Thursday, June 15, 2006

Immigration in the US and Europe - Similarities and Differences.

Immigration has recently become the ticking bomb for both Europe and the U.S. and it is certainly acentral issue in politics.
On both continents the discussion is about
  • securing the border against illegal immigration (Europe and the Canary Islands, the US and Mexico)
  • legalizing (or not) some undocumented residents.
  • making immigrants learn a national language.
But as pointed out in this article, while the US has to deal with (mostly) Hispanic immigrants, Europe has recently dealt more with Muslim immigrants and it is quite clear that European public opinion is more polarized and pessimistic about their presence.
As much as I may not agree with everything that Flemming Rose, the culture editor of Jyllands-Posten (the Danish newspaper that published the controversial carticatures of the prophet Muhammed last year) may have said in the past, I think he's making a good point here - a point that might help us understand the difference between the US and Europe when it comes to immigration:
Europe's approach to immigration and integration is rooted in its historic experience with relatively homogeneous cultures. In the United States one's definition of nationality is essentially political; in Europe it is historically cultural. I am a Dane because I look European, speak Danish, descend from centuries of other Scandinavians. But what about the dark, bearded new Danes who speak Arabic at home and poor Danish in the streets? We Europeans must make a profound cultural adjustment to understand that they, too, can be Danes," he writes.
And indeed, it is true that there are signs of public resistance to the idea of accepting foreigners, especially Muslims all aroung Europe.
At the same time, public opinion is extremely divided - which may be a good thing. This IHT article - published today - illustrates the resistance of many French people against anti-illegal immigration laws that concern children: an increasing number of children of illegal parents are being concealed by teachers, parents, priests and neighbors across the country so that they would not be sent back to their parent.
It is the human drama of each child that apparently has motivated the grassroots support, which defies both the law and the opinion polls that show a growing hostility to immigration. Many of those risking a €30,000, or $37,800, fine or five years in prison are not political activists but mothers, teachers and neighbors who gather in middle-class living rooms.
In several cities, including Paris and Lyon, local mayors of the opposition Socialist Party have organized ceremonies, in which French parents become the "Republican patrons" of immigrant children, pledging to protect them. The tradition of Republican patronage, established during the French Revolution as a secular alternative to a Catholic godfather or godmother, has no legal implication but is highly symbolic in a country that reveres its Republican institutions.
These actions strike a chord in France which is still haunted by stories of World War II. The headline of this article -New French resistance: Hiding children is good as it echoes the cultural impact of such actions.
Hiding children also has conjured up unwelcome memories of World War II. Many French schools have plaques noting the deportation of Jewish children during France's collaboration with the Nazis, when some families hid Jewish children from the Vichy police.
This shows how much Europe and America are going to have to deal with their immigration problem in their own terms. As much as there are similarities, there are also great differences which underline the cultural, social and historical characteristics of each continent.


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