On 28 November Prime Minister David Cameron made a long-awaited speech outlining his ideas and recommendations on immigration. “There are no simple solutions. Managing immigration is hard,” David Cameron said. “Not only here…look at the United States, the ultimate melting pot, where President Obama has just announced sweeping reforms.”
If there is one thing that is certain after Cameron’s speech, it is that the difficulty of finding a solution to the much-debated political issue of immigration is widespread. As Cameron stated, every major developed economy must overcome this hurdle. Obama’s recent address last Thursday on his plans to reform the US’ immigration system is a testament to that.
The US and the UK are obviously in differing situations that are particular to the respective country, and their immigration policies have distinct problems to tackle, at least from a political point of view. The immigration system in the US is focused to address the topic of undocumented immigrants and the implementation of security measures to prevent the influx of illegal immigrants. Discussion about cutting illegal immigrants in the UK exists, as indicated by Cameron’s mention of liaising with France to patrol the port of Calais. However, much political discourse focuses on EU immigration and the principle of free movement and the need to curb it. In short, Obama’s policy contains efforts mainly to confront the existence of undocumented immigrants within the country while Cameron is attempting to limit migration to the UK and take action to control it.
Obama proposed several remedies to fix the US’ broken immigration system. Under his plan, up to 5 million out of 11.4 million unauthorized immigrants in the US will be protected from deportation. Additionally, the plan will implement deferral programs for parents of American citizens, residents who have lived in the country for 5 years, and those who arrived as children. Not all will gain formal status as a citizen or receive full benefits under Obamacare, but those who are qualified can obtain temporary work permits and live in the country temporarily without fear of deportation. Additionally, immigrants who do not meet the criminal criteria will be secured. Recently arrived illegal immigrants and women who are currently pregnant and undocumented will not be protected under Obama’s policy.
Much debate has emerged in response to Obama’s announced efforts. Recent CNN/ORC poll ratings have shown that 50% of Americans believe that his plan is “just right”. Taking a closer look at Obama’s action plan indicate several problems, and many unqualified immigrants will be left disappointed. There are kinks that need to be smoothed out. Moreover, the Republican response isn’t any better than the public’s. Republican leaders are infuriated, and they plan to use their legislative power to undermine Obama’s presidential order or his alleged “executive amnesty”.
But let’s be realistic. No matter which avenue Obama took, a politically polarized public and government would be hard to please completely. There is expected to be as much criticism as there is support. While some expected there to be much backlash, the CNN/ORC ratings show that Americans’ attitudes aren’t predominately negative. After last week’s announcement on immigration, 44% approved of his handling of the issue compared to 34% in September. Notwithstanding the backlash and disapproval, most can agree that the issue has been long due for action. Whether or not one agrees with the policy itself or Obama’s exercise of executive power, at the very least, Obama’s address signifies a necessary step to address this bone of contention. His attempt to reform and refresh outdated policy and his call on Congress to pass a comprehensive bill are initiatives that were needed in order to fix the systemic problems in the immigration system.
Perhaps Cameron can take note. Cameron’s speech on immigration is equally susceptible to harsh critique and disapproval. After Cameron’s failure to slash migration and as official figures indicate a rise in annual net migration from last year’s 182,000 to this year’s 260,000, it was compulsory that Cameron addresses the issue. Cameron proposed an arguably contentious policy, which aims mainly to control benefits immigrants receive. It would establish a four-year qualifying period before immigrants are eligible to receive work benefits, prevent children from receiving benefits outside the country, and require migrants to find employment within six months of being in the country.
His policy also includes procedures such as auditing sponsors who abuse visa routes, deporting criminals, and preventing illegal immigrants from establishing their lives in the country. All these measures are aimed to cut migration to the UK.
The credibility of Cameron’s policy can be questioned since he failed to stick to his initial pledge of cutting migration. The attempt to reform the benefits system seems like a soft measure that does not address the issue, but it does seem to be founded on practical ideas. His policy does not overtly include an “emergency brake” and there was no mention of specific quotas to fulfill, which allows for more plausible goals.
Additionally, it is important to consider the possible ulterior reasons for this proposed immigration policy. Aside from attempting to create a credible policy that will realistically cut migration, some claim that he is attempting to appease the right wing tendencies of the electorate, “chasing UKIP’s tail,” in the words of Labour leader in European Parliament, Glenis Willmott. It elicits the question of whether or not Cameron’s policy address is being led by electoral goals and the EU referendum, and consequently if it is a viable and advisable solution to the issue.
So what happens next? Of course, enforcement of policies is important. It is as easy to spot the shortcomings of Obama’s proposed immigration policy, as it is to question whether or not Cameron’s will work in practice. Implementation of the policy is the next step, and it will determine whether or not Cameron will keep his promises. Cameron’s speech can be viewed as pragmatic, as it seems to address Britons’ attitudes towards the handling of immigration. It is crucial that he addresses this issue and that he is making policy proposals to address the concerns of immigration, and moreover the question of Britain’s potential exit from the EU. However, he needs to make it clear that he is not pandering to the interests of the UKIP and ensure that his policies will fulfill his promise to cut migration. As Obama asserted his executive power to enforce his will, Cameron will have to use a heavy hands approach to make himself credible and believable.
The Spectrum Blog Editor
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