Are all illegal immigration opponents ‘xenophobes’?

Many people – like Charles and Guido in yesterday’s comments – are quick to dismiss a hard line on illegal immigrants as ‘xenophobia’.

Someone with a generalised suspicion of foreigners would take a hard line on unauthorised arrivals (to use a more neutral term). But it far from clear that a hard line on unauthorised arrivals requires a xenophobic attitude.

If we cross-tabulate responses to the proposition ‘Immigrants who are here illegally should not be allowed to stay for any reason’ with other questions in the Australian Election Survey 2007 we can see how attitudes do not always line up in the way predicted by the they-are-all-xenophobes analysis. For instance:

28% of those who thing legal migration should be increased also favour a hard line on illegal migration.

50% of those who think immigrants make Australia more open also favour a hard line on illegal migration.

25% of those who think that equal opportunity for migrants has not gone far enough favour a hard line on illegal migration.

28% of those who think immigrants deserve more government help favour a hard line on illegal migration.

Some of these are fairly small percentages of the whole sample, but it is another reminder that public opinion rarely matches the categories used by intellectuals and activists to analyse the world.

The average opinion poll respondent would not see any inherent inconsistency in wanting migration controlled or reduced and welcoming migrants who do arrive in the officially sanctioned way.

Indeed, apart from some libertarians and human rights groups, few people want uncontrolled migration to Australia. Some degree of deterrence and punishment is therefore required, for those who decide to come to Australia whether inivited or not. There is room for a far less moralised debate about how tough the policy to enforce border control needs to be.


11 thoughts on “Are all illegal immigration opponents ‘xenophobes’?

  1. The question ” Do you support a hard line on illegal migration?” is not the same question as “Do you support the locking up of children in detention centers?” or “Do you support locking people up in detention centers for years with no charge?” or “Do you support removing peoples right to appeal the decisions of the immigration dept?” or “Do you support the denigration of illegal immigrant by claiming they throw their children overboard?” or “Do you support an immigration dept that is so incompetent that it has deported several hundred Australians?”.

    It actually surprises me that 72% of those who think legal migration should be increased are against a harder line on illegal migration. I would have expected the numbers to be lower. The question must have been asked after the Howard atrocities ( I chose my word carefully), I assume a largish percentage of those asked had been sickened by what was happening.

    I fully support orderly immigration for sound economic reasons. I despise what the Howard government did because I believe all humans should be treated with respect (you know like the preach is in church). You don’t, did not and will not need to remove peoples basic human rights to get orderly immigration.

    Fraser ( you know the last liberal prime minster this country had) fought for the labor party and the electorate for reasonable treatment of the Vietnam boat people, the result, a large group of people that have made enormous contribution to this country.

    Howard’s efforts are an affront to what a liberal party should stand for, to what I believe are Australia’s cultural norms ( perhaps naively ), and to human dignity. There is no excuse.


  2. Great post Andrew. I like seeing perceptions challenged with good data. As you suggest, it is a reminder that what we think is happening isn’t always what is happening!


  3. Andrew, to echo charles above, does a ‘hard line on illegal immigration’ necessarily mean mandatory detention? In my view, a strong deportation and border policy can still coincide with allowing unlawful entrants in the community while they are being processed.


  4. In a wider sense, issues of control seem to be central to what passes for immigration policy debate. On one hand, there are those who denounce as racist or xenophobic any support for less or more controlled immigration: basically cutting the general public out of a say on the grounds that they are “racist” or giving them a say “panders” to racism.

    But concern about illegal immigration also makes sense as a control issue the other way. Voting for people who pass the laws is how citizens have control (or at least some say) in a democracy. The higher the level of illegal immigration, the more attenuated that is in the area of immigration. So wanting a harder line on illegal immigration not only taps into ‘breaking the law is bad’ but also ‘illegal immigration represents people like me having no say’.


  5. Indeed, apart from some libertarians and human rights groups, few people want uncontrolled migration to Australia. Some degree of deterrence and punishment is therefore required

    That statement doesn’t follow. I don’t want uncrolled migration to Australia, yet I don’t think there should be any punishment for those who come without reasonable concern under the geneva convention. The punishment should be simply to be sent home, which isn’t punishment at all but rather re-establishing the status quo before the person immigrated.

    Secondly, the idea that that some sort of deterrence should be required is confusing. Yes: some might validly claim that those who come without cause under the geneva convention should be ‘deterred’, but mandatory detention deters the 95%+ plus who are not ‘illegal’ at all but are simply being processed by the government until they are receiving refugee status.

    I’m a pretty strong refugee advocate, who cares for the plight of people in detention. You’d find my signature on petitions to free refugees, and my name has appeared on the bottom of angry letters to Liberal immigration ministers. If I was polled: ‘Immigrants who are here illegally should not be allowed to stay for any reason’ I’d agree. of course they shouldn’t be allowed to stay. They’re illegal.

    Imprisoning asylum seekers is xenophobic. Nobody is complaining about kicking out illegal immigrants.

    I find it ironic that a post purporting to talk about statistical truths conflates terms, confuses terminology and seeks to distract the issue. I’d be a part of the group that would say yes to “


  6. Lomlate – The question wording perhaps isn’t ideal, but I doubt many respondents would have given it a lawyer’s reading. It’s talking about people who arrive without a visa or who stay after their visa has expired.

    So far as I have seen, there is no polling on refugees as such, only about their means of arrival. However, I would expect opposition to the refugee program to be much lower than opposition to unauthorised arrivals.


  7. I’d just like to say sorry for failing to proof-read my post. That last sentence was a leftover from another paragraph I was writing.

    To answer your post.. yes and no. I don’t know if you’ve ever worked in polling but I’ve found that subtle changes in the question can produce vastly different poll results. (that’s why i love mumble and his tendency to post poll questions verbatim) The refugee issue has always been about definitions. Nobody wants illegals to stay but lots of people who think asylum seekers should be put in jail think that they’re basically illegals anyway, and that their claims of refugee status are overblown. If you call those people ‘refugees’ suddenly a lot of people angry about illegal immigrants think that those fleeing for their life should be allowed to stay.

    Using a word like ‘illegal immigrant’ is way too powerful for a respectable poll, it amounts to push-polling because people associate a lot more with the word than it actually means. A poll like “should those who arrive here on boats” would give completely different results to “should illegal immigrants”. and regardless, I find it weird that they polled the question “bring them home” as apposed to “detain them”. If you polled the question “should those who come to Australia because they fear death overseas be allowed to stay” i think you’d get different results too.

    I think a lot of people have a response that ‘illegals’ should be drawn over hot coals while other forms of migration are all right. this goes to the whole concept of being overrun by hordes of asians. As long as ‘we decide who comes into this country’ we can stop ourselves being overrun. Depending on how broad definition this could or could not be classed as xenophobic. It’s still an irrational fear though.


  8. Lomlate – I’ve done lots of work analysing poll results, and though different wording can get different results, if results remain fairly similar despite changing the words we can be fairly sure we are picking up real opinion. In 2004 the AES question read ‘All boats carrying asylum seekers should be turned back’, and in a very similar result to 2007, 27% of those who wanted immigration increased also wanted all boats turned back. There is no doubt at all that public opinion is against unuathorised arrivals whatever you call them, as numerous different questions, survey methods and opinion pollsters have all come to fairly similar conclusions.

    On my reading, the ‘xenophobe’ response is really quite similar to the attitude it is condemning, a prejudice against other people, and a fairly strong one in its refusal to consider alternative explanations. At least the kind of ethnic prejudice we tend to see in Australia is of the ‘I don’t want more Asians coming, but that Mr Wu next door, he’s ok’ variety, just a rule of thumb rather than an inflexible position.


  9. Andrew Norton Says:

    Many people – like Charles and Guido in yesterday’s comments – are quick to dismiss a hard line on illegal immigrants as ‘xenophobia’.

    Many people like Guido, Spiros etc are well-connected with the Broad Left’s media-academia or bureacratic-apparatchik complex, especially on ethnic matters. So perhaps are not the font of all wisdom in these matters.

    The political justification for mandatory detention is self-evident. We are a populust democracy. The majority do not like unauthorised arrivals and want the govt to deter and stop it. The govt should do what the populace want.

    Whether the populace are “xenophobic” or not is irrelevant. I believe the constitution does not ban rednecks or nativists, or they still have the vote last time I checked.

    Of course most cultural elites embrace philosophies like multiculturalism which sound nice in theory but wind up being a recipe for sectarian feuding and barbaric customs in practice. I dont have a problem with being “xenophobic” towards honour killers, ethnic mafias or female genital mutilators whether they be authorised or not.

    The Howard govts policy on mandatory detention of asylum sêekers was in every way hard-hearted, unfair and played to xenophobic instincts. But, broadly speaking it was and remains the correct policy, morally, civilly and politically, to unauthorised arrivals.

    The Machiavellian moral case for detention is obvious: hard line policy is obvious. People smuggling causes people drowning. Mass drowning is worse than mass detention. Giving such traffic a frêe-pass is equivalent to giving a bus licence to a blind man in the Himalayas. A recipe for boating tragedy.

    Just the other day I learne that the famous Ethiopian plane ditching was caused by a hi-jacker sêeking asylum in Australia.

    The men threatened to blow the plane out of the sky if the pilot, Leul Abate (??? ???), and the co-pilot, Yonas Mekuria (??? ????), did not follow their demands, announcing over the intercom that they were opponents of the Ethiopian government seeking political asylum, having recently been released from prison…The hijackers demanded that the plane be flown to Australia.

    Well before the Tampa hundreds of asylum sêekers were drowning every year off the coast of AUS. THey were mostly ignored by the Cultural Left-liberals because there was no obvious way to attack Howard on that issue. Because, in fact, Howard was trying to stop it.

    THis sort of thing was ignored by the media-academia because it suits them to morally grandstand over their social inferiors on the subject of refugêes. Part of their status-war against the great unwashed mi?dle and lower-class out in the sticks.

    Unauthorised people movements typically involve some such dangerous if not criminal tactics. Undoubtedly many more would have done so in the absence of the Keating-Howard deterrence through detention, disruption and repulsion.

    So even if one life was saved by cracking down on unauthorised arrivals this would have bêen more humane than locking up people until their credentials were checked.

    There are perfectly valid civil policy reasons for mandatory detention of unauthorised arrivals. People smugglers invariably carry their traffic without proper manifestation or authorisation. This lead to self-selection, secondary destination and improper documentation. The public has a right to vet possible disease carriers, criminals or terrorists.

    The only reservation I had with the Keating-Howard-Ru?dock policy was its open-endedness. A time limit of one year – a fairly lengthy season in hell – should have bêen placed on detainês. Either they prove their case and are put on citizenship path be fobbed off to the a third party country or cop deportation back to their homeland. Endless detention was pointlessly nasty and expensive.


  10. “Many people like Guido, Spiros etc are well-connected with the Broad Left’s media-academia or bureacratic-apparatchik complex”

    Eh? Lemme give you the drum Jack, wog to wog. I’m not well-connected to any of those things. I am not even badly connected to them.


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