Immigration continues to be described as a problem in need of solution, and people identified as immigrants are in many ways the key problem. But who exactly are these immigrants? The obvious answer might seem to be people that moved from another country, but in both popular and official discussions immigrant is an increasingly raced and classed term used synonymously with ideas of disorder, radicalization, lack of achievement and criminalization.
But the flip-side is that international migration is also a part of economic globalization, and attracting economic elites to your cities is an important part of selling them to international capital. So there is a need for a whole other set of words and stories to describe this group of people who might have immigrated, but are certainly not immigrants. The idea of ex-pats, or immigrants from Western countries are the terms I’ve seen in Denmark. And in Canada there is an increasing differentiation between entrepreneurial or economic class immigrants as opposed to say family reunion or refugee classes.
As is so often the case, these more abstract and structural questions come together to impact the everyday lives of real people. The disproportionate amount of attention given to the supposed immigrant problem leads to a situation where everyone who fits the image of an immigrant gets treated as though they are part of a problem.
We see this in the Toronto police disproportionately stopping Black and Brown youth for questioning. We see this when majority residents decide to avoid moving into certain neighbourhoods. We see it in the difficulties of ethnic minority residents in gaining employment. And we even see it in the murder of a woman in her own home. Artist and sociologist Nabaz Anwars articulates this challenge in his own job seeking campaign including posters plastered over the city asking potential employers “Tør du … ansætte mig?” – “Do you dare … hire me?”
While this kind of othering – creating us-them categories with real social, political and economic consequences – is certainly not new, there is a lot of energy being expended right now to make access to receiving societies more difficult, while simultaneously promoting and publicizing the notion that immigrants are simply unwilling to join in.