Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Marginal Population

Immigration is a controversial subject in many countries, including the UK. There is said to be a significant population of illegal immigrants, working on low wages with little protection. In February 2004, twenty-one Chinese cockle pickers drowned while working illegally in Morecombe Bay [source: BBC News].

From time to time, people suggest an immigration amnesty, and the UK minister in charge of immigration has raised the idea again [source: BBC News]. However, public opinion seems hostile to such proposals [source: BBC News].

One of the standard arguments against an amnesty is that it will cause a further influx of immigrants. Apparently underlying some forms of this argument is the belief that immigration is a homeostatic system - the number of illegal immigrants is always going to be the same, whatever you do. I can see why this might be true, but I do not know whether it actually is true.

But even if it is true, it doesn't follow that an amnesty is necessarily a bad idea. Some people might think it would be a good thing if those currently suffering marginalization were to be granted citizenship even if this resulted in further immigration. In order to reject the idea of an amnesty, you have to make some specific value judgements as well.

Obviously different people may have different reasons for rejecting the idea of an amnesty. But underlying many of the arguments are the following two value judgements.
  1. Further immigration would be a bad thing.
  2. It is worth maintaining the marginal status of the current population of illegal immigrants, as a mechanism for inhibiting further immigration.
In other words, the marginal population is not only necessary (because there are system forces that are thought to maintain a constant level of marginalization) but useful (because a given level of marginalization is thought to deliver some socio-economic benefits elsewhere in the system).

[Update] For some reason, Bloglines has just presented me with an old article by George Monbiot, in which he links the effects of a marginalized population to the economic interests of newspaper owners [Guardian, 25 May 2004]

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