Are you demographic? part 2

I was just eavesdropping on a conversation by a notorious American expatriate Republican, who likes to preach to the heathens British. I can see the appeal for both sides: He gets to spool out superficial right-wing talking points without being challenged, because his interlocutor has no sense of the details; and the Brits feel like they’re hearing some inside dope that sounds entirely different than the line they get from the British press. For instance, America is two nations — coasts and interior (presumably the Great Lakes count as oceans for this purpose) — and that the liberal coastal states are about to sink under the weight of their unfunded mandates

So the future belongs to heartland Republicans, and one reason, he explains, is that the liberal Babylon is losing population to the right-thinking interior. This isn’t entirely true: West coast states are all growing at above-average rates, as are Maryland and Delaware. It’s mostly the industrial Midwest that’s sinking. But the argument is based on an assumption that geography is destiny. Growing the demographic power of staunchly Republican states is not the same thing as growing the demographic power of Republicans.

People don’t adopt the political colours of their new homes (as this fellow should surely understand) rapid growth of North Carolina and Virginia, for example, has been linked to migration from less conservative regions, and to urbanisation, both of which have converted reliably Republican-voting states into Democratic-leaning ones. Population growth in Florida, Texas, Colorado, and Nevada has been cited by many experts as harbingers of future Democratic strength, as much of the increase is coming in Hispanic populations, who have shown much higher affinity with the Democrats.

(The habit of describing ethnic minority voters as being demographically determined was the target of my previous Are you demographic? post.)


Christmas Demography

Whereever I have lived in my adult life, the city has been extraordinarily quiet from Christmas to New Year’s — indeed, the quiet starts somewhat before Christmas. The natural explanation is that people go away for the holidays. (Students obviously do, but it’s far quieter than even at other times when students are on vacation.) The problem is, they must go somewhere, so it can’t be that every place empties out. (Obviously, some of the apparent quiet is simply the absence of traffic from people going to work, shopping, etc. When shops and restaurants close down in late December because of lack of customers it’s a bit self-fulfilling.) So why is it that I’m always in the places that people flee for the holidays?

A common pattern is that younger people with children travel to their parents, in their old home towns. In general, if there is a pattern of migration from some places X to other places Y, the sort of people who move around (like myself) will tend to be living at Y. At Christmas, then, the migration is temporarily reversed, and people travel from Y to X. For a brief time, Y empties out and X gets full.  (Even 2000 years ago Joseph and Mary had to go back to their home town for Christmas. And, as we know, the town was full up.) So, people like me notice that whereever they happen to be living is one of the places that empties out, because of the selection bias. People of my parents’ generation are generally living in places that take in visitors at Christmas, and so perhaps seem livelier than at other times of the year.

Exile in the modern world: Can a country deport its own citizens?

One of my favourite novels is B. Traven’s Das Totenschiff (“The Ship of the Dead”). Written in the mid-1920s, this novel tells the story of an American seaman who accidentally gets left behind with no papers when his ship sails from Rotterdam. Suddenly he is a stateless person. He tries to get help from the US consulate, but gets a Catch 22-like sermon, along the lines of, “I would of course help an American citizen who was stranded here without papers, but I am unable to assist you without proof that you are indeed an American citizen.” All the officials he encounters treat him as some sort of ghost, a man without identity papers being a contradiction in terms. (This reminds me of Bertrand Russell’s comments on the imposition of passport requirements for international travel after the First World War, a tyranny that until then had been thought characteristic of Russian despotism.) Since no one wants to deal with a ghost, they find ways to dump him across a border, taking him further and further west, until he lands in Barcelona and ends up being signed on, not entirely willingly, to the Yorick, a ramshackle ship, a floating hell of labour, crewed by other unpersons from all over the world, its hold stuffed with useless cargo that is just being carried around the Seven Seas in the hopes that it will eventually sink and yield an insurance payment.

Anyway, I thought of this surreal novel when I read the recent New Yorker article by William Finnegan, about a US citizen with a minor criminal record and mental disabilities who, for no reason that anyone can reconstruct, was targeted by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) for deportation to Mexico. He was born in the US, had never been outside the US, was not Hispanic, but somehow when he was booked into a state prison for a short sentence his birthplace was listed as Mexico, and that was enough to get him deported to Mexico less than a year later. And the Mexican authorities, since he wasn’t Mexican, managed to ship him off to Guatemala. He eventually got returned to the US, though more by accident than design. When he flew into Atlanta, with a passport issued to him by a vice consul in Guatemala City, the immigration officials there noted that he had already been deported and had him arrested, intending to redeport him.

Continue reading “Exile in the modern world: Can a country deport its own citizens?”

Xenophobia: An international perspective

I find the difference in perspective on immigration between North America and Europe all the more striking, because on the standard left-right axis the European consensus — typically to the left of the U.S. on issues like healthcare, private enterprise, and invading other countries and torturing captives — is so far to the right on the U.S. and Canadian political spectra that it’s hardly to found at all. This was made clear in the recent controversy over the Arizona law that would have police checking papers when they have “reasonable suspicion” that someone is illegally in the country. This was treated as such an obvious affront to decency that even most of the right wing didn’t want anything to do with it. In most European countries, there would be nothing controversial about permitting police to stop anyone to ask for identification. (The U.K. is a slight exception here, as the irrational hatred of foreigners has to contend with an irrational hatred of identity cards. Utility bills are considered a superior form of identification.) In Germany (which, despite the popular association in the anglophone media with police-state tactics, is fairly casual about immigrants) I needed to show proof of immigration status in order to get a library card. And whereas even the farthest right in the U.S. distanced themselves from Republican representative Duncan Hunter’s proposal that the children of illegal immigrants be deported (presumably after having their citizenship revoked), I don’t know of any country other than the U.S. and Canada that automatically grants citizenship even to the children of legal immigrants. For instance, my daughter born here is not a U.K. citizen, even though her mother, as an E.U. citizen, has the right to live and work here. (The usually even-tempered journalist Joan Walsh has called Hunter’s proposal “crazy“, and says “I’m not sure Hunter has a soul.” I don’t think it’s a good idea, but it’s obviously not an absurdity, even if it does involve the procedural hurdle in the U.S. of requiring a constitutional amendment. There’s clearly a problem of having minor U.S. children whose parents can be (and are) deported.)

In the U.K. context, it’s barely controversial to bash legal immigrants, much less illegal immigrants. In the most recent prime ministerial debate, the one thing David Cameron and Gordon Brown agreed on was that the Liberal Democrats’ proposal of an amnesty for long-term illegal residents was simply insane and indefensible. They didn’t even have to respond to his counter-arguments, pretend that they had an alternative solution for the problem. It’s the putatively left-wing party in power for the past 13 years in the U.K. that can’t think of enough new ways to attack foreigners, that they have to invent bizarrely creative ways to attack foreigners, like the law banning foreigners from marrying without Home Office approval, or instituting new proposals that immigrants need to perform “volunteer” work to earn citizenship.

What I find amazing is how clear the consensus in the U. S. and Canada in favour of (legal) immigration is, and that the very idea of basing citizenship primarily on parentage rather than on birth in the country is treated as an absurdity by right-thinking people.

Missing Canada

I was recently in Montreal for a conference, and briefly in Kingston and Toronto. Registering at the conference (actually, filling out a receipt when buying a Canadian Mathematical Society t-shirt) a secretary wanted basic address information. She looked at my conference name-badge, and asked, “Oxford… Is that in Ontario?” (To be fair, it was the France-Canada Mathematical Congress, so it was not unreasonable for her to assume that anyone apparently not French was probably Canadian, and the best guess for an English-sounding place-name is Ontario. In fact, there is an Oxford, Ontario, though it is actually a county — or, more precisely, a regional municipality — and does not, to my knowledge, have a university.) What followed, though, was typically Canadian. “No, UK.” “Oh, you came all the way from the UK? Welcome to Canada!” The greeting seemed touchingly enthusiastic and heartfelt. It was like someone saying, “So glad you could drop by. Sorry, the place is a mess, but make yourself at home.” It’s a sense I’ve often had in Canada, of an unpretentious pride in their humble home; it’s really not much, but we hope you’ll enjoy it. I really enjoyed the three Canada Day celebrations (July 1, naturally — British imperial order ensured that any important events would happen January 1 or July 1, and you’d be crazy trying to make anything happen in Canada in January) that I attended — in Vancouver, Kingston, and Ottawa. The tone was remarkably inclusive and I felt none of the crazy world-dominating fervor of US patriotism, or the weirdly forced exceptionalism of British national pride, expressing itself in such atavistic ideas as the recent government report on citizenship, which proposed encouraging school children to swear a formal loyalty oath to the Queen. (What is this monarchy thing about, anyway? I’ve never seen people more touchy than the British about someone putting on airs, or acting like he’s better than someone else; and yet, they’re content to let their country be formally ruled by someone whose qualification for the post is that her great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather was Elector of Hanover (or something like that). Of course, the Canadians also have Queen Elizabeth on their money and stamps, but they keep her at arm’s length through the Governor General.) It is perfectly possible to be proud of being Canadian, without hating other people for being something else. The US finds its existence threatened by the mere existence of people in the world who neither are nor aspire to be American, and in this struggle the UK sees its proper role to be the valet de bourreau.

Last fall I received a letter from our Toronto lawyer, informing me that our permanent residency application in Canada had been approved. It was not only the accompanying bill for $4000 that left me feeling slightly sad, but also the sense of a missed opportunity. Of course (!) I miss the Kingston winter, the bracing -20°C mornings, tramping through the snow, and skating with Chaya in the park, or the Market Square. (I noticed here a day care mentioning in its brochure that the children would go outside every day, unless the temperature were below 0°C. You’d never leave the building for months with that policy in Kingston!) I loved Chaya’s Waldorf school in Kingston, and am struggling to come to terms with the state church here. But there was something more fundamentally attractive about Canada and the idea of Canadianness. I have always cherished my status as an outsider to any group I may be suspected of belonging to, but I think I could have enjoyed getting to be a Canadian. What’s more, it seemed even vaguely possible, whereas regardless of good intentions, oaths sweared and formal conferral of citizenship it seems absurd to imagine becoming British. I don’t think there is any country more welcoming of foreigners than Canada. (Well-off and well-educated foreigners, to be sure, but then that is my experience.) Just compare the immigration authority home pages: Immigration and Citizenship Canada is full of smiling faces and links to promotional information like “Coming to Canada as an immigrant is an exciting opportunity” and “Canadians are proud to hold one of the most prized citizenships in the world. Every year about 150,000 people become new citizens of Canada.”  The grim UK Border Agency page, on the other hand, leads with the declaration “The UK Border Agency is responsible for securing the United Kingdom borders and controlling migration in the United Kingdom.” On this particular day (15 July) it prominently features the news flash that “Foreign nationals wishing to become British citizens will have to earn the right to stay, the Government announced today. The tough new approach will require all migrants to speak English and obey the law if they want to gain citizenship and stay permanently in Britain.” The presumption being, of course, that migrants are unlikely either to learn English or to obey the law. (This is followed by somewhat defensive sounding citations of public opinion polls which supposedly show the populace supporting this “tough” approach — or some tough approach, anyway.) The underlying legal regimes may be quite similar, but there’s no mistaking the difference in attitude, between the Canadian “Please consider joining us. I hope we can use your skills” and the British “We may desperately need your skills, so please come, but fuck you anyway.” (For specifics, see my comments on Polish nurses and maternity ward overcrowding here.)

canada-map UK map

National identity theft

“Now a new king arose over Egypt… He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase… Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labour. They built cities… for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” (Exodus 1:8-12)

These words, central to our recent Passover celebration, came to mind while I was thinking about the British immigration policies. I can’t figure out whether the UK is the most xenophobic country I’ve ever lived in, or whether it just acts like it. On the one hand, the UK has a well-deserved reputation as a sanctuary for the persecuted and would-be persecutors temporarily out of office. On the other hand, UK politicians, who (one presumes) know better, seem to cheer themselves up when they’re feeling blue by attacking immigrants, either directly or (more commonly) by insinuation. The same is true for pillars of society like the BBC. Immigrants are corroding the fabric of society, hence the need for ever-mounting restrictions. They are unleashing a crime wave on peace-loving Britons (at about the same rate per capita as the native hoodlums, but at least you understand what a British thug is screaming while he kicks your head in, or at least, you could if he weren’t so drunk). (Who trusts pointy-headed statistics anyway?) And, worst of all, after they’ve sneaked in here with their legal chicanery, following their perverse urges to clean our toilets and mop up bodily fluids in NHS hospitals, they’re breeding. That’s right, the same Polish nurses who are keeping the NHS maternity wards from dissolving into a mass of MAR, are now bringing those wards to the point of collapse by having babies themselves.* And there’s nothing we can do about it! Or so one would have thought…
Continue reading “National identity theft”

We enter Canada

In the end, the immigration procedure was at the very lower limit of the range of hassle I had anticipated.  The immigration officers did not kiss us on both cheeks, shout “Welcome home, future Canadians,” or sing a chorus of “O Canada!”  (It would have been premature, in any case.  Perhaps they do that at citizenship ceremonies.)  But they were cordial, calm, and easy to please.  Over all, the procedure was about as formal and confrontational as purchasing a gym membership — You don’t qualify for this deal, how about this other one? Sorry it’s taking so long, we’ve just had a rush of customers.  (There were two RV-loads of Israelis whose passports were about to expire, requiring some personal attention from the immigration officer.)  There was none of the atmosphere of suspicion that hangs so thick over US Customs and Immigration. In fact, of all the papers we brought with us, the only ones they even looked at were the passports, the letters about the job offers from Queen’s, the HRDC letter (which they said I actually didn’t need, because of NAFTA — the people at Queen’s have a different interpretation), and Chaya’s birth certificate.  The list of items we had with us were cursorily perused, because I handed it to the official who was asking us what we might have to declare, but it was clearly more than she wanted to know.  The biggest surprise was on the issue of common law marriage.  I had expected a discussion that started with a presumption of marriage, then we would explain that we are not married, and would then be asked for the form, and some documentation.  Instead, she asked, “Are you married?  Common law?” and didn’t ask for any proof.

Whereas we ordinarily speak German at home — except Chaya, who typically insists on speaking mainly English — Julia felt it would make a bad impression on the immigration officials for us to be speaking a foreign language between us, so we spoke English.  Chaya was in no mood to change routines.  “We don’t sprech Englisch.  Wir sprechen German.”  She was also upset that the woman took her passport away, and asked quite boldly for its return.

Chaya has been challenged by the new circumstances.  In particular, for the past couple of months she has been telling everyone she meets, apropos of nothing, “I’m going to Canada.  There’s snow there.”  I’ve been trying to explain to her that it makes no sense to tell people that she is going to Canada when she is already in Canada.  She feels a bit cheated by the absence of snow, but if you try to explain seasons to a native Californian two-year-old, you may as well teach quantum mechanics.

Introduction to “Moving to Canada”

Introduction to the old “Moving to Canada” blog, originally posted 20 June, 2005:

Why are we moving?  Why Canada?

The simple answer is, we needed jobs.  Professors are like soldiers and priests, sitting on their bags, waiting for their next billet.  Less so in North America than in Germany, where you do 15 years of postgraduate training, and then cluck about in the university coop until a job opens up.  Between us, we applied for about 60 jobs, were invited for 11 interviews, and received two offers, one from Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and one from Louvain-la-Neuve, in Belgium.  About two thirds of the jobs were in the US, but we only had three interviews.  Two of these were at Yale, where they told us they found us quite interesting, but they didn’t really have jobs open, and weren’t quite sure why they had invited us.  We had heard that Canadian universities often have very generous policies for supporting academic couples, a crucial point when considering how many couples we know who work hundreds or thousands of miles apart, or where one or the other has abandoned all career ambitions.  Queen’s attracted our attention very early for its very generous policy, clearly stated on its website.  They were as good as their word: After offering me a position as associate professor in the mathematics/statistics department, they created a special five-year position for Julia, half in math/stat, half in community health/epidemiology.

While many left-wing Americans like myself have prattled about moving to Canada as a protest against the Bush regime, or to have a field where progressive politics are not forelorn, they pretty much all stayed put in the end.  We have no illusions of Canada as a progressive Shangri-La, but we are going.  Sutter’s Mill pulled more pioneers out west than a dozen idealistic Horace Greeleys.

Continue reading “Introduction to “Moving to Canada””