Migration is not a crime, but the way it’s discussed is criminal

Carl Packman has very nicely leap frogged from my post to a discussion on the limitation the left faces when discussing immigration. Nice enough for him this is now the second post of his which has been cross posted to LibCon, and as usual for posts on immigration it has incited a very “lively” discussion.

However, it is not the just the left which has difficulty discussing immigration. The right does too, because they just can’t help themselves distorting the truth or outright lying.

As I began to discuss here, talk about immigration in this country is tainted by decades, indeed centuries, of prejudiced stereotypes that are difficult to escape. Unfortunately some papers extend so little effort to escape this regrettable history that numerous blogs have been created to monitor them.

A lack of originality, a surplus of bile

Migration is not a crimeWhat I want to create is a crib sheet for any article you see on immigration, migrants, refugees or asylum by looking at the history of that discussion. Our modern debate on migration has not developed out of a vacuum. In fact, we are forced to watch tedious reruns of discussions concerning Huguenots in the 1680s, Irish migrants in the early 19th Century and Eastern Europeans in the late, Jews in the 1930s and West Indians and South Asians in the 1960 and 70s. As Paul Gilroy describes in There Ain’t no Black in the Union Jack “the wearisome task of dissecting the rhetoric is not helped by its lack of originality: ‘they’ are taking our jobs and houses, using up local resources and undermining ‘our’ culture and, in return, offering ‘us’ disease and terrorism.” However, dissect it we will, again and again, until they fucking learn.

Any immigration story you read in the above papers will be shaped by the groundless assumptions under which the anti-immigrant polemicist operates. These do not pop out of thin air, they are drawn from the past. Pick an article; I will guarantee that it will contain a combination of the below:

The Disloyal Immigrant

This is perhaps the oldest argument of them all. It certainly dates back to the 17th Century. In Catholic France the Huguenots stood out as Protestants and in 1685 the Edict of Nantes was revoked and open season was declared on France’s heretics. They left France for more welcoming shores and arrived in England. [1]

They have since been co-opted as the “good immigrants;” those that integrated, brought valuable skills and blended seamlessly with the indigenous Anglo-Saxon-Norman-Norse-Roman-Celtic population. Those opposed to immigration often make disparaging comparisons with the Huguenots. [2]

In fact the Huguenots were subject to much the same treatment that welcomes modern day refugees, sometimes even worse. They could be subject to double the normal parish dues and national taxes. Petitions were organised against them and their daily lives a constant struggle. The Huguenot’s being refugees inhabited the poorest parts of town, and were soon charged with causing poverty. Even seeking it out in order to undercut the indigenous workforce. These most loyal of migrants were in fact treated like criminals.

This was repeated with each subsequent migration. The most interesting comparison can probably be drawn between Muslims and Catholics. In the early 19th Century the Great Reform Act was in the offing and there was much talk of how far suffrage should be extended. One key sticking point was whether Catholics should have the vote or not. The problem was that a Catholic’s ultimate loyalty was to the pope, not parliament; sound familiar?

The Ummah has been cited as a reason to distrust Muslim immigrants, Muslims in general in fact. This makes about as much sense as denying Catholics the vote, but it won’t stop some people parroting this argument. This is because the migrant must prove their loyalty, they are not innocent, they are guilty until proven otherwise. Even if no one knows guilty of exactly what.

Soft Touch Britain

In the late 1990s William Hague accused New Labour of being “too soft” on immigration. This period saw a marked increase in the number of asylum applications received in the UK and was snatched upon by the press that Britain was being targeting for its benefits system and wide open borders. As early as 2001 the BBC were running myth debunking stories. In fact throughout Europe record numbers of Asylum Seekers were being received. The collapse of Yugoslavia will do that

Even as benefits have been slashed, this discussion has not ended. Even as Labour enacted five Acts on migration and asylum this discussion has not moved on. At the worst of the “asylum crisis” the numbers reaching Britain were comparable to Germany, France or Italy. Rather than being a “soft touch” Britain was finally receiving its fair share of refugees.

There are few things which make me feel patriotic, as a Socialist I’m sure that doesn’t surprise you. But one thing that makes me intensely proud of this country is that up until 1905 we had no immigration controls. None. Nada. Zip. The irony for the casual anti-immigrant-armchair-colonialist is that the height of Soft Touch Britain™ coincided with the height of Empire.

Diseased and sex obsessed migrants

Concentrating on health concerns, the language is unequivocal, “asylum seekers raising HIV risks.” The Times also contributed to the press personification of contemporary immigrants as carriers of disease with it’s that demands for HIV checks for all immigrants, to prevent “draining the resources of the NHS.”

Previously it has been Tuberculosis that has been the immigrants disease of “choice.” The update does nothing to hide the worrying trend to target migrants as a carrier of disease and instigator of national decay. Now from above you can tell the asylum seekers are going to give you AIDS. HIV is a scary illness, but a particularly had one too contract if your not going to share syringes or have sex with those infected.

This is of course irrelevant because the one that has been associated with migrants is sex: a very unBritish thing indeed. By threatening the local population with HIV The Mail and The Times very effectively demonise asylum seekers as either promiscuous or drug users or both.

The links to sexualised black and asian immigrants or the Opium dens of past Chinese immigrants are plain to see; and about as well founded. There is a lot of could, may, might in those articles, and very little proof that migrants are infecting the “indigenous” population.

Criminal immigrants

It seems, shortly after loyalty, firmness, cleanliness and sexual inadequacy, the one thing we British pride ourselves on is our law abiding nature. Migrants, if we judge by the hysterical historical record, are anything but law abiding. The same that was true of anti-Jewish agitation in the 1900s is true today; the lies remain the same too.

Likewise, in the 1970s it became “common sense” that criminality was a distinct way of expressing “Black Culture,” whether it was a Rastafarian smoking marijuana or a black youth mugging someone. Although these crimes were certainly committed by members of this “immigrant group,” this was not in any proportion to the dominance that this issue had in the 1970 and 1980s.

The obsession with crime and the durability of its images are a focus for discussions on national decline. More than that, they are a way of articulating a crisis of national confidence totally separate from the crimes and criminals themselves. After all, the tumult of the 1970s and 1980s had little to do with race.

Lump of Labour/Housing/Hospitals/Women Fallacy

Yes the Jews/Irish/Blacks/Asians/Chinese/Asylum Seekers are taking your Job/House/Woman/Healthcare [delete as applicable]. This theme is no doubt familiar to you.

The economics of migration are fairly clear. Even Migration Watch UK and the infamous James Slack admit that migrants benefit the UK’s economy. It is instructive that the worst claim they can create, using the most miserly figures, is of a modest benefit. The NHS would collapse without migrant labour and it would never have started without the tremendous work of West Indian nurses in the 1950s.

Similarly, the Lump of Labour Fallacy is often displayed when people argue that immigrants are “stealing” jobs. The jobs and wealth created by immigrants, from Huguenot Weavers to Jewish Cabinet makers to Bangladeshi caterers, is ignored.

Although the immigrant “stealing” theme is a fairly large one I will only pass over it briefly, it is so common as to be particularly irritating. I would like to conclude this short section with a personal gripe; by asking those arguing that immigration in the last decade has made housing less affordable: How would reducing the numbers of builders, plasters, plumbers and electricians in this country make it easier to build a house?


Perhaps behind all of this is the idea of being “swamped.” Whether on an individual level, like the little old lady in Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech, or on a national level, like the paranoia that created this article, swamping is pervasive to discussions of immigration.

Of course over the last couple of thousand years these islands have absorbed millions of migrants, and a sense of continuity  has remained. In the 1680s in a matter of years fully 1% of the population became Huguenot, it sounds like a small number, but far smaller increases cause massive ripples today. These Huguenots have become British.

The same swamping was seen by Powell in the 1960s

Sometimes people point to the increasing proportion of immigrant offspring born in this country as if the fact contained within itself the ultimate solution. The truth is the opposite. The West Indian or Asian does not, by being born in England, become an Englishman. In law he becomes a United Kingdom citizen by birth; in fact he is a West Indian or an Asian still.

…and by Major Evans Gordon of Jews in East London in the 19th Century…

East of Aldgate one walks into a foreign town. [The modern englishman lived] under the constant danger of being driven from his home, pushed out into the streets not by the natural increase of our own population but by the off-scum of Europe

It wasn’t true in the 17th century, nor in the 18th, nor in the 19th, nor in the 20th. The 21st century is certainly no different. But this “swamping” theme will be repeated ad nauseam, unless we challenge it.

Immigrant Bingo

Now we have tackled those basic assumptions we can move onto the language and imagery which is used. These can be used to spot which of the above ignorant preconceptions are the inspiration for the article you are reading. They are like a tell that a poker play just can’t hide. And they also make for an excellent bingo game. Cards at the ready:

Tabloid Bingo

I’m not going to argue that because some of the arguments descend from xenophobic drivel that they are essentially racist; I’m sure sometimes it is just coincidence. What offends me is the acceptance that this is the best way to discuss immigration. That the above assumptions form the basis for any discussion on immigration in our press or parliament would be a colossal national disgrace if things were not worse elsewhere.

This could be a fairly dry essay on the history of our national debate on migration. I have several thousands words written on the subject and just two thousand of the multitude are here. But just illustrating the pattern and repetition of the same tedious lies and distortions is not enough. We need to be able to combat it. This post is meant to provide people with a tick list to check and a way to say, “actually that was bollocks then and it’s bollocks now.”

[1] As an aside, there is a mosque on Brick Lane that used to be a Huguenot church. Later it became a Methodist chapel and later still a Synagogue, before finally becoming the Mosque you find there now. With each new migration migrants find their niché.

[2] In the same way, modern asylum seekers are castigated as being less deserving than the Jews fleeing Nazism, despite this being manifestly untrue.


For the record, philosophically I am for almost total free movement of people. I will outline why at a later date, but for the moment Paul offers quite a good discussion why a Socialist must fight for the rights of migrants. Funnily enough, this Paul does as well arguing against the arbitrary benefits of birth.

However, pragmatically (i.e. what I think can be achieved in the next 10 years) I am for a similar regime for economic migrants as is in place now, and a massive resettlement plan for refugees from all over the world.

This is a piss poor compromise and one I may have to reconsider, but I do think restrictions are inevitable while the world is so dangerous and while people are worried by the unknown. However, one thing I’m not going to compromise on is refugees, I wish the same could be said for this Government.

The best books to consult are Matthew J Gibney’s The Ethics and Politics of Asylum: Liberal Democracy and the Response to Refugees and Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain by Robert Winder. The first is essential reading for those of an academic bent, but Robert Winder provides a good journalistic overview of immigration throughout Britain’s history.

26 thoughts on “Migration is not a crime, but the way it’s discussed is criminal

  1. The statistics say yes. 80% of job thefts last year were committed by immigrants. This is a serious and disturbing criminal trend. I hope that all those nasty immigrants are deported ASAP.

    This was a great post, and you did a much better job than I in explaining things (I forgot to add a detailed Lump ofLabour fallacy explanation in mine, but I was ill urgh)

    Ideally, I think we would have free movement of labour, like we had in the past (i.e. pre WWII). However, this poses some problems if we have a welfare state and I think it’s much more than “Do immigrants on the whole bring a net benefit or a net loss?” I think in terms of immigration I don’t think its hard to find those groups of immigrants which bring a net loss, materially. I.e. okay, an Iraqi doctor can bring a net benefit and a Somalian cleaner can bring a net loss (because of the state resources they require), it wouldn’t be hard to identify that groups that are well educated and have skills bring benefits and unskilled labour brings net losses.

    I think a policy of skilled and educated immigrants only is good because it brings a.) Economic prosperity b. ) More social cohesion — i.e. it paints a better image of immigrants on the whole and c. ) it still brings some cultural elements into our country, but these educated people are more likely to fully integrate.

    1. I’ve left a reply over at http://www.byrnetofferings.co.uk/2009/09/do-immigrants-steal-our-jobs-wee-rant.html I don’t want to repeat myself.

      But I would mention that the “skilled and educated” immigrant is pretty hard to define. For example, many Indian restaurant are having difficulty finding staff because we’ve shut down so many immigration routes from the new commonwealth.

      When it comes to a skilled immigrant, culture enrichment and social cohesion I’m not sure you can beat a Bangladeshi cook and a curry on a Saturday night.

      I think the welfare state only offers marginal problems when it comes to immigrants. Working in the UK is a far far better way to live your life than surviving on benefits. I’ve not seen much evidence that migrants abuse benefits in any way the numbers necessary to make migration uneconomic.

  2. Another fantastic bit of work mister, there’s a fat book in you waiting to jump out.

    The lmup of labour fallacy seems toh hold up in an argument, but if I’ve gathered it correctly, the multitude of the jobs, as opposed to the fixed number of jobs, seems to work in the favour of the pioneers of the McJob, that being kind of slang for useless job. Now of course I’m not going to do the usual leftist thing of going on about the McJob in the typical way, but leaving the amount of work there is in the market to the market forces themselves is dangerous, especially in the postindustrial trend. Why? The way in which to “progress” in the McJob era is to replace human labour with machine labour, do you ever see those checkouts in supermarkets that the customer uses his/herself? Thats three legitimate jobs there, and its been discarded for an electronic box on the grounds of productivity – which is obviously a myth.

    Now of course there are the Ted Turner’s out there (who I identify as wankers who are bending over backwards to look on the contrary) who will “create jobs”, but left in their hands we have to hope that philanthropy will get the better of them, whereas if it were constitutionally enforceable to promise jobs – you can see where I’m starting to go anyway. In order to curb exploitation and promote good labour conditions, the Lump of Labour fallacy should be tool in our intellectual backbone, not simply a guideline with which to base our entire labour method. Incidentally, of this I’m not accusing you leftoutside, ’tis a mere observation.

  3. Have you read “Bloody Foreigners” by Robert Winder? He offers numerous examples of the poor quality of the debate in the press through the 19th and early 20th-centuries.

  4. I think Thomas Bryne shall be the very next person to be deported back to which ever hole your ancestors crawled out of…because they were certainly also immigrants to the Americas

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