Sunday, 4 October 2009

Policy Jiu-jitsu

The chief writes that Japan must thoroughly crack down on illegal immigrants, and that Japan must take a stance of zero tolerance towards them. His rationale is basically that in order to maintain support for the policy framework he is calling for, immigrants cannot be percieved as being connected to criminality or terrorism. In fact, I would argue that the words "immigrant" and "immigration" already to some extent evoke criminality and the risk of social unrest in the Japanese social context.

My instinct then is to point out that the policy the chief recommends, and the rhetoric he uses to sell it may end up unnecessarily bolstering negative social perceptions of undocumented migrants as a sort of dangerous, monolithic, criminal element; and suggest the focus should be on the demand for their labour that brings undocumented workers here, the companies that hire them, and adding complexity the concept of illegal immigration so it isn't simply imputed to desires to predate Japanese people.

That being said I wonder if it's that simple. Now I doubt that this is the chief's thinking - as he is unquestionably anti-illegal immigration and I daresay anti-illegal immigrant. (During his career in officialdom, a fair few of the undocumented migrants he came into contact with were gulity of crimes more serious than illegal entry into Japan) - but presumably such policy could be a way of aligning the practical interests of the Japanese minority groups that will grow if the doors to immigration are opened to the interests of "native" Japanese. Even if it plays on prejudiced thinking.

If what it takes to get the policies the chief believes will benefit Japanese and non-Japanese alike adopted and implemented is for significant numbers of Japanese people to believe that the people the new policies would bring in are "a different kind of foreigner" -nothing like the kind that risk causing social unrest, nor the criminal illegals- then I can't say I'm sure about whether or not I ought to recommend that that part of the paper be changed.

On the other hand it's precisely this kind of prejudiced, and in some cases racist thinking that can get in the way of policy adoption and implementation, even when it is recognised that the policy would benefit the vast majority of the population. For example all it might take is for the issue to be framed as, "our taxes going to pay for programmes for those people", for the policy to be derailed (just look at the U.S. War on Poverty, and the current rhetoric surrounding the health care debate). So perhaps it behooves us to point out thinking or language surrounding policy that is at odds with coexistence whenever we encounter it.

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