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Artillery Row

Against immigrationnisme

Some immigration advocates will never accept even the potential validity of opposing arguments

Is Britain’s immigration debate held in good faith? 

At best it’s arguable. Sam Ashworth-Hayes recently pointed this out, Xing (formerly tweeting); “UK immigration debate is distorted by a simple asymmetry: the left is allowed to accuse the right of acting in bad faith, but the right can’t do the same, even when it’s clear some on the left are simply in favour of immigration on ideological grounds and argue accordingly.” Matt Goodwin has recently noticed the same thing, pointing out that “if you dare to question the ‘immigration =unalloyed good’ religion you will be hounded.”

What both are describing is the “central thesis that dominates French discussions around immigration” that French philosopher Pierre-André Taguieff termed immigrationnisme; that immigration it is “both inevitable and positive.”

Immigrationnisme, argues Taguieff, is a strange and self-righteous thesis “which has the consequence of closing the discussion that it seems to open.” Since immigration is inevitable, there is only the choice of adaptation; since it is also intrinsically beneficial then it must also be encouraged, and we must therefore eliminate the restrictions and limits that act as obstacles.

In order to remove those obstacles, immigrationnisme must become a coercive process that “definitively silencing the objectors and the recalcitrants, of preventing even discordant murmurs.” First, it is justified by “instrumentalization of compassion for the poor and indignation in the face of human misery.” Should that fail, a “second salvo” is fired, an accusation startlingly recognisable to those familiar with the immigration debate in the UK: 

If you refuse the total opening of borders and the regularization of all undocumented immigrants who request it, then you are driven by fear of others, you are affected by the virus of xenophobia or racism.

The imperative places the potential culprit in a dilemma: “You love immigration and accept it, or you are racist and treated as such.” The Westerner suspected of “racism”, terrified just by the vague perception of the social death that threatens him, will give assurances to his accusers by presenting himself as a strong supporter of providential immigration. This is the great blackmail of the right-thinking. Its main effect is to transform politics into impolitics, and, in doing so, to disarm democratic nations in the face of new threats.

Immigration recalcitrants are thus constantly having their language around immigration policed with what Mark Fisher described, in a different context, as “a priest’s desire to excommunicate and condemn, an academic-pedant’s desire to be the first to be seen to spot a mistake, and a hipster’s desire to be one of the in-crowd”. This is where the meme that every policy that may actually reduce immigration will be denounced as “immoral, unworkable and quite possibly illegal” has emerged from. 

This is immigrationnisme in full, torrential flow

This has been a dominant feature of the “debate” since mass migration began, and it continues today — for instance, around the Government’s newly-announced restrictions on student dependant visas. It was claimed that the change, which restricts “the ability for international students to bring family members on all but post-graduate research routes”, was “demonising foreign students and their families” and was a “nonsensical” “retrograde step” that would cause “pointless human pain”. 

This is immigrationnisme in full, torrential flow; “sentimental rhetoric” as Taguieff writes, “thus replaces political courage.”

Because the politically courageous thing to do is acknowledge that the student dependent visa has clearly become a means of bypassing the existing visa system, and do something about it. Since 2019, the number of student dependents has risen by 750 per cent. In 2022 over 115,000 people used the system — 15 per cent of total net migration. This astonishing rise has been driven by the re-institution of the two-year post-study work visa, which the Migration Advisory Committee warned “would lead to an increase in low-wage migration and universities marketing themselves on post-study employment potential rather than educational quality.” The visa is simply, as Neil O’Brien puts it, a way “to circumvent all the salary and other requirements of the normal work visa routes, which are supposedly there to make migration a bit more selective, so more beneficial.”

The student dependent problem does not just have economic consequences, however, but social ones too; I have written in these most august pages before on the failure of multiculturalism. That was based on the idea that a cohesive society has a set of mutual bonds and obligations, which are underpinned by a set of common values and assumptions. Student visa migration adds to the erosion of those values; that’s because people who game the system don’t act like the rest of us. Bypassing the system erodes what Nick Timothy describes as the reciprocity thatmakes the give and take of citizenship a reality: a willingness to respect the law, pay taxes that help others.”

For those who believe that immigration is both good and inevitable, these facts are of little consequence. Immigration should be encouraged regardless; any policy to cut it is inherently wrong, because immigration is inherently good. “Immigration policy”, therefore, “can only be abstentionist in style”. This is what Taguieff means when he refers to impolitics. This is “the radical impotence of political power”, an absence of substantive politics:

Political leaders have nothing left to do but contemplate and comment on the irresistible process. Disappearance of political action, erasure of political will, cancellation of the freedom to make choices: the advent of impolitics.

The debate around the student dependent visas illustrates this well. For many, there is simply no case to be made for restricting student dependents because there is simply no case to be made for reducing immigration as a whole. Immigration is good, there are many people arriving on student dependent visas, therefore the system is working fine. The reality — that the system is being gamed — is of little consequence. It must stand as it is; a change designed to reduce immigration, even if it only reverts us to 2018, is beyond consideration.

But, as Taguieff points out, “The ethics of conviction, especially if it is forced, is not policy.” We must reject not only impolitics, but immigrationnisme itself. No matter how many times the gun is fired, immigration continues to fail in providing a golden bullet, and we must disabuse ourselves of the notion that immigration is inevitable no matter what we do. It is not; “the ultimate hidden truth of the world”, as David Graeber noted, “is that it is something that we make and could just as easily make differently.” Nothing is written.

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