Thursday, September 13, 2007

from the Department of Is That Racist?

The Swiss are being criticized for allowing communities to vote on who gets citizenship, and who does not. You can read about it on the BBC. The claim is that the selection process is racist, because it results in virtually no new citizens who are, you know, basically, not already Swiss. Bearing in mind that applicants must have lived in a community for 12 years, and then that community votes on whether or not you get citizenship... I'm gonna go ahead and propose that it's not Swiss immigration law that's racist. It's the Swiss.


However, and this is a BIG however... I find I am in no position to tell the Swiss populace who they want for citizens. Of their own country. It should not, but it actually surprises me that people can feel so giddy with moral high ground that they feel good deciding what other people should do. If I were Swiss, I'd probably feel differently about the Swiss immigration laws, but (and I feel this is key to the discussion)... I'm not.

5 comments:

Hiromi said...

The enforcement of *any* law is subjective. Even if the law stipulates that there must be no discrimination based on whatever criteria, people will still discriminate if they want to. A law can't control the contents of someone's head, and they'll find ways around the letter of the law. They can justify rejecting an applicant based on vague criteria such as "unsound character," or some such.

Anyway, the law might make sense if you take into consideration how the Swiss government operates -- I know nothing about the place -- but if it's fairly decentralized, then it makes sense that they'll leave these decisions up to locals.

Holly said...

I believe it's actually the government's end-run around the issue of legislating in an explicitly discriminatory manner. You don't have to SAY who is or isn't allowed, as long as the good people of Switzerland are united in what kind of people they do or don't like, right? If that changes, it changes, and the law wouldn't necessarily need to be modified in that case. This is in some ways elegant handling.

It's actually hard for me to argue with the policy, as well. It's THEIR country--the citizens--so they decide. Some country's citizens apparently feel that the idea of "public servant" means they're totally excused from thought, decision making, and accountability.

If the Swiss want to exploit a certain labor pool, as has been the case with so many countries that have open or quota'd borders.... they would have to suck it up and accept that those exploited people will still be there later when you're done with your railroad or whatever.

If nothing else, the Swiss probably learned something from the US, UK, Germany, and France. Maybe they're actually protecting the potential immigrants from painful situations later, where they're told that, although they were invited in initially, they'd probably better go away now.

Holly said...

I'm going to go ahead and throw this in the ring:

There's a "hot" general election issue for the Swiss right now--is proposed legislation that says non-citizens who are convicted of crimes will be ejected from the country, along with their family members. This is considered a "Nazi" maneuver by some. Others consider it a highly effective deterrent to getting caught committing crimes...

Here's a fluffy BBC article outlining this stuff. I believe the photograph accompanying the article says a LOT about how the folks championing this legislation feel about the issue...

Hiromi said...

Damn, that poster is unambiguously racist, but the law isn't necessarily so. The fact is, immigrants *do* destabilize societies, and governments have limited resources in dealing with the needs of various groups, and the frictions that result. But concepts such as "society" and "nation" overlap so much with race that it's hard to separate them out.

At least some countries in Europe are explicit about their needs for transient labor -- guest worker visas and all that. But guests frequently overstay...

I dunno. Personally, I have no problem with people coming here and making an honest living. It's not their damn fault that the exchange rates are what they are and makes working elsewhere profitable. I just hate that individual immigrants are often the target of anger when there are larger, more complicated forces at work.

Rufus said...

This is sort of how it was done in the pre-modern period in Europe. People would move to a township or village and basically start living there. They just sort of asserted that they belonged and the locals either came to accept them or rejected them. Eventually, they would have to register with the local judge and that was when they needed people to testify for them. But it wasn't a matter of birth, language, or culture back then; it was more a matter of making claims to belong and having them accepted locally.