An uptick in loud concern about illegal immigration is currently riling Israeli media and politics.
By "loud concern" I mean shouting on a prime time discussion program set off when moderators do not accept as appropriate the answers to questions they have asked, against the background of anti-immigrant riots in the poor section of Tel Aviv where many of the immigrants live, and sharp disputes between ranking politicians and other officials.about appropriate actions.
For those who have followed similar controversies in the United States and Western Europe, it looks all so familiar, and carries a heavy stink of hypocrisy.
It is not only that immigration officials and police look the other way when employers hire illegals and pay them less than the minimum wage, or that politicians speak up and propose major changes to legislation only when there are reports of especially heinous crimes committed by immigrants.
The hypocrisy also appears in an official report of the United States State Department, which criticizes Israel with respect to its treatment illegal immigrants, whereas the situation at home is not essentially different. Even the left-of-center and usually critical Ha'aretz takes umbrage over the most recent State Department report about Israel.
It may well be true that Israeli officials are superficial in their review of claims for refugee status and reject most of them, but how many illegal immigrants from Mexico or Central America have a fair chance to make a claim that current chaos in their country would subject them to danger if back home?
It may also be true that individual Israeli politicians may be extreme in their statements about sending them all home, or calling them a cancer on the society, but are American politicians, especially in states close to the Mexican border, significantly more moderate in their statements, their proposals, or the laws that they seek to enact?
The State Department report relies heavily on claims of NGOs and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees about Israel's actions with respect to African immigrants, while it is well known that NGOs and UN organizations are systematic in focusing almost exclusively on Israel and applying to it standards infinitely higher than applied to other countries.
The issue is so riven with complexities that defy simple solution, and so affected by populations that differ from citizens in color, language, and culture that it is dry tinder only waiting for one or another spark to begin another round of popular demonstrations that slip easily into rioting, with or without speeches or comments by prominent politicians that slip easily into incitement.
Undeniable is the pulling capacity of a wealthy economy and a society that offers relative peace in comparison with the poverty and insecurity found in much of Africa, Mexico, and Central America that supply the bulk of illegal immigrants to the Western Europe, Israel, and the United States. Also undeniable is the access of potential migrants to an infrastructure of shady characters who will guide them to a promised land for pay, but who may abandon them mid-route, exploit them sexually, or subject them to violence.
What to do with the migrants who succeed in crossing the borders?
Israel's active ambivalence is similar those those of other countries. Alongside formal policies to review claims that would justify giving individuals the status of refugees associated with rights to work and access to medical care and other social services is he weight of numbers that overwhelm even the most sincere bureaucracy. Sending migrants back home is not so simple when the governments of their poor countries are not anxious to receive individuals who will add to their own rickety efforts to provide employment, internal security, and social services. For many of Israel's immigrants, it is difficult even to be certain of their home countries. While Israeli officials have concluded that most of those currently arriving come from Eritrea, the Eritrean Ambassador said on a popular news program that most of those were not from Eritrea.
Claims heard from Israelis, that the immigrants are taking jobs from citizens, overloading the health system, threatening the security of Israelis who live or work near them, and threatening the character of Israeli society are identical to the claims heard by Americans or Europeans who speak out against illegal immigration.
The web site of FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, could be translated into Hebrew and a number of European languages, then serve immigration opponents far from American shores. Along with arguments about traffic congestion, insufficient fresh water, 9/11, and non-citizen voting, it has a section on the uniquely American issue of "birth citizenship." (Almost all democracies except the US and Canada associate citizenship of a new born with the citizenship of the parents, and do not automatically grant citizenship to someone born within their borders.)
The 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution appears to be clear:
"All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
FAIR is not so sure.
"The phrase "subject to the jurisdiction thereof" was intended to exclude from automatic citizenship American-born persons whose allegiance to the United States was incomplete. . . . In the case of illegal aliens, their native country has a claim of allegiance on the child. Therefore, some Constitutional scholars argue that the completeness of the allegiance to the United States is impaired and logically precludes automatic citizenship. However, this issue has never been directly decided by the U.S. Supreme Court."
What is most certain in this muddled area of public policy is inequities and its potential to provoke yet another round of shouting among competing advocates, and violence by those whose skills are more physical than intellectual. Some immigrants will get jobs from employers who use their political connections to keep immigration officials at bay. Some will find a citizen to marry, or at least to maintain a continuing intimate relationship, and do what is possible to keep the immigration officials at bay. Many more will find themselves unsuitable for deportation, on account of no documentation showing nationality or no cooperation from governments of what are said to be their home countries. Some of these will be housed, fed, and cared for in facilities that may not be exactly like prisons for criminals, but that keep them from the streets and from employment. Some will continue to roam free, not formally allowed to work or receive social services, but left to manage by themselves or with some help from sympathetic citizens, individual officials of local or national agencies, and humanitarian organizations.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at May 25, 2012 04:12 AM