Lessons from European Immigration

     America loves to think it is the only country dealing with a certain issue. Surrounded by only two countries, our nation is insular and isolationist in its thinking. Few issues highlight this more than that of immigration.

     The rhetoric often focuses on the fact that we have a problem with immigration, that too many people want to come to our country with a surging economy. A quick look at Europe shows that is most certainly not the case. According to the November 24, 2007 issue of The Economist, “…immigration in Europe has outstripped even inflows to America.” As a result, xenophobia and nationalism are rampant in many EU countries, with 29% of the Swiss voting for the anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party, with an anti-alien party coming in second in Norway’s last elections, and 20% of Flemish voters favoring a far-right party. Our own nativistic desire to fence in our Southern border is simply a more drastic and costly measure than these European nations thus far.

      But, that is not the whole story. Britain, Sweden, and Ireland, all with pro-immigrant policies, have brought in thousands of immigrants since they opened their borders to workers from the east, Europe’s equivalent of America’s southern neighbor. Laudably, Spain has over 547,000 working-age adults from Romania and Bulgaria, and yet 43% state that immigrants are a boon to Europe and 55% believe they are good for the economy. (“The Trouble with Migrants” The Economist)

      All of these countries have thriving economies, and while the cause/effect relationship can be debated, they are most definitely correlated. In the United States, we became most nativistic when our economy was worst. Perhaps that is why the immigration issue is currently clamoring on all the major media networks.

      Looking to Europe, we can learn and realize what closed border policies create. Germany, with its labor pool closed to the EU until 2011, just recently opened up its borders in an attempt to lure the skilled workers it lacks. Our quotas have much the same cause, prohibiting thousands of skilled Indian, Chinese, and Mexican workers (to name a few) simply because too many applications are coming from their specific country. Beyond being racist, nativistic, and xenophobic, these restrictive immigration laws will no doubt have serious ramifications in the next decade as the United States attempts to maintain its status as a world power.

Our current system is akin to an unaffirming, negative affirmative action. It sets max quotas on countries when it should be setting minimum quotas on specific labor forces. Any immigration law must address our nation’s true needs, rather than the opinions of some outspoken few. Immigration must be legislated by viewing immigrants as assets rather than a kneejerk response to a short-lived economic downturn. If we continue to turn away so many willing and able workers, there will come a time when we need them and they are nowhere to be found.

Published in: on December 5, 2007 at 8:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

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