Immigration has been a sensitive issue in national politics in the western hemisphere for the last 25 years. Its ascent as an issue to be discussed, debated and voted upon has been an outcome of the process of globalization. However, within the last ten years, particularly after the failed Arab Spring of 2011, it has become a hot topic in Europe as well as in the United States. In this period, the entire immigration debate also gave a shot in the arm to the Right Wing parties in Europe and saw Donald Trump being elected primarily on the anti-immigrant agenda with a promise to build a wall that is supposed to work as a panacea on the problem of imagined or real immigration flows from Mexico. These are also the times when exactly the same sentiment has fuelled Brexit which is as yet incomplete, messy and creating more problems than it claims to be able to resolve. In India itself, the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has caused massive upheaval in the lives of millions of people in the Eastern province of Assam. There are also calls to do a national run of the NRC which would have massive and unimaginable social and political consequences.
In Blaming Immigrants Nationalism and the Economics of Global Movement, Neeraj Kaushal takes on and breaks down many of the myths that have fuelled such strong anti-immigrant sentiment in the West. Neeraj Kaushal is Professor of Social Policy at Columbia University, School of Social Work, and has done extensive work on this area. The author aims to answer two significant questions on this issue: is immigration really responsible for all the problems that it is blamed for? And consequently, will restricting or better regulating immigration be able to help solve these problems? The author also argues how the refugee problem that is transient is often confused with immigration which is actually a more natural and constructive phenomenon. Also useful to recall here is another book on the subject, India Moving by Chinmay Tumbe of IIM, Ahmedabad, which looks at immigration from India over the last millennia. While the book by Chinmay Tumbe is a combination of storytelling, anecdotes and trivia from history, Neeraj Kaushal’s book deals with the here and now on the basis of facts and data to break down myths and stereotypes surrounding the politics of anti-immigration.
The book is divided into nine chapters and each of these goes into detail as far as the immigration debate is concerned. The introduction of this book looks at whether immigration today is really that much higher than anytime in the past and whether a large share of immigration today is actually illegal. On both counts the author’s answer is a resounding no.
In the next chapter, the author looks at the reasons populations in host countries feel threatened by immigrants or the causes which are spread as reasons why immigration must be restricted. It handles important questions like, does immigration lead to dilution of culture and identity? And also, does this fear cause a change in the way in which rich and technologically capable countries look at issues like humanitarian assistance? It also looks at more pressing issues of whether immigrants take jobs and push down wages especially in the times of economic slowdowns. The conclusion that the author reaches is that the US economy, already under deflationary pressures, shifting of innovation and growth centres and inversing of ratio between productive and dependent populations actually creates favourable environment for immigration which can help increase productivity, propel demand and contribute to the innovation cycles of the ageing and stagnant economies. This logic goes against the common misperception of immigration adding to humanity the socio-economic pressures in recipient societies.
An important point in this debate is that of globalization. It is often argued that immigration represents globalization’s next step and the western response today both towards globalization and immigration is in sync. The West supported globalization until it meant opening up markets abroad but now opposes it when Asia and formerly developing world are exporting goods and services manufactured there. In the same vein it opposes immigration because a highly skilled workforce is challenging the norms of immigration into the West. Rising numbers of self-funded students from China and India into western universities attest to this argument; getting work visas is harder than education visas because the latter earns revenue and the former challenges one’s conventional wisdom.
The book also challenges the idea that the American immigration system is somehow broken and needs a rehaul or rebuilding from ground up. It beautifully showcases how the American immigration system is actually carefully designed to attract talent in the form of skilled workers and innovators who actually join the top tier of tax-paying community straight out of their colleges. Thus, argues the author, all efforts of ‘comprehensive’ immigration reform bill are nothing but playing to the gallery of conservative voters. The book also showcases how diffused the American immigration system actually is and argues that state senates play a larger role in designing specific bills and allocating capacity to respond to the ‘problem’ of immigration.
Last, and not the least important, is the question of whether immigration fuels terrorism and whether the basic values of destination countries and cultures are actually at the receiving end of it. In no uncertain terms, this debate is as recent as it is significant and the evil forces of the Islamic State with all its dreams of creating a Caliphate is the core reason for it. Of course, the ghastly incidents of terrorism across Europe between 2014 and 2018 are certainly responsible for associating immigrants with terrorist threat. However, security and intelligence agencies across Europe are better able to anticipate as well as control terrorist attacks. Also, many cases of terrorism related incidents have tended to involve second generation immigrants who have resorted to violence due to ghettoization or discrimination in some form or the other, meaning that improving the social fabric in a society is actually a better way instead of creating more misperceptions that cause ghettoization. The same story goes for crimes. However, securitization of immigration has been the easiest thing because border security is at the core of the idea of overall national security understanding across the world.
The value of the book should not be judged by the fact that it is indeed written by an immigrant but on the basis of the detailed analysis of the issue of immigration. It is a complex issue with multiple layers of interests and fears intertwined. If nothing else, the world needs to slow down in its fears, responses and phobias and more works like this would hopefully help humanity towards achieving that goal.
Avinash Godbole is Assistant Professor at O. P. Jindal Global University, Haryana.