Lionel Shriver Lionel Shriver

The government could tackle immigration – if it really wanted to

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I’m fascinated by the subject of immigration because I’m a sucker for moral complexity. For decades, too, I’ve been an immigrant myself, though I’ve played by the rules (at some cost), and I’ve never been a burden on the state (to the contrary). Besides, I am by nature territorial. Even having perfectly agreeable house-sitters in London during my summers in Brooklyn has been painful, and the first thing this Goldilocks has always done on returning home is expunge every reminder that bears have been sleeping in my bed and eating my porridge. That said, we’re all territorial. Hence the moral complexity.

So I’ve developed an unhealthy addiction to reading comment threads after articles about immigration. I never comment myself; this is a spectator sport. Admittedly, people may be more likely to contribute opinions on immigration when they want less of it. Still, by now I must have read tens if not hundreds of thousands of online diatribes and laments by ordinary readers. My casual survey can’t substitute for more scientific polling, but these are still individuals to be reckoned with, their communities often transformed beyond recognition in a mere 25 years. Their views might count for something, or so you would think. Note that the same patterns crop up not only in the conservative Telegraph and Wall Street Journal, but among the lofty left-leaning subscribers to the New York Times.

Voters in the US and the UK who would slow the drastic reshaping of their societies are disenfranchised

Generally more unvarnished than the decorously hedged articles to which they’re attached, these threads universally radiate two emotions: 1) rage; 2) impotence.

In a 2023 Gallup poll, 72 per cent of Americans wanted immigration kept at its present level or decreased. It is increasing. Including ‘known gotaways’ (but not unknown ones), during the Biden administration more than eight million foreigners have crossed into the US by ‘irregular’ means.

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