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March 26, 2007

Immigration Problem, What Immigration Problem?
Posted by Suzanne Nossel

I returned last night from a conference on migration in the Atlantic region sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Spanish Real Instituto Elcano and held in Seville, Spain.  It was an intimate affair including both immigration experts and a bunch of journalists and what they called "foreign policy generalists" like me.

I knew little about the subject going in, and came away far better informed.  But one takeaway was troubling:  many of the Americans along - myself included, to be frank - expected the proceedings to focus on the question of integrating Middle Eastern and North African immigrants in Europe, pivoting off the fact that the perpetrators of the Madrid train and London subway bombings were homegrown Europeans of Middle Eastern extraction.

But to hear most of the Europeans at the meeting tell it, immigrant integration on the continent is going well, with a decades-long successful track record of relatively harmonious relations between communities.  The bombings are the work of isolated extremists whose radicalism has little or nothing to do with the wider communities in which they were raised. 

When Americans would - albeit smugly - suggest that we've done better integrating migrants back home, the European retort was that our school shootings, post office shootings and the like bespeak a more widespread social discord than anything in the Union.

Both the Americans and Europeans tended toward self-congratulation tempered by finger-pointing at the other for purported problems worse than their own.  Meanwhile, representatives from the so-called "sending countries" from whence most migrants depart, tended to point out that their nationals suffer serious difficulties (though also enormous opportunities) regardless of their destination.

Clearly there's some reluctance to confront the realities of immigration, good, bad and ugly.  Our own domestic immigration debate may possibly force us to work through some of ours and confront the hard issues - racism, educational failings, the zero-sum nature of some economic equations, irrevocable job dislocations, etc.   I expected that the terrorist acts in Europe were a wake up call there, and see some evidence that that's true.  At this point, I found it hard to judge which side of the Atlantic is in a deeper state of denial.


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It was my understanding that virtually all European countries are involved in some efforts to limit immigration. Some are attempting to constrain all forms of immigration, while others are seeking to limit illegal immigration, or immigration by certain ethnicities. It's ridiculous to expect that sovereign nations can't or won't secure their borders, or that nations shouldn't have a right to limit immigration.

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