion which, if followed to its logical conclusion, would require the expulsion of the royal family, German to its last pfennig.

The next night, my wife and I and a couple of friends were discussing the Griffin brouhaha over dinner. My wife is a British immigrant to the U.S.; my parents--after much trying, and without being able to bring along the rest of their families, who were left to die in Europe--were Polish and Austrian immigrants to America. There we were, discussing "the immigration problem." And what struck me is that the folks  in Britain talk about this matter as if it's a British problem, just as Buchanan's pitchfork-toters, now morphed into Glenn Beck's teabaggers,  talk about immigration-related problems as if it's an American thing.  In point of fact, most Western industrialized nations, notably Australia, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, are wrestling with what they conceive to be their own, particular "immigration problem"--Muslims in Amsterdam and the Paris suburbs, Indonesian "asylum seekers" taking leaky boats to the Aussie coast. And, in each country, a little Nick Griffin is making a little political hay.

What's striking is that none of these governments acknowledges, in these long-running, rancorous debates, that the issue is anything other than a particular, localized one, and, further, that none of these governments seems to have discovered and implemented a  solution--a quota, a points system, an electric border fence--that works, that can be adapted or shared by its brethren. In this, the immigration problem resembles nothing so much as the drug problem.  

What we need, obviously, is a War on Immigration.

Photo Credit: Flickr User swanksalot

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2009/10/should-we-launch-a-war-on-immigration/29162/