19 May 2008

"They took our jobs!"

In case anyone thought that hostility toward immigrants during tough economic times was some peculiarly American pathology, here's news from South Africa that makes American groups like the Minutemen look mild. It all looks very familiar, except for the mass killing, but the point isn't to deplore South Africa for its violence, but rather to show that different countries and different cultures seem to respond in broadly similar ways to similar circumstances. South Africans seem no more cosmopolitan or tolerant than their "nativist" U.S. counterparts, which throws into question any attribution of anti-immigrant sentiment in the States to some characteristically American form of racism. This doesn't mean that either Americans or South Africans are right in their attitude toward immigrants, only that there's a predictable range of response to mass immigration in hard times, no matter where it happens.

One point of resemblance is particularly significant. Immigration from Mexico into the U.S. is in many cases a flight from the dysfunctional Mexican economy. Many of the immigrants in South Africa come from Zimbabwe, a country far more dysfunctional than Mexico, with a government propped up in part by its more prosperous neighbor. Just as any solution to any perceived immigrant problem here requires Mexico putting its house in order, Zimbabwe's doing so is even more imperative in southern Africa. There, regional leaders defend the Zimbabwe government out of misplaced solidarity with a fellow revolutionary in the struggle against white rule. A change in attitude by the South African government, well short of "humanitarian intervention," could make some difference in Zimbabwe. It makes one wonder how responsible the U.S. government is for keeping Mexico in its present state, and what the next government might be able to do, short of intervention, to facilitate reform. Somebody better be asking those questions, because there's no guarantee that America will always have a better record on this subject than South Africa does now.


crhymethinc said...

As long as you remember there is a difference between those who want an end to immigration, and those of us who demand an end to illegal aliens.

Samuel Wilson said...

The distinction depends on how people are getting into South Africa. We need to research the subject, but it wouldn't surprise me if many refugees from Zimbabwe are illegal by U.S. standards. While legality isn't necessarily the issue in S.A., hard times are known to make people less tolerant of all immigrants, legal or not.