Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Immigration: is a policy of compassion possible?

In my previous post I mentioned Laurence C. Smith's The World in 2050 and promised to connect his ideas to Green Party Policies. I still was not sure where this was going to take me and therefore, overly ambitious about the time frame. It will take a lot more than the two weeks I mentioned.

In the meantime, I did get an OpEd for my local paper out of it. It will be run on Friday Nov. 7 in the Morgan Hill Times, but you can read a copy at Polizeros.

There are two forces that will drive the movement of people in coming decade. One is obviously the mounting pressures from population growth. If one has to leave their homelands, then why not to a wealthier America? or a more welcoming Canada? The other is climate disruption where drought causes famine, where sea level rise floods coastal cities and delta farmlands and some places just become unbearable.

Estimates of the number of climate refugees vary widely. We know how many people live in affected areas... but it only a guess as to how many will chose to leave when not yet forced to do so. Some estimate it to be as high as 50 million.

Even if we don't agree to such a high number, still we have to admit that there will be some. Pacific Islands will be under water. Increased desertification already affects Africa, the Mediterranean, even Texas (sub's req'd). How many will be displaced by this? I don't know but the refugee camps in Kenya are already over full.

Along with this climate disruption, we will will have political disruption as well. There has always been a resentment against new immigrants in the US, even though this country is the product of a succession of immigrations. Now state after state, most recently Alabama, have passed laws claiming to protect the US from "illegal" immigration, but in reality with a strong racist motivation.

Then, as I was thinking on this issue, two news items game me the impetus to start writing. One is the release of a report by the International Energy Agency (IEA) that gives a very sobering assessment of climate risk. According to the UK's Guardian:
"The door is closing," Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency, said. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."
That prettymuch tells us that we need changes in energy policy now. But we also need to understand how it will affect immigration here.

Before this week, I might has painted a bleak picture, one of the US demonstrating a fortress mentality closing all its borders with Herman Cain electric fences or moats filled with alligators. Then, a stunning thing happened. Arizona voters successfully recalled State Senator RusselPearce, President of the Senate and the author of Arizona's infamous immigration law, a law strongly opposed by Arizona's Green Party. Arizonans have had enough of militancy and racism. The election turned on the fact that Arizonans wanted their legislators to have a bit of compassion.

I expect that there will be more political dislocations. If the US accepts climate refugees, they will compete for existing jobs. The Democratic Party has always tried to make immigrant communities as part of their political base. But they also have leaned heavily on labor union support that will act to protect their jobs for existing membership. This will not sort out quickly.

What does this mean for Greens? Neither of our presidential candidates, Kent Mesplay and Jill Stein, seem to have paid much attention to this issue. If they were to do so, if they were to focus on building a national policy based on compassion, I am sure that they will find acceptance in the electorate.

Additional Information: Green Party Platform on Immigration / Migration.

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