Lawrence Solomon: Discrimination in immigration

(February 13, 2014) Immigration policy today discounts broad cultural factors in favour of an immigrant’s individual characteristics.

By Lawrence Solomon, published by the National Post on February 13, 2014

Should religion or ethnicity be a basis for a country’s immigration policy? Yes, says Spain, which plans to grant an automatic right of citizenship to millions of Jews descended from those expelled from Spain during the Spanish Inquisition in 1492.

To establish authenticity, Jews will need Spanish names, knowledge of Ladino (Spanish as it was spoken in the 15th century, which many expelled Jewish communities retained), or genetic tests, among other proofs expected to be used by the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain or a rabbinical authority in a Jew’s home country. No need for these Jews — known as Sephardic or Spanish Jews — to practise their religion as a condition of receiving Spanish citizenship.

Spain claims it is granting this “right of return” to redress a grievous wrong — one of Spain’s “most important historical errors,” stated Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón, Spain’s justice minister. “Now they have an open door to become once again what they should have never stopped being – citizens of Spain.”

Spain’s grant, in truth, has more to do with the country’s ailing economy than with remorse over an ancient wrong. Christian Spain in 1492 also expelled its Muslims yet their offspring have no right to return, an understandably sore point for the country’s Muslims.

Spain in 2012 offered preferential immigration treatment for Sephardic Jews, making it easier for them to acquire Spanish citizenship than others. But scant few Jews took Spain up on that offer, which required them to reside in Spain for at least two years and to give up their existing citizenship. To up the number of takers, which Spain hopes will boost local businesses as well as the country’s struggling housing market, Spain is sweetening its offer by dropping the residency requirement and granting Jews dual citizenship.

Jews around the world are now reportedly demonstrating great interest in Spanish citizenship, which would simultaneously also make them citizens of the European Union, with potential business and personal benefits. The upshot is likely to benefit all concerned, particularly since Jewish immigrants tend to have low crime rates and to make few demands on welfare systems.

Spain’s “right of return,” though born of a unique history, is hardly unique as a policy. To varying degrees, Israel, Germany, India and others also grant a right of return to their own Diasporas. In Greece’s case, someone of Greek origin whose ancestors haven’t so much as set foot in Greece since the time of Socrates nevertheless has, in principle, a right to Greek citizenship.

Neither is Spain’s appeal to Jews without precedent — at different times in history, the British, Poles, Dutch, Turks and others have sought Jewish immigrants for their skills. Other ethnic groups have likewise been sought. Russia under Catherine the Great enticed Germans to farm along the Volga, Canada recruited Ukrainians to open up the Prairies.

Immigration policy in Western nations today attempts to fine-tune whom to welcome and whom to not, discounting broad cultural factors in favour of an immigrant’s individual characteristics, such as his ability to invest and create jobs or to meet an employer’s niche need. Yet broad-brush cultural factors may be more important in producing a successful immigration policy.

In their recent book, The Triple Package, Amy Chua of tiger mom fame and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, describe how success among immigrants isn’t driven by wealth, pedigree or IQ, but by a constellation of cultural factors. Some ethnic and religious groups or subsets among them, have these in abundance — they include Chinese, Iranians, Jews, Lebanese, Mormons, Nigerians and South Asian Indian subsets — and some don’t. It follows that a prudent immigration policy would tilt toward immigrant groups whose cultures spawn success.

Yet in our politically correct culture, we eschew making judgments along ethnic and religious lines. Instead of highlighting the high crime rate among Jamaican immigrants, for example, we hide it, as if obscuring information will make the crime go away. As a result, we both hinder those who would want to better understand and correct the factors that promote Jamaican crime and turn large segments of the public against immigration in general, preventing the arrival of the great many — including subsets of Jamaican society that are law-abiding — who would be credits to our society.

Spain hasn’t entirely abandoned political correctness — it is claiming its decision to welcome descendants of its expelled Jews is designed to reverse a past wrong, and is not ethnically or religiously motivated.

This is a fig leaf, as attested to by raised eyebrows inside and outside Spain. But it should nevertheless be applauded as a victory for pragmatism. If Spain’s revisionist immigration causes immigration policies worldwide to be revised, it would address the real historic wrong — the wrong that comes of a relativism that assumes all cultures are equally desirable and compatible with our own, and equally beneficial to our own progress.

Lawrence Solomon is executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute.

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About Lawrence Solomon

Lawrence Solomon is one of Canada's leading environmentalists. His book, The Conserver Solution (Doubleday) popularized the Conserver Society concept in the late 1970s and became the manual for those interested in incorporating environmental factors into economic life. An advisor to President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on the Global Environment (the Global 2000 Report) in the late 1970's, he has since been at the forefront of movements to reform foreign aid, stop nuclear power expansion and adopt toll roads. Mr. Solomon is a founder and managing director of Energy Probe Research Foundation and the executive director of its Energy Probe and Urban Renaissance Institute divisions. He has been a columnist for The Globe and Mail, a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, the editor and publisher of the award-winning The Next City magazine, and the author or co-author of seven books, most recently The Deniers, a #1 environmental best-seller in both Canada and the U.S. .
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