A vast, under-populated Western country. A densely populated neighboring one and member of the quasi-Third World immediately south of the border. Human labor in demand in the north, an overabundance of it in the south. A lazy, somewhat dissipated and decadent, aging northern population facing an energetic, youthful, and entrepreneurial one southward across a riverine boundary. The natives, spoiled by affluence, complain that they cannot keep up with the industrious immigrants (“They all work like mad,” according to one interviewee), from whom they have much to learn. Determined immigrants, most of them illegal, though some of them operating within the law, pushing across the river to take jobs the natives won’t do, or to create new ones. Accurate figures giving the number of immigrants, whether working full-time or seasonally, do not exist. A conservative and nationalist northern party determined to keep them out (the region is experiencing a massive demographic transformation in the image of the sending nation); a corrupt, tyrannical government in the south eager to encourage an outlet for a restive population looking to improve its life, and the wherewithal to do so. Flouted rules pertaining to immigration and official corruption obtain in the receiving country. Fear of an irresistible tide and a consequent foreign takeover have taken root in “national mythmaking” rather than in reality. (For a fuller account of the situation, see “Russia’s Acres, if Not Its Locals, Beckon Chinese Farmers,” by Andrew Higgins, the New York Times, July 31.)
So far as anyone knows, the Times does not owe its continued existence to a critical bailout in the amount of many millions of dollars and a stock purchase by the Chinese equivalent of the richest man in Mexico, Carlos Slim. Thus it appears that the congruity between the paper’s sympathetic treatment of illegal Chinese immigrants entering southeastern Russia and its equally positive handling of illegal Mexican ones coming into the American Southwest has less to do with the Times’s institutional interests than it does with the global application of its prefabricated interchangeable view of immigration from south to north, from a non-Western country to a Western one (which Russia, even in her farthest Siberian reaches, is). The fact that Russia and the United States are otherwise not greatly comparable, and that Mexico and China are almost polar opposites, is obviously no obstacle to the imposition of a rigidly ideological template by ideologues on two utterly dissimilar situations.
At least we can all find comfort in the fact that the Times, when it comes to savaging American immigration policy (such as it is), does not intend its criticism personally. It’s all about the official blueprint, after all, not the historical reality.