Immigration in the Age of Neoliberalism

January 10, 2008

welcome to rabble.ca

This article from Canada’s Rabble Magazine raises many questions, not least of which is: “Why can’t we talk about immigration like this in the U.S.?”

Just check out some of these quotes:

These people migrate out of necessity, even when they know that doing so may be expensive and even dangerous. They also migrate because it is possible to do so: contemporary capitalism, in its neoliberal form, relies on the concept of “workforce mobility”, as various powerful groups like to point out.

We are concerned with an enormous conflict, which ties together a vast range of crises that span Indonesia, Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The American Empire needs to exert control in these parts of the world over enormous energy resources. This new conquest of the region requires a re-engineering, and the subjugation of the people who live there.

Jeeez, just imagine, imagine what it’d be like to simply live in a country where these kinds of opinions are considered part of the legitimate and rational debate around immigration. Imagine. Instead, we live in a country where most of the key players in the current immigration debate: many national “immigrant rights” groups, their philanthropic patrons, the political-bureaucratic class, the media and the racist right- have an unspoken pact to limit discussion of immigration within the very limited psychic and physical borders of an empire in rapid decline.

That what is considered in this country “rational”, “civilized” and “newsworthy” bears absolutely zero resemblance to what articles like this one say speaks directly of the ‘why’ of this blog.

The “Dreaming Beyond the Walls of Civilization” tag in the title of Of América comes from the perpetual need for ALL of us to interrogate notions of “nation”, “civilization”, “rationality” and other terms tossed around nonsensically -and dangerously, especially around issues like “national security” and immigration.

Anyway, thanks for indulging me in this rant and please do read this piece as it provides some semblance of what a truly rational discussion around immigration might look like in this country. I’ll start believing in, voting for Obama or Clinton when they can say anything in this article.

And don’t you just love how the “Rabble” moniker implicitly knocks “civilization” ? If this is “civilization”, then you need to embrace your inner barbarian, your membership as part of the rabble. I have.

Gracias & enjoy.

R

Immigration in the age of neoliberalism

by the Political Analysis Collective
January 9, 2008

Since the town of Hérouxville made headlines several months ago, a debate has been raging in Quebec regarding the impact of Muslim immigration on “the true values of Quebec.”

Through the media, this debate has sparked the collective imagination. “There are too many immigrants”. “Reasonable accommodations are becoming unreasonable”. An aggressive tone has emerged.

While its mandate is to examine inter-community relations, the Bouchard-Taylor Commission was set against this controversial background. The goal of the Commission is laudable, but one would hope that the debate would be return to questions of inclusion and respect. However, it should not come as a surprise that this polemic controversy should “blow up” in Quebec, as in any other capitalist society.

Immigration and capitalist development

According to the UN, there were roughly 200 million immigrants (3% of the world population) in 2005. Millions of people leave their homes and this constitutes the largest migration in history. These people migrate out of necessity, even when they know that doing so may be expensive and even dangerous. They also migrate because it is possible to do so: contemporary capitalism, in its neoliberal form, relies on the concept of “workforce mobility”, as various powerful groups like to point out.

Neoliberalism is proceeding with a profound restructuring of work which depends on an enormous influx of new “heads and hands”. On the one hand, this is in response to the new needs of capitalistic accumulation. On the other hand, it is in response to demographic changes in capitalist countries. The current cycle requires an abundant workforce with few qualifications to work in agriculture, construction, private and personal services – a workforce that can be found in the large population “surplus” of the Third World.

This workforce is usually destined for low-wage, not very gratifying, sometimes dangerous and non-unionized or hardly “unionizable” jobs. The workforce must be mobile and precarious, while workers’ and social rights are de-emphasized. At another level, capitalism needs to recuperate qualified workers from other countries. The brain-drain is hardly new, but it is accelerated, especially in the “knowledge” economy, where the concentration of capital is greatest. Industrial quantities of qualified workers are required by the information technology, biomedical and engineering fields.

This phenomenon is even greater in the U.S., where more than 30 million “legal” immigrants can be found, and quite possibly as many “illegal” immigrants. The border indeed has become quite porous, letting in “legals” and “illegals”, thanks to policies that favour both legalisation and criminalisation of immigration. This contradiction effectively forces immigrants to accept working conditions that are below the norm. According to various estimates, more than 60% of “unqualified” jobs in the USA will be filled by immigrants within the next 10 years.

The Canadian context

Capitalist restructuring in Canada also calls on larger numbers of immigrants. An estimated quarter of a million persons immigrate legally to this country every year. Though much lower, the number of illegal immigrants is on the rise (especially from Asia). It is estimated that 22% of Canadians will be immigrants by 2017 (the proportion is currently 18.3%), a number unseen since 1920.

As is the case in other countries, the immigrant population is segmented. Even though the percentage of university-educated is higher for new immigrants, their income is, in general, 10% lower than other segments of the Canadian population. Here is another revealing statistic: 15% of immigrants live below the poverty line, which is twice the national percentage. In fact, capitalist social structures reproduce inequality. Pitting workers of the world one against another is profitable. Immigrants against born citizens, men against women, white against black, everyone against everyone: it all maintains the dominant order in place.

Currently, the immigration influx is mainly coming from Third World countries. In Canada, 47% of the population now affirms being from an origin ethnic other than British or French. In most large cities, the skin colour of the population has changed. Along with these indicators, others make singling out – and therefore discriminating and disciplining – immigrant workers easier. Part of this new wave of immigration comes from regions inhabited by Muslims in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. According to certain projections, 10 years from now more than 1.8 million Muslims will live in Canada. These immigrants are often fleeing war and other atrocities in troubled regions such as Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

As a rule, Muslim immigrants tend to live their daily lives much like the population at large. Religious identity is expressed through traditions, memories, important religious holidays, as well as food and clothing-related customs. Every now and then, these cultural differences, which count for very little in daily life, are manipulated by projects which seek to exaggerate these artefacts of identity, or they are used to control or manipulate other types of conflicts.

We must remember that similar policies have been used by those in power in the past. Under the rule of Duplessis, Quebec society in the 1950s was dominated by an anti-Semitic discourse. Repression was not limited to Jews only. Other religious minorities were also targeted, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses. However, the true enemy of power was the union movement, with Jews and communists as scapegoats. Nowadays, this scapegoat is Muslim and is visible for other reasons.

War without end

We are concerned with an enormous conflict, which ties together a vast range of crises that span Indonesia, Central Asia, the Middle East and parts of Africa. The American Empire needs to exert control in these parts of the world over enormous energy resources. This new conquest of the region requires a re-engineering, and the subjugation of the people who live there. Obviously, resistance is strong, as evidenced by the failures of NATO in Iraq and Afghanistan. The enemy is evil incarnate and dehumanised so that he may be eradicated with little regard for international law. It is us against them, a war of civilizations, as Samuel Huntingdon has stated.

This war is not only fought in Kandahar or Gaza: it is also fought in neighbourhoods where immigrants from those regions can be found. Though this tension existed before 2001, the events of that year have intensified police and security operations and tipped society into a “rights-free” zone. These operations include imprisonment without trial, black lists, so-called “security” certificates, intimidation or worse yet – as in Maher Arar’s case – the use of clandestine means to put “suspects” in life-threatening conditions.

This enemy must therefore “be constructed”. The demagogic media portrays the Muslim immigrant as “perverse, sly, and difficult to assimilate”. His customs are in direct contradiction with the modern world and human (especially, women’s) rights. From this perspective, the young girl wearing a veil is no more than a weapon in the hands of Islamic-terrorist groups. This Muslim menace must then be confined, monitored, controlled, even suppressed and deported, if the members of the community do not accept our “values”.

Responsibilities of civil society

Immigration as an “issue” is thus redefined in neoliberal “reasoning” and helps new, offensive, geopolitical measures that predispose opinion for war. It also justifies obvious regressions in civil rights by creating a feeling of insecurity all over the world. This strategy aims to divide society into numerous “ethnic”, religious and community groups, each one preoccupied in a struggle against the other.

It goes without saying that civil society must stand against this. It is incumbent upon us to rally the working class, immigrant or not, and fight against all these forms of discrimination that single out and marginalize immigrants, with regards to access to services, housing, employment and recognition of foreign credentials.

*Pierre Beaudet, Philippe Boudreau, Donald Cuccioletta, François Cyr, Thomas Chiasson-Lebel, Éric Martin, Michèle St Denis and André Vincent are members of the Political Analysis Collective (Collectif d’analyse politique). The original French version of this article was translated by Julie Daigneault.

One Response to “Immigration in the Age of Neoliberalism”

  1. Immigration Lawyer Says:

    As we have been discussing the subject as lot as of lately, I felt this was a great follow-up


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