And then they came for me

by Maria on February 23, 2005

Via Statewatch, a story of four Air Horizon passengers being prosecuted by the French government for objecting to a forced deportation on their flight. Probably the most chilling aspect is the insistence by cabin crew, policy, the airline and the state that it’s perfectly normal to share a plane with a hysterical man crying “I am not a slave” as he is assaulted and gagged by a glove shoved into his mouth.

This is the reality of European immigration policy, whether we like it or not. And as bizaare and Kafka-esque as it is to prosecute people who object to being made a part of the machinery of expulsion, the fact is that the young Congolese man was safer on a commercial flight than using another means.

Perversely, I’m glad that four articulate and well-connected Europeans are being prosecuted for doing their moral duty. It seems to me that every time we accept a narrowing of human rights as a trade-off for better security, we do so on the unspoken assumption that the person suffering will never be ‘one of us’.



John Isbell 02.23.05 at 12:45 pm

Thank you to the four of them.


jet 02.23.05 at 1:03 pm

There is actually a good reason to have immigration restrictions.
If you want a picture of near unrestricted immigration, read up on the US, particularly New York City, during the 19th century. Nobody would chose to allow that again.


Matt 02.23.05 at 1:10 pm

I can’t read french, so I didn’t read the liberation article. But, in neither the statewatch article nor in Maria’s post did anyone suggest, or even imply, that there should not be restrictions on immigration. So, why raise your point? True advocates for open boarders are extraordinarily rare. And, if you think there were no immigration restrictions in the US in the 19th century, you are hopelessly ignorant. Start by looking under “Chinese Exclusion Act.”


jet 02.23.05 at 1:23 pm

I’ll be patient and remind you I said “NEAR unrestricted immigration”. But if you don’t think having a US population almost 50% immigrant is “near unrestricted”, then perhaps we should discuss some common terminology so we might improve our dialogue.

My point was, and sorry if it wasn’t obvious, that any policy of immigration restriction is going to cause people without the right to be in the country to be expelled. So this poor guys fate is bound to happen unless a country is willing to accept 19th century USA. With the poorly ventilated housing where entire blocks would get TB. With the exploitation of labor so that we have 1 dead immigrant for every foot dug of the Great Lake canals. Of the crime, gang warfare, and poverty that made Somalia look industrialized. Either that, or guys screaming on airplanes.


Des von Bladet 02.23.05 at 1:29 pm

Matt: I can read the Frenchy-French (hoorah!) but there’s a translation of that article at the bottom of the first link.

Ignoring Jet will improve your quality of life, as I shall demonstrate by not doing so:

[Jet:] if you don?t think having a US population almost 50% immigrant is “near unrestricted”,

That’s pretty dismal even by your own lamentable standards. “Near unrestricted” immigration would, in the usage of lucid persons, be measured with respect to the number of would-be immigrants, rather than the number of persons resident, isn’t it?

I do not argue that “near unrestricted” is an indefensible claim, of course, only that it should be defended, if possible, other than by non sequitur.


jet 02.23.05 at 1:50 pm

Do I need to run my comments by an editor so that your fragile abilities of comprehension aren’t so harshly tested?

“..if you don’t think having a US population almost 50% immigrant is [THE RESULT OF] “near unrestricted” immigration,”

Nice to see you deflecting the conversation to semantics ya damned troll as I would hate to see a real discussion about the harsh realities of both sides of the immigration debate break out.


abb1 02.23.05 at 1:56 pm

Yes, they could, of course, strip the guy naked, tape his mouth, shove him in a metal container and ship him with the luggage, thus sparing the documented passengers unnecessary disturbance – y’know, the way it’s done by more advanced societies these days. But don’t worry, they’ll learn.


Micha Ghertner 02.23.05 at 1:58 pm

True advocates for open boarders are extraordinarily rare.

Not so rare if you hang around with the right people. Like me, for example.


Des von Bladet 02.23.05 at 2:19 pm

Jet, you witless tosser, you have in fact still given us no reason to think it was ‘[THE RESULT OF] “near unrestricted” immigration’.

But you can have your nice argument with the nice Libertoonian now, if you like.


jet 02.23.05 at 2:44 pm

Don’t get angry, we can still be friendly even if we didn’t get started off on the right foot.

But if you are seriously questioning my description of US 19th century immigration policy as “near unrestricted” and yet the US had, at one point, nearly 50% of the population as immigrants, then we should move the debate to the dictionary and to what exactly the word “near” and “unrestricted” mean. should give you a head start ;)

But perhaps I’m not being generous enough in my interpretation of what you wrote. You could be inferring that the US could have reached 50% immigrants without an extremely lax immigration policy. But surely you couldn’t have meant that, as that would just be silly.

And any man who says he isn’t a tosser is a liar.


Des von Bladet 02.23.05 at 3:04 pm

OK, Jet, I’ll play nice. What I questioned and question is that “lax” is necessarily especially near “unrestricted”.

In particular, it is not possible to infer, as you demanded we should, “near unrestricted” immigration from a percentage of immigrants in residence. I don’t need to know anything about 19th century New York (which is exactly the amount I know) to reject this claim.

Consider an island with one (1) inhabitant and a very restrictive immigration policy. Only one (1) person needs to satisfy it, and there’s your cherished 50%. It works just as well with 10 million, you could accept all of w 10 million candidates or 10% of 100 million: your claim is still a non sequitur.

If you exhibited evidence that almost no one was turned away (which may well exist), then that would be evidence. Or a law saying “What the hell, let ’em in!”

If P is “50% of the population are immigrants” and Q is “there are few restrictions on immigration” then P simply does not imply Q, and all your bluster isn’t going to change that.

This is petty, of course, but considering the levels of interpretive charity you habitually extend to others, it’s also not especially ungenerous.

And I have a dictionary, thanks very.


abb1 02.23.05 at 3:12 pm

But this guy was an illegal immigrant, le sans-papier. You can have all 100% of a country made of immigrants and it’ll still have nothing to do with this case, if they are all legal.


jet 02.23.05 at 3:22 pm


I must apologize for my presumptuousness. With your name and use of terms such as “witless” and “tosser”, I should have realized you might not be that familiar with American history. Especially if you are the product of the Scandiwegian school system.

But here is my hint at why the answer is obvious. Ellis island was not an anomaly of US federal policy. It was the culmination of the huge infrastructure built to handle the large numbers of immigrants coming to the US. So if the federal government built huge facilities to process immigration, perhaps they knew the immigrants were coming? If they not only knew about them, but processed them, then perhaps they had a set policy? If this policy was set to allow near unfettered immigration, in as much as enough immigrants arrived to account for 50% of the US population, then it would be obvious to anyone with this knowledge that the 19th century US immigration policy could accurately be descried as (relative to other countries’ policies) “near unrestricted”?

But alas, my attempt to point at a real life example of one of the most liberal immigration policies in history, so that a qualitative discussion of immigration policy might erupt, has been defeated at the hands of the historically challenged or anally-retentive.


Des von Bladet 02.23.05 at 3:41 pm

Jet: Lots of immigrants still doesn’t imply unrestricted immigration.

Call me “anal retentive” if you like – this is certainly so much more dignified than “tosser”! – but I am making a basic methodological point about supporting claims, and you are declining to get it. I do not claim to be surprised, and I won’t continue.

The Chinese Exclusion Act was certainly news to me, though, although I do not have you to thank for bringing it to my attention.

If you want to make the case against unrestricted immigration, what’s stopping you making it in Micha’s general direction?


Scott Martens 02.23.05 at 3:51 pm

There’s a bit of German grafitti up at the train station nearest to my office. It says : Kein Mensch ist illegal. That pretty sums up my opinion of forced deportations. I am no doubt the very image of the strawman Jet is raising to make his case, since I actually do advocate almost completely unrestricted immigration. In almost every case in recent centuries where immigrants have actually done what most people are afraid they might do – ruin the economy, lower wages, change the cultural and linguistic balance balance and make the native population and those who identify with it into minorities – it’s been the work of white immigrants into non-white areas. And in the majority of cases in the last 200 years, it’s been Anglo-Saxon immigrants specifically who’ve been responsible. Texas, California, Australia, New Zealand, western Canada, parts of South Africa – all places where local populations who either couldn’t or wouldn’t control Anglo-Saxon immigration saw their standards of living decline, their languages endangered, their cultures threatened or extinguished, their political power reduced and ultimately turned into minorities in their own homelands. There are a few other non-Anglo-Saxon cases in the last couple of centuries – France tried it but mostly failed; Russia tried it and mostly succeded – and a couple of non-white ones – China in a few places; a couple of others in the last two centuries in odd corners of the world – but not nearly so many or on a comparable scale.

I think this undermines any historical claim that immigration from the developing world is likely to pose a threat to anyone. So, since it would be racist to just restrict white immigration, I’m for opening the borders.

Jet: Please explain exactly what negative elements of American society and/or New York city in the 19th century were caused by the high levels of immigration. Specify which of those were less present in US cities possessed of comparable size and economic conditions but with fewer immigrants. I’ll accept Canadian and – heck – even British cities in a pinch.


Andrew Boucher 02.23.05 at 4:17 pm

If indeed there was a “narrowing of human rights”, then more power to the four. But as near as I can tell from the article, the human right in question, which caused the four to protest, is having a peaceful flight, without being bothered by a kicking and screaming deportee. They just wanted to get off the flight, no? They weren’t asking that the mistreatment of the Congolese man stop.

I do take jet’s point that: if
the man from Congo was an illegal immigrant, and if the French authorities were in their rights to deport him, and if the immigrant resisted by kicking and screaming, then some mistreatment is probably to be expected on an airplane flight. The level of this mistreatment, I think, determines whether a “narrowing of human rights” occurred.


Matt 02.23.05 at 4:24 pm

You’re right- I glossed over the “nearly”. I suppose that’s becuase, by the time period you’re looking at, there was a complete restriction on immigrants from Asia, and this seems to make the “nearly” inappropriate to me. It might have been “nearly unrestricted” for white immigrants, but that’s another story. And, I’m curious about what you mean by 50% immigrant. Do you mean 50% foreign born? I ask because the census dept. says that at the highest, only 14.8% of the US population was foreign born (in 1890). That’s a lot, but a lot short of 50%. So, what do you mean? Are you counting the children of immigrants, or just counting NY city or what? (I believe the percentage of foreign born in NY city now is about 38 percent, though I’m far from sure that’s accurate.) But, on any plausible reading of ‘immigrant’, there was no time since 1850 at least (earliest date I have stats for- google % of US population foreign born to get the census dept. stats) more than 14.8%, so I just have no idea what you are talking about. And, if one is born in the US, one isn’t an immigrant, even if one’s parents were.

Micha- you’re right that anarchists often support few restrictions on movement, but thankfully there are not many anarchists! (I had in mind people like Joseph Carens, Howard Chang, or Robert Goodin, who support eliminating many barriers to movement, but do not call for totally open boarders.)


maria 02.23.05 at 4:34 pm

Andrew, I think what the four objected to was not the inconvenience or distress of sharing an airplane with the man being forcibly deported, but in being made complicit to some pretty appalling treatment and, above all, being faced with the reality of deportation. But that’s certainly debatable as there is some ambiguity in the various accounts.

The four men – and the pilot – don’t make a policy argument against forced deportation. Their objections seemed more in the character of a visceral human reaction to the wrongness of the man’s treatment and fate. What strikes me most about this incident is how far removed most discussion on immigration and asylum policy is from the ugly details of its implementation.

But as to a narrowing of rights (and leaving aside those of the Congolese man which have been systematically reduced by the European Council of Justice Ministers in the past 5 years), do you not think it is a narrowing of rights that people who objected to being on that flight – and did so in a civilised and peaceful fashion – are now the subject of a criminal prosecution…?


m 02.23.05 at 4:39 pm

Andrew – sorry – overstatement in my last para. I just re-read your comment and paid proper attention to your statement of ‘more power to the four’ if there is a narrowing of rights.


Andrew Boucher 02.23.05 at 4:54 pm

“Andrew, I think what the four objected to was not the inconvenience or distress of sharing an airplane with the man being forcibly deported, but in being made complicit to some pretty appalling treatment and, above all, being faced with the reality of deportation.”

How do you infer that? Call me a cynic, but unless proven otherwise, the most natural motive is that the four just wanted a peaceful flight – just like some people on a plane ask to be moved so they don’t have to sit next to a baby, who might scream. I myself might (probably?) have the same reaction, so I’m not disparaging them; I jsut don’t think they should be made into heroes, unless of course they are really resisting because of the mistreatment.

I think we agree that there is a policy and its implementation. If there is more wrong implementing the policy than there is right in the policy, then the policy should change. My guess (is this a Larry Summers’ guess?) is that there is more right in the policy, but I freely admit I could be wrong, and that I don’t know enough about the particulars to judge.


jet 02.23.05 at 5:03 pm

Des you left out the “near”, an important qualifier.

Matt, you are absolutely right. I wasn’t even close with those numbers and mixed up NYC immigrant population with overall US.

Scott, besides being racist, you are wrong. Some of the bloodiest immigration (multi-cultural intra-national) conflicts have occurred in non-Anglo-Saxon cultures. For starters, how about Black September in Jordan (at least as deadly as the 1860’s NYC riots)? But, anyways, measured by crime rates, poverty, and unemployment, cities with lower levels of immigration were much better off in 19th century US.

Anyone who thinks their country’s infrastructure could magically build new housing, add new jobs, and assimilate new cultures at a rate fast enough for open borders to be feasible, need only look at 19th century USA.

ISBN 1560252758 is the best place to start if you want to see the results of 19th century US immigration policy. Don’t worry, the movie only encompasses about 3 pages of the book.


Maria 02.23.05 at 5:05 pm

Likewise – in retrospect I think some more detail about the particulars of the objections are needed. I’ll have a dig around in the French press and post what I find tomorrow.


clone12 02.23.05 at 5:17 pm

“measured by crime rates, poverty, and unemployment, cities with lower levels of immigration were much better off in 19th century US. ”

Which must explain why immigration rate had zero effect in antebellum Northeastern towns, as measured by extent of pauperism.


jet 02.23.05 at 5:53 pm

1823 aggregated data? Hardly a data set anyone would accept as indicative of 19th century US immigration. Let’s move forward 41 more years into that policy and see how it effected NYC’s crime rate and poverty level. It isn’t the areas of virtually unlimited arable land to the West that was the problem. It was the rapid population growth in urbanized industrial centers where the quality of life dropped to inhumane lows, that contain the lesson to be learned.

Now is as good a time as any to state that I am for generally increasing immigration rates to all industrailized nations. But open borders fly in the face of history.


jet 02.23.05 at 6:08 pm

Here’s another book to make my point: Keyssar, Alexander. “Poverty.” The Reader’s Companion to American
History. 1991.

Start reading about page 850 and hit the groovy stuff on 860-861. The majority of the poor were definitely immigrants, especially in the higher populated industrialized areas.

If anyone disagreeing with me does actually pick up a history book and read about US immigration in the 19th century, please don’t feel stupid about what you said here. It really isn’t your fault that you didn’t know. I mean, how could you have known there were books out there by people who had studied primary sources, aggregated data, made conclusions, had their work peer reviewed, and then put it all down for you and I to read?

Oh, and clone12, in 1823, poverty (paupery) wasn’t really a subject studied. You’ll find the primary sources a bit ambiguous for your uses, regardless of the good Brad Delong’s usage. Those numbers are probably only slightly more accurate than Michael A. Bellesiles mystery county records. As far as investigation into poverty levels and causation, that didn’t really begin in earnest the US for a couple more decades.


lemuel pitkin 02.23.05 at 6:15 pm

If P is “50% of the population are immigrants” and Q is “there are few restrictions on immigration” then P simply does not imply Q, and all your bluster isn’t going to change that.

As Montaigne used to say, before asking what a fact means, you should ask if it’s actually a fact. And in this case, it ain’t.

The foreign-born population of the US has never been anywhere close to 50 percent. The highest it ever reached was about 15 percent at the turn of the century. And that was, in fact, a period of near-unrestricted immigration.


clone12 02.23.05 at 6:16 pm


Antebellum era goes all the way up to 1861, which contains more than half of 19th century.

Secondly, if you’re going to ramp down foreign immigration to NYC because it might reduce the quality of life there, why don’t you also shut off internal migration to NYC as well? Should there be laws restricting someone from West Virginia to move to NYC?


HP 02.23.05 at 6:19 pm

Anyone who thinks their country’s infrastructure could magically build new housing, add new jobs, and assimilate new cultures at a rate fast enough for open borders to be feasible, need only look at 19th century USA.

Exactly. Because as we all know, the USA failed to survive its horrid experiment with immigration, the constitution was dissolved in 1908, and North America reverted to a patchwork of petty fiefdoms, city-states, and warlordism.

In fact, it wasn’t until the New Corn Month in the Year of the Jaguar, 23rd cycle, that the armies of the Restored Mayan Emperor, 17 Rabbit, were able to unite the green-eyed mongrel hordes of the north under His glorious dominion. All hail 17 Rabbit!

Oh, wait. I though we were playing “alternate history.” In this continuum, the United States became the greatest economic and political powerhouse the world has ever known, completely dominating the global stage for nearly a century. The city of New York is considered a world city, one of the jewels of civilization. So never mind.


Sebastian Holsclaw 02.23.05 at 6:42 pm

“In this continuum, the United States became the greatest economic and political powerhouse the world has ever known, completely dominating the global stage for nearly a century. The city of New York is considered a world city, one of the jewels of civilization.”

Yes, but unlike say the country in question for this purposes of this post–France–the 19th century US actually assimilated its immigrants into the American culture.


jet 02.23.05 at 6:42 pm

clone12, I was just picking a data point we could agree was emblematic of a high density industrial center. I’m sure we can find another.

And just because this was the way it was, means there was a more optimum policy? Using your logic we get: India’s a thriving Democracy, I guess the British occupation was the best way to get there. Or how about Japan? Japan is a thriving Democracy, I guess nuking them was the best solution. Or how about, the US is the richest, most powerful nation in the world. Letting in everyone who wanted to come and letting them fight it out between themselves for scarce resources, living in cramped TB infection housing, horrible murder rates, and jobs that barely paid anything at all, had to have been the optimum solution. Hell, now I’m all for open borders. What’s a hundred years of human hell when we have the Glorious Balance to look forward to in the future.


mc 02.23.05 at 7:01 pm

Some commenters on this thread have expressed or implied a belief in ‘open borders’. In some cases, judging by the comments some of the same people have made on other threads, this strikes me as the mirror image of the confused/obtuse/hypocritical position of the UK Conservative Party on immigration. (The Tories believe in unrestricted movement of capital + highly restricted movement of people. You lot, by contrast, believe in reining in the evils of global capitalism but letting global people movements rip…)

But assuming you can make your position cohere – and I know you can, I just worry that some of you aren’t prepared to put in the intellectual yards to do so – that still leaves the following questions:

(1) What proportion of people in France, or the UK, share your belief in completely open borders?

(2) If the answer to (1) is, as I believe it to be, considerably less than 10%, does this operate as a democratic constraint on policy? (This is a genuine question, not a rhetorical one – I’m up for a discussion on it, but let’s have no comparisons with, say, popular support for the death penalty; immigration policy is more obviously something which should be up for democratic debate and decision, and the fact of having a not-completely-open-border policy, as opposed to how open, how operated, etc. is not, unlike the death penalty, a human rights issue in itself.)

(3) If (1) does operate as a democratic constraint on policy – i.e., if we agree that we have to continue maintaining some immigration restrictions UNTIL we can persuade enough people to support a completely open-border policy – then, granting that anything short of a completely open-border policy implies a classification of migrants into legal and illegal, how in the meantime should we enforce this classification? Is it generally desirable, or indeed fair, to enforce a law but let anyone off if they refuse to comply – or escalate their non-compliance beyond a certain point? (I can already see people reacting to this colourless use of language – ‘non-compliance’ – when compared with the human details in the Statewatch story, by marking me down as some statist monster. But truly – I’m not condoning the particular actions of the French police in this area – I’m just more interested in the general question: first because it’s a real question, and one not always best illuminated by particular details; and second because it’s a better question for a forum like this, where inevitably there will be incomplete/asymmetric information about any particular case.)

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