Thursday, May 7, 2009

"I have a list"

Recently, a review of the FBI found that it left about 24,000 people on their terror watch list improperly--AND left off those who actually posed a threat. After 9/11 their watch list grew to an astounding 1 million of various people American and not. If there is one very dangerous thing for a government that wants to be democratic to do, it's to start imagining that its own citizens are enemies.

It has happened, to ill effect, in the past and will happen again in the US. We seem to have an extremely short memory, at least when someone seems to threaten us from the outside. But, I think the real danger in the US, and maybe elsewhere, is in over zealous fear of each other fanned by a media that seems to repeat every word the Executive branch gives them. It took an election to provide a corrective.


Samuel said...

Hi Dr Durfee. Just a little comment on this recent post. From my studies/research as a university student, it seemed that the US has 'closed its borders' since 2001. Sadly, this has also been happening before, as for instance during the Communist "Red scare", or even with the deportation of Japanese people during the Second World War. Unfortunately the media, no matter how much tech-savvy, or how many colourful large screens and news-tickers there are, has done more than its fair share of scaring, misinforming and hyping.

Mary said...

Well, it hasn't closed its border, of course. Lots and lots of immigration and visitors come every year.

On the media, amen. They sit around waiting to be told what to say by the Executive branch and it takes weeks to years before they become more critical. News bureaus have been cut, real news on TV takes about 2 minutes, with the rest being celebrity news, sports, etc. Newspapers are closing because they can't compete with the Internet, but that is also a very mixed bag. I'm fortunate to have as a "local" channel, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. We get BBC news, too. If it weren't for these we would have no foreign news to speak of.

Mary said...

Samuel, Just checked on the web. Above is an official data source.

The lowest levels of acceptance of Permanent Legal Residents (those allowed to stay as long as they like and the necessary step to becoming a citizen) immigrants were in 1915-18, 1930-46. Highest seems to be in 1990-91 (which might be one of those years where the US forgives some long-term illegal immigrants from, typically, Mexico.

In 2003 there was a drop from about 1.06 million PLR down to 706,000. 358,000 were new arrivals, 347,000 changed status (example, from a student visa to the PLR).

In 2008 the total was back up to 1.1 million, with 58% being status changes and the rest new.

Mary said...

I'm having more trouble finding tourism stats. In 2006 the US had 51 million international tourists. I'm not sure if that is just vacationers or what.

So, while I'm sure many of the tourists come from Canada, I don't think it is much true that the US has 'closed its borders.' Tourism is important to our economy and we are pretty friendly all in all.

It's pretty good that we have permanent legal residents every year equal to roughly 3 times the population of Malta. It's what makes us the nation we are, in my view. In fact, while I was in Malta the positive nature of our immigrant society really hit home with me. I knew it intellectually, but being in Malta last year taught that to me emotionally. My family (both sides) came to America before the American revolution--most in about 1740, so the immigration story is not big for me. My husband's family, on the Father's side came to the US in the 1600s, but on his Mom's side came in the late 19th c and early 20th. So, there were a lot more immigrant stories in his family.

Samuel said...

It seems everone came from everywhere else - everyone was an immigrant one time or another! A large majority of Maltese families also emigrated from Sicliy, Italy and Spain(Malta was for a very long period always a Siclian/Italian extension and under the Spanish empire).
Perhaps in the US it seems (some) people cannot really get over certain 'identity' problems; perhaps it results in an insecure world view? What do people think of this? I read recently in a (US-published) book about population dynamics/immigration etc that it is usually the decendents of immigrants themsleves that are ready to close the doors.
Furthermore - even if we take the issue of Mexico as an unstable country (a source of immigrants) - it borders the US, which should have invested greatly in the stability of its neighbour. This, for instance contrasts the EU's accomplishment in stabilizing (and assimilating) most former eastern bloc countries.

Mary said...

The EU has yet to prove it has stabilized things. I was more struck by the fragility of the EU when I was in Malta. Too early to say. If it comes out stronger after this economic slump, that will be good.

But, for sure, the US Mexico border has been unstable in various ways for a long time and in ways not typically found on the US-Canada border. Some of it is simply having a border--people used to move back and forth more readily on both the N and S borders.

I don't know if it's the more recent immigrants who object most. Haven't read that book you read. It might be like when people build a house in the country and then don't want any more development. It might be that the new folks disrupt a very recently won community coherence by the previous immigrants. My husband's uncle was a first generation American of German extraction, who married an Italian immigrant.
What was the book?

Mary said...

Wikipedia (I'm not in a scholarly research frame of mind) says there are an estimated 11 million non-legal immigrants in the US, down from 12.5 million in 2007. The global slump has all kinds of odd effects.

These numbers don't alarm me, by the way. Vigorous immmigration is where US creativity and resiliency comes from, in the end. Those numbers most certainly do alarm other Americans. It's an interesting national conversation--a bit less shrill than it was, I think. My students in foreign policy read a chapter on US immigration policy changes relative to Mexico and A) found it interesting and B) pursued a reasonable discussion on it.

Samuel said...

Evidently shouldn't always compare the EU and the US like they were 2 countries, but only in certain instances. The EU has not really stabilized all of its surroundings, just like the US. There's alot of stuff on this online. One could somehow compare the former eastern communist countries and the EU (Western europe) with Cuba and the US. What stopped the US from doing anything even post 1991? After 1991 the EU already sought to stablize the east, though of course it had been difficult.

On immigration; its exactly as you said with the example of buidling a house in the countryside and suddenly the countryside 'is theirs'.

What exaclty do you mean when you say vigorous immigration resulted in creativity and resilience?

Mary said...

By creativity and resiliency, I mean that immigrant societies like the US rely on new comers for new ideas, for regenerating our cities, for advancing our foreign policy through their ties (or, at least, the ties of the children) to the former place. It also complicates, of course. If you go by nationalities and ethnicities and languages, the US is the most diverse country in the world. Thus, issues in other countries can become issues here.

Having new ideas means we develop in ways we might otherwise not--our tastes in food or music readily come to mind. But immigrants are well known for their drive to do well. Carnegie was from Scotland, Mayo (of Mayo clinic) was (I believe, Maltese). Thousands of small businesses are also owned by newcomers. I think this added feature adds a cultural, economic, and social resiliency to our system.

Anna MacLachlan said...

Hello, Mary!

It looks like my husband, our infant son and I will be relocating to Malta in August to work in the international school over there. Could I email you with some questions? If so could you give me your email? Or maybe you could send me an email to anya.maclachlan at

Thank you!

Mary said...


Check your email. If my message didn't reach you, let me know via this blog.

Sarah Hall said...

Samuel, you stated that the US has 'closed its borders' since 2001. Lots of tourists and visitors come every year. How it can be then? I'm currently working on my research paper and perhaps will need some help writing a paper for college.