Thursday, May 18, 2006

On the Virtues of Immigration

A short post today:

News Item: Additional embarrassment for the government and the Home Office.

Illegal immigration and criminal convictions have been in the news lately. Yesterday, the Home Office official in charge of sending back immigrants who are not in the UK legally, including persons convicted of serious crimes and recommended by the Courts for deportation, admitted to a Select Committee of MPs that his department 'hadn't the faintest idea' how many illegal immigrants are in the country. This honest admission caused 'shock and horror' among the MPs and the tabloids had a great time castigating the government and the officials for not knowing the number.

I find it difficult to understand how any department could answer such a question; if the number of illegals is known it becomes an odd definition of 'illegal' because I would have thought that by definition such a number would be unknown.

If asked how many criminals there are in Britain we could count the number of persons convicted of crimes and announce that figure, though it would vary by when the cut-off date for their convictions was chosen and how many convicted persons had since died. But the number of persons who have committed criminal offences at any one time poses different problems. Many are not caught, many may commit more than one offence and many crimes are not reported.

However, tonight the tv is blasting all over the screen the embarrassing news that five 'illegals' have been arrested who were caught working as cleaners in the Home Office building.

But before we all snigger - or at least just afterwards - I had to ask myself which would I prefer: People who were legally in the UK but behaving criminally, or legals and illegals who were behaving criminally in prostitution slavery, drug trading, enforcement, theft and gangland murders, or illegals working at peaceful low paid jobs cleaning government buildings?

I am increasingly dubious about the rising clamour against 'illegal' immigration, as much as I am broadly in favour of general immigration. I say nothing about the USA situation. But it seems to me that immigration on the whole is a positive social change. Combined with a firm policy of deportation of those who commit crimes (risks of returning them to certain countries should not prevent deportation), are security risks and who are undesireable for their criminal records; a society should welcome people coming here to work and add to the GNP.

Scotland had a credible record on such matters in the 18th century. Slavery was declared illegal in Scotland and a slave who had been brought into the country was set free in 1778. Smith took a stance against slavery. In Moral Sentiments he wrote:

Fortune never exerted more cruelly her empire over mankind, than when she subjected those nations of heroes to the refuse of the jails of Europe, to wretches who possess the virtues neither of the countries which they came from. nor of those which they go to, and whose levity, brutality, and baseness, so justly expose them to the contempt of the vanquished (TMS v.2.9).


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