Hand on Heart Halloween Citizenship Birtherism

The current absurdities seem to primarily result from the following:

1. The absolute contempt with which Parliament and the people regard each other. It is generally accepted that almost any amendment to the Constitution proposed by Parliament will be rejected by the people. This is described as Australia having a very rigid Constitution, the language of which must therefore be interpreted creatively by the High Court to keep it up to date. In fact we have a Constitution that is very easy to amend. It just requires a simple majority at a referendum, not two-thirds or three-quarters or any other such difficulty. It also requires a simple majority in each of a simple majority of States, which could result in a proposal unpopular in smaller States being defeated despite a popular majority. This is intentional but unimportant as Australia is exceptionally homogenous. If it ever became a real problem it could be overcome by a “creation of peers” as with the British House of Lords, i.e the bigger States could temporarily divide themselves into multiple small States each with a larger population than Tasmania and then carry a change to that entrenched provision. But it has not been a problem. The frozen Constitution results from Parliament not proposing necessary changes, not from any rigidity.

2. Despite having such an easily amended Constitution, the Parliament has never put to the people anything the people would accept concerning Australia’s Constitutional relations with Britain. Instead various Parliaments (national, State and British) carried various “Australia Acts” none of which could amend the Constitution without consent of the people. The High Court has pretended that at some unknown date Britain, New Zealand and other dominions mentioned in the Constitution became “foreign”. The alternative would have established an absurdly anachronistic distinction between Australians of “British” origin and those “wogs” of other origins such as Greek, Italian etc.

3. But the distinctions they made are as nonsensical as those they avoided. Dual and multiple citizenships are a natural development of immigration, multiculturalism and globalism. Any provisions at all concerned with “dual allegiance” are completely anachronistic. But instead of Parliament routinely fixing anachronistic provisions through simple referenda as was done regarding Aboriginals, the High Court has taken it upon itself to usurp the functions of the legislature established by the Constitution for amending it – the referendum of the people. Given a complete absence of interest in politics among the people, the Parliament and Courts can get away with this, treating apathy as acquiescence. As soon as people actually care, such usurpation of popular sovereignty would be unsustainable.

4. Much of the commentary demonstrates even greater ignorance of the law, the High Court decisions, and the history of the democratic revolution in English speaking countries than that of the learned judges themselves, so I may just be adding to that confusion, but I am struck by a couple of points. I have at least read the latest judgments which is unusual.

5. As far as I can make out the Court of Disputed Returns is invalidly constituted. It is a Parliamentary tribunal performing Parliamentary functions until the Parliament otherwise provides. This should be just as much separated from justices of the High Court exercising the judicial power as any executive administrative tribunal, according to very clear precedents. Getting bogged down in this stuff helps illustrate why that separation of the judiciary from executive or legislative administration is important. So it is about time somebody with an interest at stake put them out of their misery by giving the High Court an opportunity to declare itself free from having to deal with this stuff. If anybody actually cared they would sue disqualified members under the Common Informers Act and there would be multiple layers to go through before anything arrived at the High Court.

6. As far as I can make out, the High Court has decided that Britain is a “foreign power” and decided many years ago that its subjects are “aliens” unless Australian citizens. Whether or not that makes any sense at all, it does not settle the issue of whether Australian citizens who are not aliens are or are not “entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power”. On the face of it that question is firmly settled by the 1948 Nationality Acts in both Britain and Australia as agreed on by an imperial conference. These clearly and unambiguously provide that Australian citizens are “British subjects”. If so, then proof of Australian citizenship, is in itself, in the absence of some renunciation of being a British subject, proof of disqualification. As far as I can make out this point has never been considered, let alone settled. It is hard to predict under what obfuscation legislation declaring Australian citizens to be British subjects could be interpreted as enabling them to renounce that status while remaining Australian citizens, let alone somehow ensuring that they have implicitly done so unless they happen to have British parents or whatever.

7. There was no Australian citizenship until 26 January 1949. A large majority of Australians of my generation and older were and are British subjects – subjects of a foreign power. Not just those with parents who were born in Britain but also anyone who is an Australian citizen including those born in Australia as Australians going back to the first fleet (perhaps excluding Aborigines if desperately TRYING to be obstreperous). This is well known. Unless the foreign power, Britain, has deprived these Australians of their British status by some subsequent legislation then they and their descendants have the same entitlement to the rights of a subject of a (British) foreign power as those recently disqualified. This has nothing to do with where their parents were born. If their parents were “British to their bootheels” like Menzies, then they are in the same position as other descendants of such “foreigners”. 

8. So all perhaps except unnaturalized immigrant wogs need to get legal advice about the effect of British legislation on whether they are “foreign”. The history of British nationality law is extremely complex. For example under the Sophia Naturalization Act of 1705 certain people born outside Britain before it was repealed by the 1948 Act are British by birth. These protestant descendants of Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover are of course disqualified by s.44 of the Australian Constitution (and also in line to become King of Queen of Australia). Prince Frederick of Prussia and Crown Prince Alexander of Yugoslavia are examples. Prince Ernst Augustus of Hanover was found to be a British subject in 1957. His British by birth immediate descendants would be less than 60 years old today. Who knows what descendants of such people might be lurking in the Australian Houses of Parliament? Yet the proposed declarations by Australian politicians concerning their potential disqualifications do not ask for any belief they might have either as to whether they are protestant or whether they could be descended from Princess Sophia. The potential for dual allegiance in this situation is appalling!

7. Since the High Court has gone rogue and has also blocked the appeals to the Privy Council provided by the Constitution, it may be impossible to avoid the absurdity of most Australians being British “foreigners” without action by Her Majesty’s British Ministers and the imperial Privy Council or imperial legislation to resolve the matter. 

8. Of course the history of the democratic revolution in English speaking countries requires that any such change to the Australian Constitution be approved by the consent of the Australian people at a referendum. However that history does NOT require that the referendum by initiated by either colonial parliaments (now States) nor the Federal Parliament (possibly invalidly constituted) and certainly not by High Court judges nominated by persons purporting to be Ministers of the Crown who were not in fact Ministers. It would be entirely consistent with our constitutional history for such a referendum to be initiated by the Crown on the advice of its responsible Ministers. 

9. These responsible Ministers could turn out to be Her Majesty’s British Ministers (especially if none of the people purporting to be her Australian Ministers were qualified as members of Parliament within 3 months of their appointment as required by the Constitution). Illusions about the reserve powers of the Crown are just that, illusions, as the House of Lords discovered when it had to capitulate to the Commons or be flooded with a “creation of peers” by the Crown on the advice of its Ministers. The basic principles were established when Charles Stuart had his head removed from his royal shoulders without his royal assent and have not been challenged since they were re-established by a Dutch protestant army in 1688.

8. No Court will inquire into whether the descendants of Queen Victoria are or are not descendants of Princess Sophia so we are constitutionally safe. No doubt a solution will be found and no doubt it will continue to be easy to mock.

9. So will all the “un-Australian” fussing about nationality and allegiance remain easy to mock. It is clearly as much an American import as Halloween, along with a Prime Minister putting his hand on his heart for a “national anthem” celebrating that “our land is girt by sea”. 

10. It is particularly fascinating that nobody seems to have noticed the DIRECT parallel with the “birther” campaign mounted by first the Clinton camaign and then Trump against Obama demanding proof that he was born in Hawaii rather than Kenya. (As a “Goldwater girl” Hilary will remember the Democrat precedent based on 1964 GOP candidate Barry Goldwater having been born in the Arizona Territory before it became a State of the United States and therefore not being a natural born Citizen).

The U.S. and Canada Should Open Their Borders to Syrian Refugees

bridges-not-walls

Many thanks to Joel Newman and Open Borders: the Case for permission to run this piece.

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I had hoped that the Syrian civil war would produce, against the odds, a democracy which protected the diverse ethnic groups who live in the country. Either non-jihadist democratic Syrian rebels would prevail and be charitable towards those who have supported the Assad government, or an agreement between the rebels and the Syrian regime would transition the country toward democracy.

None of this has materialized, Syria is devastated, and with the oppressive Assad regime firmly in control of the western portions of the country, political progress appears impossible.

According to David Lesch, writing in The New York Times, most Syrians now live in extreme poverty, the unemployment rate is over 50%, half of Syrian children are not enrolled in school, typhoid, tuberculosis, and other diseases are endemic, hundreds of thousands are dead, and millions are injured. Different forces, including the Islamic State, control different parts of the country, and fighting likely will continue between these groups. Hundreds of billions of dollars would be needed to rebuild the country, and Mr. Lesch believes that other countries will not step up to provide reconstruction money.

Not surprisingly, almost five million Syrians have fled their country, not including millions of others who have been displaced within Syria. Almost a million have migrated to Europe. About 18,000 Syrians have been resettled in the U.S., and about 40,000 Syrians have gone to Canada. Most of the refugees are stranded in Turkey (about 2.5 million), Lebanon (about 1 million), and Jordan (about a half million), with limited opportunities to resettle elsewhere.

It is past time for the U.S. and Canada to allow the millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan to immigrate to their countries. In addition to the fundamental moral reasons that oblige countries to open their borders to almost all immigrants, there are several compelling reasons why there should be swift acceptance of these refugees.

First, while multiple nations and groups have been involved in the Syrian war, the U.S. bears some responsibility for the catastrophe. Since the U.S. has the world’s mightiest military, it always has the option to intervene and have an impact on a conflict. In Syria, the U.S. intervened by providing some support to rebels fighting the Assad regime, but the intervention never was forceful enough to quickly resolve the conflict.

According to Philip Gordon, who worked on Middle Eastern affairs at the U.S. National Security Council from 2013 to 2015, the U.S. has only prolonged the Syrian war: “… our policy was to support the opposition to the point that it was strong enough to lead the regime and its backers to come to the table and negotiate away the regime. And that was an unrealistic objective…I think it is fair to say that we ended up doing enough to perpetuate a conflict, but not enough to bring it to a resolution.”

The U.S. could have disabled the regime’s air force, as Senator McCain has recently advocated, especially before the Russian military became directly involved in the conflict. That might have saved the lives of many civilians targeted by Syrian aircraft and perhaps led to a settlement between the rebels and the government. (I recognize that direct military action doesn’t always lead to positive outcomes, considering the results in Iraq and Libya.)

In addition, other actions short of direct attacks on the Syrian military could have been undertaken to protect civilians, as Nicholas Kristof has noted. These include creating safe zones in Syria protected by the U.S. military and destroying military runways so Syrian warplanes couldn’t be employed. Accepting Syrian refugees would be some compensation for the U.S. failure in Syria to resolve the conflict and protect civilians.

Second, Syrians in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan are struggling. (Some refugees are also struggling in Greece.) Many children are not able to go to school, it is difficult for adults to get work, and the refugees are becoming impoverished. Some Mercy Corps teams “have seen families living in rooms with no heat or running water, in abandoned chicken coops and in storage sheds.” The desperation of the refugees is reflected in the attempt by many of them to reach Europe by making risky sea crossings, during which some have perished.

The host countries are apparently unwilling and/or unable to incorporate the newcomers into their societies. According to Mercy Corps, in Jordan and Lebanon, “weak infrastructure and limited resources are nearing a breaking point under the strain.”

As to Turkey, one observer stated: “It remains unclear how the embattled country – which is also dealing with declining GDP, multiple attacks, and a war against Kurdish fighters in the southeast – will be able to accommodate nearly three million refugees, the vast majority of whom are young adults and children seeking jobs and education.” The U.S. and Canada, with wealthier economies, more political stability, and a tradition of incorporating immigrants, would provide a better refuge for the Syrians than the Middle Eastern countries.

Third, the rapid migration of Syrian refugees to Canada and the U.S. could diminish the threat of terrorism. It is risky to continue the Obama policy of allowing very few Syrian refugees to enter or maintain the Trump policy, which indefinitely bars Syrian refugees from the country. The longer Syrian refugees are stuck in their host Middle Eastern countries, the greater the risk that they will become radicalized.

According to a Brookings Institution article, “the risk of radicalization is especially heightened where IDPs and refugees find themselves in protracted situations: marginalized, disenfranchised, and excluded. Finding solutions for displaced populations should be an urgent priority for humanitarian reasons but also as a security issue.” (See also here. )

While ideally the Obama administration’s thorough vetting of refugees for admission into the U.S. would continue, its sluggish nature makes it imprudent to maintain. A faster screening process must be implemented in order to bring the refugees into economically advanced, mostly tolerant North America, where they could thrive and become more immune to radicalization.

In addition to rescuing the refugees from potentially radicalizing conditions in the Middle East, there is another mechanism by which admitting them might prevent terrorism. In a previous post, I suggested how open borders could help protect receiving countries from terrorism, including by freeing up resources for screening immigrants for terrorist threats, by improving government relations with Muslim immigrant communities which could assist with stopping terrorism, and by providing more Muslim immigrants who could join Western intelligence agencies. Similarly, admitting Syrian refugees from the Middle East could generate goodwill among the American and Canadian Muslim communities, perhaps resulting in an increase in the number of Muslims willing to assist in preventing terrorism.

Evidence of this may be found in the German government’s recent admittance of over a million immigrants, many of whom are Syrian refugees. This may have earned Germany more support from its Muslim community in efforts to prevent terrorism, according to Robert Verkaik, writing on CNN‘s website. He notes that
“In October last year, two Syrians managed to capture a terror suspect in Leipzig who was planning a bomb attack on German airports… And in November last year, a German Muslim man who had returned from fighting ISIS in Syria provided information to German security services that led to the arrest of a major extremist cell. These examples show that the German security services, in common with agencies across Europe, critically rely on intelligence passed on by members of its Muslim communities”.

He also seems to suggest that a Muslim informant warned the security services about the suspect before the attack on the Berlin Christmas market last year.
Many people are concerned that Syrian refugees could commit acts of terrorism in the U.S. However, they should consider that about half of the refugees are children, who “don’t fit the typical profile for terrorists.” And, as noted elsewhere, most Muslims are peaceful. (Some Syrian refugees are not even Muslim.) Furthermore, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute has determined, based on historical data, the statistical chance of being killed by a foreigner committing a terrorist act in the U.S.: 1 in 3.6 million per year. For the risk of being killed by such an act by a refugee, the risk is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. If the 9/11 attacks are excluded, “21 foreign-born terrorists succeeded in murdering 41 people from 1975 through 2015.” Nowrasteh’s conclusion is that “foreign-born terrorism on U.S. soil is a low-probability event.” Its risks are minuscule when compared to other causes of death.

It is also notable that, as co-blogger Hansjörg points out, the German experience with the recent influx of Muslim refugees belies the predictions by restrictionists that their admittance would result in lots of terrorist acts there. Hansjörg notes that the number of lethal Islamist terrorist attacks in Germany (ever) is in the low single digits. There is minimal risk involved for Canada and the U.S. to accept millions of Syrian refugees, even without consideration for the aforementioned ways their admittance could actually help prevent terrorism.

Furthermore, it might be better for the Syrian refugees to go to North America than to some European countries. Many argue that the U.S. does a better job than European countries at integrating immigrants. One writer notes that “the conditions of Muslims in some European countries can create fertile breeding grounds for extremism, whereas societies with more-integrated Muslim populations like the United States are less susceptible.” (See also here, here, and here.) David Frum, writing in The Atlantic, states: “Europe is coping poorly with its large population of alienated, under-employed, and in some cases radicalized Muslim immigrants and their children. It seems then the zenith of recklessness to make that population larger still.”

Another writer even suggests that radical Muslims in Europe will infect Syrian refugees with their ideology, although he proposes vigorous integration efforts rather than exclusion from Europe.
At the same time, some are sanguine about European integration of its Muslim residents. Shada Islam of Friends of Europe asserts: “Make no mistake; while extremists of all ilk may decry multi-cultural Europe, the process of adaptation, accommodation, integration, of Europe and Islam is already well underway… Europe’s once solely security-focused approach to dealing with Muslims has been replaced with a more balanced view that includes an integration agenda and migrant outreach programmes.”

Similarly, co-blogger Hansjörg, who lives in Germany, states that “on the whole, my personal impression is that integration works quite well also in Europe. There is a tendency, especially in the US (but also in Europe from those who are critical), to present this as a story of severe problems, divides that cannot be bridged, etc. I don’t think that is true (not to say there are not some problems).”
Finally, admitting millions of Syrian refugees into the U.S. and Canada may not be very disruptive in other respects.

A study for the Centre for European Economic Research on the recent migrant influx into Germany has found that there are “no signs of quick and clear deleterious effects in Germany post ‘migrant crisis’ involving, as the authors conclude, ‘more than a million’ migrants entering Germany in 2014-15 on native employment, crime, or anti-immigrant politics specifically linked to the presence of migrants on the county level.” In the U.S. it is notable that “eleven percent of Syrian immigrants to the U.S. own businesses, according to a new report from the Fiscal Policy Institute and the Center for American Progress. That compares to four percent of immigrants overall and three percent of people born in the United States.” According to one Syrian immigrant, self reliance is emphasized in Syrian culture, a trait that is compatible with American culture. Moreover, a research director at the Fiscal Policy Institute states that Syrian immigrants in the U.S. have generally been successful and could help the refugees adapt to life here.
The economic impact on the U.S. actually could be positive.

People throughout the U.S. welcome refugees because they know from experience the beneficial effect that refugees have on communities, according to David Miliband, president of the International Rescue Committee. He writes that “to take one example, over the course of a decade, refugees created at least 38 new businesses in the Cleveland area alone. In turn, these businesses created an additional 175 jobs, and in 2012 provided a $12 million stimulus to the local economy.” In Rutland, Vermont, the mayor has advocated resettling refugees from Syria and Iraq in his city to help address a declining and aging city population. Population loss there could lead employers like General Electric to leave the city. (A 2013 post looks at efforts by various American cities to attract immigrants in order to help their economies.)

In summary, allowing millions of Syrian refugees to enter the U.S. and Canada not only would be morally warranted, it could minimize the risk of future terrorism, relieve the suffering of many, and enrich both countries. Unfortunately, the Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction, with Trump ordering an indefinite stop to the entry of Syrian refugees into the U.S. The longer he blocks their entry, the greater the perils for both the refugees and the West.

(Joel Newman has a bachelor’s degree in history from Pomona College and works as a teacher in Beaverton, Oregon, USA).

Opposing Brexit: the demarcation that matters

“In making these arguments we redraw the borders, from political demarcations of territory, to political demarcations between those who benefit from capitalism and have an interest in it being maintained, and the vast majority of us who do not”

– Chris Gilligan, Open Letter on Spiked‘s ‘Leave the EU’ campaign, March 2016.

 

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The following ‘open letter’, which Spiked declined to publish, is republished with permission of Marxist-Humanist Initiative. I’m not all that interested in the question of whether Spiked should or should not publish the letter – Spiked campaigns for Brexit – but I like the points made by the writer, Chris Gilligan, in disagreement with Spiked.

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Popular sovereignty requires vigorous debate – Chris Gilligan
I wrote this open letter as a contribution to the vigorous debate that Brendan O’Neill and Spiked claim that they want to promote. I think that O’Neill’s refusal to publish the open letter suggests that Spiked’s commitment to free speech and rigorous debate is bigger on rhetoric than it is on substance. Read O’Neill’s editorial, then read my criticism (below) and decide for yourself.

Open Letter on Spiked‘s ‘Leave the EU’ campaign

by Chris Gilligan

Dear Spiked,
I see that you are campaigning for the United Kingdom (UK) to leave the European Union (EU). According to an editorial by Brendan O’Neill Spiked are urging a Brexit on the grounds, (‘which trumps all of those reasons to stay, and trumps them hard’), that the EU thwarts ‘popular sovereignty, the crucial right of a people to consent to the political system they are governed by’. O’Neill tells us that we should vote to leave if we ‘think people should determine their political destinies’, if we ‘are optimistic about the future’, if we ‘prefer the adventure of uncertainty over the dull predictability of expert-delivered diktats’, and if we ‘prefer politics to be lively and unpredictable rather than paper-pushing and aloof’. All of this sounds great. But, and this is a BIG but, how is a vote to leave going to achieve any of these things? The reality is that a Brexit is not going to reinvigorate democracy in the UK.

The EU referendum has not come about because of any popular agitation. There is no popular demand for a Brexit, and no popular desire to remain in the EU. The EU referendum has come about because of machinations within the Conservative Party, fuelled in part by the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). This elite concern regarding the EU is not because of the anti-democratic nature of the EU or its disdain of ordinary people, the political elite in the UK (from all the main parties) share this disdain and have for years been busying themselves with eroding democracy in the UK. The EU is not the problem, it is symptomatic of a deeper problem, which O’Neill acknowledges when he says that ‘The EU both expresses and expands the 21st-century crisis of democracy’. Taking sides in the referendum implies that the EU is the problem, rather than a symptom.

If we take the example of migration, arguably the one issue on which there has been some popular engagement with the referendum debate, we can see that the UK has done much more than the EU to stifle debate on this issue. Spiked Deputy Editor, Tom Slater, partially acknowledges this when he says that ‘immigration policy is the sharpest expression of the anti-democratic sentiment of European elites. This is particularly keen in the UK, where New Labour’s relaxing of the borders in the 2000s reflected not only an open contempt for popular sovereignty, but a barely veiled disgust for the blob-like demos itself’. The UK, not the EU, has been at the forefront of an anti-democratic approach to immigration. The New Labour government did display open contempt for popular sovereignty. Blair, Mandelson and the other career politicians of New Labour consolidated the anti-democratic internal operation of the Labour Party and treated the electorate as passive fodder who only needed to be mobilised at election time. They continued the trajectory, begun under Margaret Thatcher, of moving ever increasing areas of public life outside of the realm of public accountability.

Slater is too one-sided when he says that New Labour relaxed the borders in the 2000s. What they did was relax immigration controls for specific kinds of immigration, principally labour migration, while they toughened them for asylum-seekers and others who were deemed ‘illegal’ or unproductive. They introduced immigration controls that operate on the basis of encouraging those who would bring an immediate monetary benefit to the UK and deterring those who were deemed to be a potential burden to the public purse. New Labour initiated the policy of ‘managed migration’, (which continued under the Con-Dem coalition and now under the current Conservative government), in an attempt to treat immigration in a technocratic manner. It was designed to depoliticise the issue of immigration, not to make it into a political issue. The Conservatives have continued this ‘managed migration’ approach, but argue that in the context of austerity the UK does not have the capacity to absorb as many labour migrants as previously.

Slater is correct when he says that ‘if we want to open the borders, we need to win the argument first’. Where, however, is the radical, progressive argument in favour of open borders? Slater doesn’t provide us with an argument. During the ‘migrant crisis’ of 2015 and 2016 members of the public signed online petitions, sent money,visited the camps in Calais, joined protests, and even offered shelter in their own homes. These are actions that involve more than simply putting an X on a ballot paper. What has Spiked had to say about these examples of popular sovereignty in action? They have been disparaged as exercises ‘in charity and public empathy, rather than a political issue about freedom of movement and human autonomy’. Protestors have been told that if they ‘want to help refugees’ they should ‘stop sobbing’. These arguments from Spiked read like barely veiled disgust for the demos, not like arguments for open borders.

Spiked is for open borders, but …. As Brendan O’Neill put it in September 2015: ‘spiked is about as open borders as you can get. But in Europe right now, there is a bigger problem than border control, and that is the cynical weakening of national borders, and of the popular sovereignty within those national borders’. This is an evasion of the difficult arguments. It is easier to rail against the bureaucrats in Brussels than make the case for open borders. It is easier to be cynical about the limitations of popular expressions of human empathy, than to engage with this empathy to make the case for a human-centred world. Spiked never engages with the difficult arguments on migration. What do we say to people who feel the harsh grind of austerity measures when they say that we can’t take in refugees because there is not enough to go around? We need to challenge this culture of limits, not by arguing for capitalist growth, but by pointing out that it is not immigrants who are responsible for austerity. We need to challenge the idea that there is not enough to go around and instead ask why the vast wealth that capitalism generates does not trickle down to the vast majority of society? In making these arguments we redraw the borders, from political demarcations of territory, to political demarcations between those who benefit from capitalism and have an interest in it being maintained, and the vast majority of us who do not.

Instead of recommending a vote to leave, it would be better to focus on the substantive issue and use the opportunity to argue for open borders, regardless of whether we are in or out of the EU. A more radical and progressive approach to the referendum would be to engage with the desire of the mass of people for a better world and repose the issue. Calling for the UK to ‘Leave’ only lends legitimacy to the elites’ pretence that the EU is the substantive issue.

Mr Obama: Tear down that wall! (Open the borders and share the chaos)

The elephant-in-the-room in all current discussions of immigration is the question of ‘open borders’.

President Obama’s speech announcing executive action to grant temporary relief from deportation to about half of the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the USA contained some moving and highly accurate words. Much of what he said applies to Australia too. After all, there is a sense in which we are “a nation of immigrants” and “We were strangers once, too”.

The notion that we were all strangers once suggests its opposite – our common humanity. ‘They’ are ‘us’. ‘We’ are ‘they’.

Obama gave examples of heartbreak and anxiety experienced by decent hardworking parents who faced deportation and separation from their US-born children simply because “they didn’t have the right papers”. He suggested it was unfair (my word) when “circumstances of birth” determined who could and couldn’t be an American. These ‘illegals’ are here, working in menial jobs and paying their way through university, and he wants them given a legal status through a system of registration with the government and payment of a $500 fee, which will protect them from deportation for up to three years, as well as grant them work permits.

There are precedents for such protection under Reagan and Bush. It’s better than the status quo. Were I one of the 4.9 million ‘illegals’ eligible for the protection, then I would breathe a sigh of relief in the here and now.

But, there’s also something inconsistent in Obama’s position when he stresses that the temporary legal status he is offering does not “create a path” to citizenship or permanent residence or access to federal health care. Why not? – given that we are all strangers sharing a common humanity and that “these people” helped create America and keep America going.

And why the temporary nature of the protection from deportation? Why the prospect of renewing the “anxiety and heartbreak” in a few years time?

And why – if we were all strangers once – does the decree only apply to about 5 million of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants? Why should it matter whether they have been ‘illegal’ for more or less than five years?

A practicable policy, based on the principles argued by Obama, would open the way for citizenship for all 11 million of the undocumented immigrants. And it would be an executive order, which is binding, not an executive action, which isn’t.

To make the fine words and sentiments even shallower, Obama stressed that he wants more resources allocated for border control to stop illegals coming into the US and he wants to “speed the return of those who do cross over”. Why do this if you believe such people help build America and that “Scripture tells us, we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger”?

Open the borders – share the chaos!

The elephant-in-the-room in all current discussions of immigration is the question of ‘open borders’. The undoubted benefits of globalisation are often lauded when it comes to trade, communications, cultural exchange and advances in air travel, yet many governments are imposing greater restrictions on who may gain permanent admission into their country.

On the other hand, in our lifetime, many borders have come down. The Berlin Wall is an example that tends to be taken for granted. Chaos ensued, with scores of thousands of east Germans flooding into west Germany. But the chaos was there anyway, and was now simply being shared in the interests of all.

The European Union nations have shared open borders for about 20 years – that’s 26 countries and 500 million people representing about 25% of global GDP. More recently, the Union of South American Nations representing 12 South American countries, have opened their borders to free movement of citizens of their member states. The United Kingdom and Ireland have allowed their citizens unrestricted movement between their countries for a long time, as do India and Nepal.

In 1973, Australia opened its border for the first time since federation in an agreement with New Zealand, the Trans-Tasman Arrangement.

The free movement of people becomes an issue as countries integrate their economies regionally and globally. ‘Free trade’ agreements could – and should – but don’t – provide a framework for the gradual development of open borders and the rights of workers to move as freely as capital, goods and services. The North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, USA and Mexico imposes restrictions on the right of workers to move freely between the member states. You’d think the trade unions would be protesting about this but they tend to be led by people who do not believe in Marx’s great slogan ‘The workers have no country’ and who instead actually believe there is such a thing as a ‘foreign worker’.

Marx nailed the way things were developing in The Communist Manifesto, in 1848:

“The need of a constantly expanding market for its products chases the bourgeoisie over the entire surface of the globe. It must nestle everywhere, settle everywhere, establish connexions everywhere. The bourgeoisie has through its exploitation of the world market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country. To the great chagrin of Reactionists, it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood… In place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency, we have intercourse in every direction, universal inter-dependence of nations. And as in material, so also in intellectual production… National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible… The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate”.

Nationalism and xenophobia are the main factors working against proper consideration of ‘open borders’ and recognition and acceptance of us all as having once been ‘strangers’. The countervailing forces include classical liberals, such as those at the excellent Open Borders: The Case site, and internationalist leftists (of the kind who prefer ‘red’ to ‘green’ and are welcome at my blog, C21st Left).

Obama made the point in his speech that “mass deportations” are not “realistic” (or desirable). The reality is that immigration restriction itself is no longer realistic and becomes less realistic the more what’s left of the world’s national economies integrate into a global economy with advanced means of communications and travel.

Mr Obama: Bring down that wall!