The most important aspect of any public-policy issue is how it’s “framed.” In the US, illegal immigration is generally framed as a victims’-rights issue (see that bipartisan rally on the National Mall a week or two back) — hence, what matters is finding a means to bring millions upon millions of loyal, patriotic, hard-working Americans-in-waiting out of the shadows. In the United Kingdom, Her Majesty’s Government is taking a different approach, tracking down illegal immigrants’ phone numbers and texting them directly:
Message from the Home Office. Our records show that you may not have leave to remain in the UK. Please contact us on 0844 3754636 to discuss your case.
They’re now planning to expand a pilot scheme in which so-called “Go Home” vans drive around immigrant neighborhoods displaying a huge poster showing handcuffs and the following blunt message:
In the UK illegally? GO HOME OR FACE ARREST
There follows a number you can text for help with one-way travel documents that will assist you in getting the hell out. No one’s sentimentalizing you as the epitome of family values and hard work and merely a Brit-in-waiting needing only to be fast-tracked on the path to citizenship.
David Cameron is nobody’s idea of a right-winger. With the exception of his support for gay marriage and climate change, he’s pretty much an unprincipled opportunist. It may be that these are, like much of the Cameron agenda, gimmicks with no follow-through. And yet they frame the issue in a way that it’s impossible to imagine any U.S. administration doing. Whatever their other qualities, even Ted Cruz and Rand Paul go a bit mushy when talk turns to the fine upstanding members of the Undocumented-American community. No consultant to any 2016 contender would let him get within a thousand miles of “Go Home” vans and texts.
But once you lose the framing you lose the issue. ”Go Home or Face Arrest” at least has the merit of framing the issue from the perspective of the “host community,” rather than assuming it’s the interests of the law-breakers that must be prioritized: It is a shame that in America even conservatives hold their borders so cheap.