Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A few thoughts on the immigration proposals

I've been meaning to write about the immigration review ever since it came out, but I was a little bit distracted. Ever since then I've been rather intimidated by it. Tze Ming and Idiot/Savant have absolutely rocked the party when it came to the details of the policy and the pernicious implications of the department's suggestions. They're both going to post more, make sure you don't miss it. Their posts made me realise that the reason I didn't know what to write was because I don't know that much about immigration policy.

I've started reading the policy document and it reads exactly like any other policy document put out to consultation. Lots of meaningless drivel and making sure that the topic is so carefully defined that you get the answers you want.

They helpfully define the aims of New Zealand immigration right up the front and one of them is "ensure that New Zealand's interests are protected and advanced".

I do wonder how a country can have interests. Are they talking about the New Zealand state? Are they saying that all New Zealand citizens have the same interests when it comes to immigration? Are they identifying the interests of a certain sector of society with the interests of the country as a whole? (my money is on the last, but more about that later).

They don't explain how a country can have interests, but they do say what New Zealand's interests are when it comes to immigration policy, which is helpful:

* maintaining the safety and security of New Zealand
* generating sustainable economic growth
* establishing strong communities
* fulfilling New Zealand’s role as a good international citizen, and
* promoting international cooperation.
So lets start with those principles, and see what they actually mean

maintaining the safety and security of New Zealand
Now obviously the main thing this means is that they should be able to deport and lock-up anyone they want to deport and lock-up and never tell them why. No meddling kids should have got in the way of sending Ahmed Zaoui somewhere else.

But it's actually more of a power grab than that. They want to amend New Zealand's immigration legislation so that it states of everyone who comes here is of good health and character. They justify that desire under this clause: "Safety and security includes ensuring that non-citizens are of good health and character." So our security is guaranteed by ensuring that only people who are of good character are allowed in. If we allowed people who were only of mediocre character in then New Zealand would become insecure.

But seriously 'good character' is pretty vague, and a lot of the examples they give are discriminatory, and this is when they're trying to sell the idea. The idea is actually even more pernicious than that (yes I have used that word twice in two posts, Joana Burke used it in the talk I heard last night, and I decided I liked it):
The term “health” in immigration policy is used not only in reference to the absence of disease and the protection of public health, but also to ensure that non-citizens do not impose excessive costs through disability.
Immigration legislation is, by its existance racist, but never underestimate it's ability to discriminate and treat like shit anyone and everyone who doesn't have power. The idea that it would damage our safety and security to have people with disabilities in the country is offensive.

generating sustainable economic growth
Now this is where we get to start looking at whose interests are defined as "New Zealand's interests". The reason the immigration debate is so frustrating is that it is often argued between people who are saying "I don't want brown people here because I'm racist" and people who are saying "I may want immigration, I may not, it all depends on what's going on with my reserve army of labour."

There is very rarely a voice which looks at immigration from the point of view of people, and links the interests of workers, where ever they are, and points out that these are not the same as the interests of bosses.

establishing strong communities
If anyone can explain what they could possibly mean by this that isn't racist then they get a cookie.

The other two criteria seem mainly to be about ensuring that we don't treat refugees any worse than everyone else, and making sure New Zealanders can travel where we want to travel.

I'd quite like to know which principle sending rape survivors back to be further traumatised comes under.

My point in this rather scatter gun critique of immigration principles, is that immigration laws are set in the interests of those with power. In particular, they're there to help ensure capitalism runs smoothly. Those of us who aren't that fond of capitalism need to reject immigration laws, and recognise that we have more in common with people in other lands than we do with business owners in our own.

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