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Poll says immigration’s huge

Alan Braunholtz

The Web polls in this paper are often interesting. The yes-no replies of these surveys are provocative, to say the least. It would be interesting if it included the number of respondents. Then you’d have a better indication of whether it’s a broad based local view or just a few motivated people stacking the poll. Simple arithmetic as you track the day-to-day swings often suggests the latter, as the percentages move in jumps of large fractions and not small shifts.The recent question on Harry Potter’s potential to induce devil worship, or some such nonsense, really intrigued me. Ten percent of the respondents went to all the trouble of connecting to say they had no opinion. Why bother to do that? Perhaps it’s a more complex question than I thought without a simple yes-no answer. Or few had read the book but wanted to participate in the discussion anyway. That’s similar to most book clubs I’ve joined, although not reading a book seldom stopped people from having strong views on it.It’s sort of a refreshing change. Instead of yes-no answers based perhaps on limited knowledge of the issue, these “no opinion” responders are saying I don’t know enough to answer that question yet. Is that a hint to the paper to inform them better? Could be the case with Harry Potter, as I haven’t read much on exactly how he’s undermining civilization or for that matter why he’s not.On immigration we seem to have much stronger views, at least in the opinion survey. Immigration, or more specifically, illegal immigration, is a growing political issue. “Illegal” is the key word here, although every now and then “losing our culture, language” “overwhelmed,” etc., slips out suggesting undertones of racism by at least a few activists. It’s a natural fear. Cultural change is difficult for all parties. If Europe is anything to go by, there is no easy solution.Germany, France and the United Kingdom have all invited large immigrant populations in for many of the same reasons as here. There are low-paying unpleasant jobs that an educated population no longer wants to do. You don’t go to college to work in a factory or field. Germany tried to segregate the Turks, the French tried to assimilate the Algerians, and the British wanted to create a society that celebrated a multicultural mix. London is definitely a more exciting and vibrant place to be than some all-white provincial town, but all three of these strategies have problems without easy solutions. “Why can’t we all just get along?” is a simple question with difficult answers.Illegal immigrants are illegal, but we entice them here with a porous border, employers that require little documentation and lots of jobs in onion fields, orange groves, building sites, restaurants and slaughterhouses. Most U.S. citizens won’t do these jobs for the wages and conditions that are offered. Ultimately we all invite them in, as we’re simply not prepared to pay more for those products.Historically, labor will always follow wealth. China is witnessing the largest human migration in history as poor villagers move to the new industrial centers. It’s a safety valve. Take the world’s resources while preventing movement of people, and explosions always follow. Mexican President Vincente Fox knows that his country’s economy depends partly on migrant labor sending money back from the U.S. Alan Greenspan believes that immigration helps drive our prosperity (although the lowest wage earners in the U.S. suffer). And many economic studies support this. The film “A Day without a Mexican” takes a biased and humorous view of what life would be like without any immigrants. Few in political or corporate power want to stop immigration. It’s also probably impossible. The steady force of populations is far stronger than any military.Still, an illegal free-for-all doesn’t do anyone any favors except a few politicians who can sit on the fence decrying the social costs while turning a blind eye. There’s probably more common ground here than they think. Few people think a border with unlimited and undocumented entry is a good idea, and few want to live in a society where a child’s health or education might depend on their legal status. Humanity trumps legality for most people. Some form of legalized immigration, temporary and permanent, would seem to be part of the answer. President Bush’s proposals on this are at least getting the discussion rolling, although the cultural issues will always be hard to solve.Long-term immigration will control itself as population bubbles in developing countries pass and their economies start to provide their citizens with a decent living. Given a choice, few people want to leave their home and travel to a country where they’re treated as second-class people. Getting religious ideology and misinformation out of international family planning would be a help with stabilizing populations. Non-corrupt governments with free and fair trade are key to raising a country’s standard of living. These will cost us, as we’ll pay more without our government subsidies and as non-corrupt governments extract better conditions for their citizens from the multinationals instead of giving their resources away for kickbacks.The environment will be a big factor in future migrations. You can’t live in a desert or underwater, so watch for man-made environmental disasters and climate change to displace hundreds of millions of people, unless we start to consider environmental protection as essential to our well-being. I’m still waiting for economists to realize how a healthy environment underpins everything.If only the linked problems of world poverty-immigration-violence could be solved with a simple A or B question. Unfortunately, it’s going to require costly choices. Doing nothing may be the costliest choice of all.Alan Braunholtz of Vail writes a weekly column for the Daily. This column, as in the case of all personal columns, does not necessarily reflect the views of the Vail Daily.Vail, Colorado


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