I do love twitter. It’s hard to explain to the uninitiated, but for a newshound like me, dipping in and out of news streams through the course of the day is a pleasure.
And so it happens that a couple days in a row now I’ve come to hear about some immigration debates and research via people I follow on Twitter. Like many others, I’m happy to watch Jonathan Portes taking David Goodheart to task for his lazy prejudice and truth-starved statistics on immigration. I was also intrigued to hear about a Spectator Debate on immigration via Mehdi Hasan, who was tweeting about the fact that he’d be taking part, as would, among others, David Goodheart and Peter Hitchens. Then just today, I see that Sunder Katwala of the excellent thinktank British Future, is speaking at an event organised by Lord Ashcroft, called “Immigration on trial”.
Well, no one can say anymore that we’re not having the debate (though that’s still the go-to argument for those whose views are contested: “You’re stifling the debate!” – no, we’re just saying that you’re wrong. Disagreement is not the same as shutting you down, this isn’t Communist Russia etc etc)
However…I can’t help feeling, as an immigrant myself, very much talked about and not talked to. I also think it’s strange to have so many abstract debates. Well, sure, have the debates, but behind all the rhetoric there are people. People like me, with lives and loves and an intricate web of human relationships. And white people (because invariably when we talk about immigration, plaintitive cries about “Britishness” and the loss or absence of it usually reveal that Brown or Black Britons are still very much ‘other’ and what they really mean is ‘white homogenousness’) are just as human as the rest of us. They leave Britain for Australia, Canada, somewhere in Africa, East Asia – there they may work for a while then return home, or they may fall in love, set down roots, stay forever – or seek to return with their families.
Immigration is, at its heart, a human story. Facts and figures are so important to illuminate the debate, but in this globalised world we live him, the movement of humans, which has happened throughout the ages, is happening more and faster than ever before. It’s not something “happening to” Britain; it happens everywhere. Britons move around; so do Africans, Indians, Canadians, Americans. An abstract debate may be of interest to some but it doesn’t address the real human impact of immigration, or the human experience of the immigrants themselves.
Do we need policies? Absolutely. Do we need facts? No doubt about it. But discussing immigration like it’s something you can stop or opt out of is just ridiculous, unless you’re also going to ground all Britons too. One man’s immigrant is another man’s expat, after all.