The Nogoodnik Rule.

Part II of The Immigration Heresies.

This was begun in early 2016 and revised in mid 2017. I’m finally publishing it now as part of my Decennial Fridge-Cleaning series.

Let me tell you everything I know about two asylum claimants, “Carl” and “Veedu”. (Their stories are from a June, 2017 article by Nina Shapiro in the Seattle Times.)

Veedu and his family are from Pakistan. Veedu declines to explain why they fled their home country. They arrived in New York City on tourist visas and applied for asylum. It seems they were permitted to live freely in the city while their claim was adjudicated. Veedu says they’d still be in New York – pending the outcome of their asylum claim, presumably – if Hillary Clinton had won the last presidential election. But Donald Trump won instead. Sensing that the atmosphere had grown unwelcoming, Veedu and his family decided they’d have a better chance in Canada.

Under the Safe Third Country Agreement between the U.S. and Canada, if Veedu and his family had attempted to claim asylum at a legal border crossing, they’d be turned away. However, due to a weird loophole, if they were already inside Canada when they made their claim, they’d be permitted to stay. So they flew to Seattle, asked a taxi driver to take them to Blaine, Washington, and walked across the unfenced border into British Columbia. Canadian border agents picked them up a few minutes later. They’re now living in Vancouver while their claim is decided.

Now here’s Carl. He’s a Kurd from northern Iraq, who had long felt oppressed in his homeland because he likes to drink alcohol and listen to music, activities frowned on by conservative Muslims. After working for an aid organization helping refugees from ISIS, Carl began receiving ominous texts calling him “an infidel, a spy, a tool of the Americans”. Feeling endangered, he finagled a tourist visa to visit a friend in Seattle – but he had no intention of hanging around there. Like Veedu, he’d heard that the Canadian border was an easy cab ride away. Unlike Veedu, when he arrived in Blaine he found himself unable to proceed. There was no physical barrier to stop him. He just couldn’t bring himself to cross. He’d never broken the law before. He took a taxi back to Seattle and filed an asylum claim with the United States.

I don’t know whether Veedu and Carl are legally entitled to receive asylum, let alone whether they “deserve” it. I don’t know whether they’d be genuinely threatened if they were returned to their home countries, or how likely they’ll be to obey the rules, to fit in, to prosper, if they are permitted to stay. I don’t have enough information – not nearly enough – to attempt to make judgements like that.

But there is one fundamental difference that emerges from these brief portraits. Veedu and his family were okay with violating the law to get to Canada. Carl wasn’t. On that basis, I’d prefer to have Carl.

But we got Veedu instead.

***

In my view, the purpose of immigration policy is straightforward.

    • Settle on the number you want to bring in.
    • Impose a screening process that will
      • Select applicants with desirable attributes, and
      • Reject those with undesirable attributes.

Of course, after you’ve settled on the number, you need to decide how much weight to give various positive qualifications like education, job background, language proficiency, and so on. Is an unmarried English-speaking college dropout tradesman more or less desirable than a married mining engineer with a shaky command of the language and four kids?

By contrast, while we might argue about the definition of “undesirable”, most people would at least agree on the necessity of screening known criminals out of our potential immigrant pool. There are always going to be borderline cases – criminals who have reformed, or those whose crimes were committed in protest against their repressive governments. But in general, the number of deserving non-criminal applicants is so great you can afford to err on the side of caution. There will be no difficulty filling your quota.

An immigration system functioning under the above rules should result in an immigrant population more productive, and more law-abiding, than the native-born population, because of what I’ll call the Nogoodnik Rule:

In the immigrant population, nogoodniks are screened out. Native-born nogoodniks you’re stuck with.

functioning immigrant selection system

This doesn’t mean immigration is an unqualified benefit to the host society. Apart from the occasional nogoodnik who sneaks through the screening system, there are hard-to-quantify social costs to linguistic confusion and cross-cultural misunderstanding. But so long as most immigrants are seen to be pulling their weight and playing by the rules, native-born citizens will pay those social costs with a minimum of grumbling.

But I’m proceeding on the assumption that the immigration system should prioritize the security and well-being of existing citizens. Open borders advocates reject this assumption. They say we coddled citizens of the west have done nothing, besides accidentally being born here, to deserve our good fortune, and we should grant the full rights of citizenship to anyone else who shows up.

As I said, I think this is a terrible idea. You’re asking citizens to forgo the right to determine the size and composition of the immigrant population, and to rule out known criminals and troublemakers.

Even so, an optimist might argue that immigrants under an open borders system should be no less productive, and no less law-abiding, than the native-born population.

This optimistic view assumes an identical distribution of productiveness and law-abidingness in the countries of origin and destination. It also assumes that immigrants constitute a purely random selection of the originating population. If nogoodniks are likelier than others to immigrate – say, in order to mooch more generous welfare benefits in the destination country – then the optimistic view falls apart. But who knows? Maybe those willing to immigrate are more hard-working, on average, than the destination population. Presumably you’d have to be fairly ambitious to go to the trouble of relocating.

In short, under open borders, citizens have no idea what kind of immigrants they’re going to get. But at least they can hope for the best.

What no-one in their right mind would ever suggest is a reverse selection system, one that actually favours criminality over law-abidingness. Or so you’d think. And yet that seems to be exactly the system that Angela Merkel imposed on Germany in 2015 in response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Remember, Merkel never threw open the border with Syria, for the obvious reason that Germany doesn’t share a border with Syria. Those seeking asylum in Germany had to,

  1. Make it out of Syria alive,
  2. Survive a risky boat journey to the Greek islands, and
  3. Trek on foot halfway across Europe.

After all this, if they arrived safely, they were permitted to stay until their asylum claim was decided (rather than being shipped back to the country where they’d first entered the European Union, as the law had previously stipulated).

Now, as you’d expect given the physically demanding selection system she’d imposed, the resulting migrant population was overwhelmingly young, male, and single. In other words, right off the bat she had selected for a population more likely than the average to be criminally disposed.

Additionally, by announcing that Syrians would receive favoured treatment over equally desperate Iraqis, Afghanis, and others, Merkel created an incentive for unfavoured migrants to “lose” their documentation, or acquire fake documentation, and pass themselves off as Syrians. Anecdotally, this seems to have happened a lot. Willingness to fudge your citizenship is not in itself proof of antisocial tendencies, but it selects for those who are comfortable fibbing to authorities.

Most importantly, instead of merely presenting themselves at a controlled border crossing, migrants had to enter Europe by sea, which usually involved paying human smugglers for a nighttime boat ride from the coast of Turkey to one of the nearby Greek islands. Again, seeking out and haggling with smugglers is the kind of requirement that tends to put off the law-abiding while doing nothing to discourage rulebreakers.

reverse immigrant selection system

I don’t mean to imply that most or even many of the migrants are criminals. In any large population a tiny minority are habitual nogoodniks. How tiny a minority? It’s hard to say.

To use my home country as an example, at any given time about 125,000 people, or 0.35% of all Canadians, are either in jail or on probation. But obviously there are other nogoodniks out there, or else the crime rate would be zero. 0.35% is much too low. [1]

In 2008, the Toronto Star reported that “more than 2.9 million people” had records in CPIC, Canada’s national crime database. Half a million of them had never been convicted of anything. That leaves 2.4 million convicted criminals – 7.2% of Canada’s population at the time – but a fair chunk of those records must refer to one-time, forgivable idiocies like DUIs and barroom scuffles. 7.2% seems way too high.

I’ll take a wild guess that our real nogoodnik rate is only one or two percent – higher among men, higher still among unmarried young men. These are the 1-2% of Canadians whom, if they were trying to immigrate here, we would unhesitatingly reject.

But Merkel invited in a million or so migrants. Assuming the Middle East’s nogoodnik rate is comparable to Canada’s, a purely random selection of a million Middle Easterners could be expected to include ten or twenty thousand criminal types.

That’s bad enough. But Merkel actually designed a system that favoured those most comfortable skirting the law.

So it’s no wonder her countrymen are bucking. Media figures have reported worriedly on the rise of anti-immigration sentiment in Germany. In 2016 the centrist foreign affairs columnist Matthew Fisher had an article on “The Face of the Far Right” in Canada’s National Post. He spoke with Tatjana Festerling, unsuccessful Dresden mayoral candidate and the “darling” of a new party called Pegida, or “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”. Fisher wrote:

Surprisingly, Festerling regards Canada’s points-based immigration system as a model.

“What we need,” she says, “are Canada’s immigration rules.”

“I see Toronto as a wonderful melting pot. You are a Canadian, no matter where you are from. You have put the barriers to getting in so high for immigrants and you have kept them there. There is a sense of freedom and respect for yourselves that does not exist here.”

This shouldn’t be that surprising. If mainstream parties abandon commonsense policies, people who support those policies have no-one to vote for except extremists. If the darling of Germany’s “far right” looks to Canada’s fairly moderate immigration rules as an improvement, maybe the designation “far right”, in an international context, is not actually all that useful.

I’m too far removed from the scene to say whether there’s any real danger in movements like Pegida. I will observe that you don’t need to be on the far right to be appalled by Angela Merkel’s decision to impose, without democratic debate or any apparent foresight, the flat-out dumbest immigrant selection system ever conceived.

M.

1. It was while researching prison statistics for this post back in 2017 that I realized I was suffering, as we all do, from Gell-Mann Amnesia.

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