Who Builds Higher Walls? – Comparing EU and US Restrictive Migration Policies

Written by | Monday, March 27th, 2017

Two months into Donald Trump’s presidency, Washington has unleashed radical measures to prevent migrants and refugees from entering the United States. He temporarily banned citizens from seven predominantly Muslim countries from travelling to the US, suspended the US refugee resettlement program for Syrian refugees and the arrival of all refugees. He also ordered to build his long-promised wall on the US-Mexican border purportedly designed to stem the flow of irregular migrants from the south.

The European Union was very quick to condemn the measures while also forgetting that some of its own members had also resorted to illiberal and restrictive measures to control immigration and the influx of migrants. In Europe, just as in the United States, rightist populist groups are scapegoating migrants and refugees for every problem in the society. The continent is already mired in populism and hate speech against migrants, and particularly against the Muslims. The toxic climate and attacks are on the rise. If the current trend goes on, Europe may actually easily end up following Washington’s anti-immigration line.

Yet, the United States, unlike most of the European Union, has a long tradition in migration and immigration policy. While these moves of the White House might be just an aberration in the world’s most successful immigration society, which is actually better positioned to control who comes in, in Europe, xenophobia and Islamophobia pose a greater risk.

Many Europeans do see immigration from predominantly Muslim countries as particularly problematic. According to a recent Chatham House research study conducted in ten EU countries, about 55 percent of respondents agreed that all such immigration should be stopped, 20 percent disagreed, and 25 percent were undecided. Therefore, Islamophobia and xenophobia could easily destabilize societies that already have large, insufficiently integrated minority communities. They could also easily hamper efforts to stabilize Europe’s turbulent neighborhood.

European leaders need to acknowledge that unlike the United States or Canada, European societies do not have much experience and thus are not naturally inclined to facilitate immigration. To make it a success will require a lot more active governmental involvement, in particular massive investment in education. It will also mean revising long-established practices designed to protect the interests of existing stakeholders and implementing structural reforms that are indispensable for successfully integrating large numbers of immigrants.

‘Will Europe Follow Trump on Migration?’ – Commentary by Stefan Lehne – Carnegie Europe.


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