Cutting family-class immigration increases religious extremism, sexual oppression and organized crime, and actually attracts a less financially secure group of immigrants, I argue in this column.
Here is a copy of this week’s column containing links to its source documents. The Statistics Canada studies are freely available. Some of the others may require access to a fulltext retrieval database; if you’re having trouble, please contact me.
In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s election-winning program of toughness, law, order and restraint came crashing to a halt this week with a sudden and almost touching realization that happiness is not just a matter of money and earnings, but of the nature and quality of the people around you.
This was, on one hand, the conclusion of Mr. Sarkozy’s blue-ribbon panel of Nobel Prize-winning economists, whom he had convened to find an alternative to gross national product as a measure of national well-being.
His panel reported this week that you can’t tell if your society is doing well unless you find a way to measure such intangibles as “the quality of our social connections and relationships.”
The same day, France decided to abandon one of the core planks of Mr. Sarkozy’s 2007 election campaign - his pledge to cut back dramatically the number of people who enter France each year as family members of previously arrived immigrants.
Like many countries, France has long been frustrated by its seeming inability to control immigration. When it establishes quotas, tests of skill or language, or even outright bars, the people keep coming. And they tend to be relatives of people who are already there: About 65 per cent of France’s immigrants are of the family-reunification category.
This has also infuriated leaders in Canada, where a third of the 250,000 people entering the country each year are family-class immigrants and probably half of all immigrants are relatives, close and distant, scraping through in other categories. The supposedly desirable “points system” immigrants are less than a fifth of our intake.
This drove Mr. Sarkozy to pledge a crackdown, including a requirement that all applicants take DNA tests to prove that they’re really related to someone in France.
This week, Immigration Minister Eric Besson announced that this campaign was over before it started: The DNA idea was “stupid,” he said, and the notion of not reunifying families was swept under the carpet of forgotten policy proposals.
He joins a long, long list of political leaders who have tried to cut unwanted immigration and have almost always failed. Laws to limit family-reunification have been launched and promptly sunk in the United States in the Reaganite 1980s and the Newt Gingrich 1990s; several times in France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands; in Canada under Conservative governments in the 1950s and two Liberal governments during this decade.
Stephen Harper complained about family immigration, his government briefly made a show of slowing the process and then it quietly dropped the subject.
In all those cases, the laws ended up achieving the opposite of their desired effect: With the occasional exception of a slight dip at the outset, immigration, including unwanted immigration, has increased.
An extreme case might be Germany, which banned immigration entirely in 1971 and proceeded to add seven million people, all through family-reunification programs, over the next 30 years, at a rate that exceeded the pre-ban intake. But similar things have happened in the United States and France.
Ten years ago, sociologist Christian Joppke published a study entitled “Why liberal states accept unwanted immigration.” It noted that the only countries that have managed to control levels of immigration have been those with authoritarian governments – communist, fascist or autocratic…
His conclusion was one Canadians will recognize: In democratic countries, prior immigrants become citizens and voters. They settle in urban areas that are often key swing ridings in elections. In places such as Canada, they and their children begin to make up the majority of the population. They get politically involved.
And, most important, they care passionately about being close to their parents, children, loved ones and fellow villagers. It used to be thought, a generation ago, that the decision to migrate was a matter of “push factors” - poverty and hardship driving people out - or “pull factors” involving the attraction of higher wages.
It is now more widely believed that immigration is driven by the creation of networks: Humans form clusters of relationships in the destination country, linked to ones back home.
As Mr. Sarkozy’s economists taught him, happiness is not achieved until secure and meaningful relationships are established; those networks strive to make those relationships whole. Thus, they have immense political power.
When governments really do try to crack down on family reunification, and disrupt those networks, the result can be unanticipated forms of unhappiness.
In Britain, the Netherlands and Germany, tough restrictions in family reunification produced a sharp rise in religious conservative practices among immigrants from countries where conservatism has been on the decline, notably Bangladesh and Turkey.
Arranged marriages, often to a cousin from a distant village who the primary-immigrant spouse hadn’t met, became commonplace - a surprising development, since arranged marriages were not widespread in these immigrants’ home countries.
Another side effect was that many young men were left without circles of family members around them.
A recent study by Dennis Broeders and Godfried Engbersen at Erasmus University in Rotterdam discovered the result: The migrants were forced into a “dependence on informal, and increasingly criminal, networks and institutions.”
And, economically, it was a wash: A recent study by Statistics Canada found that family-class immigrants, contrary to image, were much less likely to fall into poverty than their points-system counterparts. (This conclusion is further elaborated in this working paper, which discusses the effects of the 2000 IT bust on “points” versus “family” immigrants).
The reason, the study conjectured, was because they had strong family networks to support them.
This, as the French have discovered, can be as good as money