Sunday, August 6, 2017

Cosmopolitan bias

Hedgehog in vampire costume, via wideopenpets.

Can't stop thinking about that exchange between White House political advisor Stephen Miller (or "David Duke's favorite Jew" as The Forward has called him) and CNN's Jim Acosta, with reference to the awful immigrattion bill submitted by Senators Cotton and Perdue aiming at cutting legal immigration to the US by 50% and restructuring the rules to bring fewer unskilled workers and relatives of citizens and more "high-value" entrepreneurs and professionals to our shores:
Q.... Yes, people who immigrate to this country can eventually -- people who immigrate to this country not through Ellis Island, as your family may have, but in other ways, do obtain a Green Card at some point. They do it through a lot of hard work. And, yes, they may learn English as a second language later on in life. But this whole notion of “well, they have to learn English before they get to the United States,” are we just going to bring in people from Great Britain and Australia?
MR. MILLER: Jim, it’s actually -- I have to honestly say I am shocked at your statement that you think that only people from Great Britain and Australia would know English. It’s actually -- it reveals your cosmopolitan bias to a shocking degree that in your mind --
Q Sir, it’s not a cosmopolitan --
Acosta, who is of Cuban origin—his father came to the US as a refugee in September 1962, weeks before the Cuban missile crisis erupted—obviously isn't thinking about the many Caribbeans and upper-middle–class Africans and South and Southeast Asians who could find access to green cards through the Cotton-Perdue immigration proposals, but about the many people who could be shut out by this system. especially from Latin America, including, let's say, qualified engineers and doctors and the like. But he puts it very artlessly, giving Miller his opportunity to start browbeating.

MR. MILLER: No, this is an amazing moment. This is an amazing moment. That you think only people from Great Britain or Australia would speak English is so insulting to millions of hardworking immigrants who do speak English from all over the world.
Miller leaps on it in high excitement, in the best high school debate fashion, confident that he's won (for a certain kind of press spokesperson an encounter with a journalist can actually be a kind of duel), but the point is facile and unearned. (1) Is it insulting to Canadians and New Zealanders and South Africans? Or Trinidad or Barbados or Jamaica for that matter? It's not insulting at all, as you see by these examples, it's just at worst ignorant. (2) It's not because they're hardworking that many people in Pakistan or Ghana speak good English, but because everybody they know does, in the relatively privileged classes, or in some cases like Liberia or the Philippines or Singapore because practically everybody under 60 does. Unlike China or Egypt, where speaking English does take hard work alongside a good deal of privileged educational access.
Q My father came to this country not speaking any English.
Acosta's point is pretty simple. His father wasn't an unworthy person, and this bill treats him as if he were. Miller rebuts with a Gish Gallop return:
MR. MILLER: Jim, have you honestly never met an immigrant from another country who speaks English outside of Great Britain and Australia? Is that your personal experience?
Stevie, are you aware that the United States is the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, with more Spanish speakers than Spain, Colombia, Argentina, or any country other than Mexico? And that it comes by this distinction not because of immigration in the first place, but because most of the country was Mexico, or Spanish colony, before the territorial acquisitions of 1803 (Lousiana) to 1853 (Gadsden purchases) including the Mexican War, and before US authorities got so wacky about borders people (speakers of Spanish and Nahuatl and Tohono O'odham, etc., as well as French and Micmac etc. to the northeast, and....) used to cross them freely all the time?

Whatever reasons you may have for trying to restrict people who only speak Wolof and French, or Javanese and Indonesian, or Hakka and Mandarin and a little Cantonese, Spanish-speaking people have been at home here longer than there has been anything like a United States, without needing to speak English as a matter of course, though nearly all sooner or later do, and if you want to implement some new language policy over their heads you owe them some kind of explanation.
Q Of course, there are people who come into this country from other parts of the world.
Indeed there are, and the number of Spanish-speaking, more specifically Mexican immigrants has been diminishing. In 2013, for the first time ever, Mexico wasn't the prime source of immigrants to the US but was behind India (immigrants mostly better educated than the broad Indian population, and familiar with English, with many, perhaps a majority, completely fluent) and China (immigrants reasonably but not all highly educated, with English skills relatively rare); followed by (educated and English-speaking) Filipinos and Canadians in fourth and fifth places.

Mexico remains the birthplace of more US residents than any country other than the US itself, by a very wide margin:
In 2015, Mexicans accounted for approximately 27 percent of immigrants in the United States, making them by far the largest foreign-born group in the country. India was the next largest country of origin, with close to 6 percent of all immigrants, followed by China (including Hong Kong but not Taiwan) and the Philippines, at close to 5 percent each. El Salvador, Vietnam, and Cuba (about 3 percent each), as well as the Dominican Republic, Korea, and Guatemala (2 percent each), rounded out the top ten. Together, immigrants from these ten countries represented 58 percent of the U.S. immigrant population in 2015.
And the addition of Salvadorans, Cubans, Dominicans, and Guatemalans (to say nothing of the increasingly important Colonbia, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Bolivia) obviously increases the importance of Spanish.
MR. MILLER: But that’s not what you said, and it shows your cosmopolitan bias. And I just want to say --
Q It just sounds like you’re trying to engineer the racial and ethnic flow of people into this country through this policy.
It seems pretty clear that that's the aim: to close the door to those among the larger immigrant groups where English doesn't prevail—
21 percent (64.7 million) reported speaking a language other than English at home. Spanish was by far the most common language (62 percent), followed by Chinese (including Mandarin and Cantonese, 5 percent), Tagalog (almost 3 percent), Vietnamese (2 percent), French (including Cajun and Patois, 2 percent), Arabic (2 percent), and Korean (2 percent), and German, Russian, and French Creole (about 1 percent each).
With Trump's bugbears, Spanish above all but likely also Chinese and Arabic, as the targets of the legislation; and a free ride for India, whose use of English is so pervasive that their indigenous languages don't make the list.
MR. MILLER: Jim, that is one of the most outrageous, insulting, ignorant, and foolish things you’ve ever said, and for you that’s still a really -- the notion that you think that this is a racist bill is so wrong and so insulting.
Q I didn’t say it was a racist bill.... You’re saying that people have to be English speaking when they’re naturalized. What is this English-speaking component that you’ve inserted into this? I don’t understand.
Miller tips his hand there. With his dog-whistle–sensitized ears, he heard Acosta say something he didn't say, that the Cotton-Perdue bill was "racist". And successfully avoided, throughout the whole bizarre encounter, answering Acosta's question, to which the answer is, in fact, "It's racist."

That is, the bill is meant to put a damper on large-scale immigration to the US from as many as three ethnic groups who tend in general to come to the country with not a lot of English skill, Latinos, Chinese, and Arabs, leaving alone the Indians (partly "Aryan", in the terminology of Miller's old mentor Richard Spencer, anyway), Filipinos, Caribbeans and anglophone Africans (expected to assimilate into the African American community), and very small groups, which have no ability to transform the complexion of the white nation to which Miller, I think, and the white nationalists among Trump's followers pledge their allegiance.

I should add that we really don't have to take this too seriously for now, because the Cotton-Perdue bill has no chance whatever of becoming law—too many Republican Senators from agricultural states have figured out that they don't want to repeat on a national scale the disaster that happened to Georgia in 2011, when a harsh new immigration law left them with nobody to pick the fruit crops.

But what's that "cosmopolitan bias"? It's funny that a Jew like Miller would be using Stalin's code word for Jews, but I'm sure that's not exactly how he means this. It sounds like if you're cosmopolitan in the simple sense, with a wide variety of cultural experience and comfortable in a wide range of cultural milieux, that makes you biased, in comparison to some country hedgehog who only knows one cultural way of being. And that seems to imply that direct truth is somehow more available to those with less experience (when it's culturally homogeneous, I guess) than to those with more.

That's such a perversion of the concept of bias it really makes me want to scream.

One other thing: In an interchange with Glenn Thrush, Miller cites a 2015 study by George Borjas of a very exceptional experience, the aftermath of the Mariel boatlift in Miami, as evidence that a large number of less educated immigrants can really lower the prevailing wage for unskilled labor, in spite of decades worth of evidence that it doesn't (the way they cite apparent job losses following Seattle's sudden move to a universal $15 minimum wage as proof that raising minimum wages leads to unemployment, in spite of decades worth of evidence that it doesn't). If you want to know how bogus the Borjas study is, there's a great explainer by on of the economists involved, David Clemens, at Vox.

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