February 12, 2008

The fine line between populism and racism

Posted in Society at 02:16 by graham

As you probably know, the U.S.A. is electing itself a new president. The process is that each of the two parties elects their candidate, then they compete against each other. The four remaining Republicans vying for their parties nomination recently participated in a debate here in California. Here is the transcript of the Republican debate of January 30th 2008. It’s mostly standard political fare, until you get to the topic of immigration. Then, well, see for yourself:

Mike Huckabee: What we’ve got to do is to have a secure border fence, something I have proposed that we do within 18 months of taking office.

He doesn’t mean a fence between the USA and Canada. Oh no. He means a fence between the USA and Mexico. It gets better.

Mitt Romney: Under the ideal setting, at least in my view, you say to those who have just come in recently, we’re going to send you back home immediately, we’re not going to let you stay here. You just go back home.

For those that have been here, let’s say, five years, and have kids in school, you allow kids to complete the school year, you allow people to make their arrangements, and allow them to return back home.

Those that have been here a long time, with kids that have responsibilities here and so forth, you let stay enough time to organize their affairs and go home.

John McCain: We will secure the borders first when I am president of the United States. I know how to do that. I come from a border state, where we know about building walls, and vehicle barriers, and sensors, and all of the things necessary. There’s 2 million people who are here who have committed crimes. They have to be rounded up and deported.

Yes, he actually said they have to be rounded up and deported. Let’s get some numbers on this, from the Wikipedia article on Illegal Immigration (see the article for sources): In March of 2006 the Pew Hispanic Center estimated the undocumented population ranged from 11.5 to 12 million individuals, a number supported by the US Government Accountability Office (GAO). Pew estimated that 57% of this population comes from Mexico; 24% from Central America and, to a lesser extent, South America; 9% from Asia; 6% from Europe, and the remaining 4% from elsewhere.

So illegal immigration into the United States is primarily Latino. Mitt Romney wants to deport 12 million people, and John McCain 2 million. Mike Huckabee didn’t say how many. Can you think of other countries and regimes that have tried to get rid of millions of people from their country?

There are two reassuring points here. Firstly, the only one to of made a firm promise, Mike Huckabee, is trailing Mitt Romney and John McCain, so seems unlikely to be nominated. Secondly, these anti-Latino positions are new for all of them, as The Economist reported:

The mainstream Republican candidates are all on record as supporting fair-minded “comprehensive” immigration reform. John McCain sponsored a reform bill together with his Democratic colleague, Ted Kennedy. Mr Romney mocked the idea that you could deport 12m people. As governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee supported allowing the children of illegal immigrants to claim cheap in-state tuition.

So the candidates may well be saying what they think the voters want to hear – these are primary elections, so they are trying to appeal to hardcore Republicans. The candidates certainly don’t act like they believe their own rhetoric: Mitt Romney actually employs illegal immigrants.

There is a much more intelligent take on immigration at The Economist’s Global Migration report, and more sanity over here.

And as it’s Friday, here’s proof that politicians can sometimes get it, so don’t despair. From the same debate, once they turned to the question of Iraq.

Ron Paul: So when I talk about these long-term stays, I think, “How many men are you willing to let die for this, for something that has nothing to do with our national security?”

There were no al Qaeda there. It had nothing do with 9/11. And there was no threat to our national security. They never committed aggression. It’s unconstitutional. It’s an undeclared war.

And we have these silly arguments going on about who said what when. I think it’s time to debate foreign policy and why we don’t follow the Constitution and only go to war with a declaration of war.

The audience applauded.

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