Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Quibbling With Fareed Zakaria on Immigration: U.S. vs. Europe

Following up on our interesting discussion last week of the Immigration enforcement/guest worker program currently in the Senate, check out Fareed Zakaria's Op-Ed in the Washington Post.

He starts by talking about the program in Germany a few years ago to try and lure Indian high tech workers to compete with the U.S. and Silicon Valley. The strategy was to offer what was called a "German Green Card," but it was in fact simply a souped up version of the existing Guest-worker (Gestarbiter) program that had in the past brought millions of Turks to Germany.

The program failed, because Indian high tech workers can smell a fake. But there is a small logical problem in Zakaria's argument. Can you spot it?

Many Americans have become enamored of the European approach to immigration -- perhaps without realizing it. Guest workers, penalties, sanctions and deportation are all a part of Europe's mode of dealing with immigrants. The results of this approach have been on display recently in France, where rioting migrant youths again burned cars last week. Across Europe one sees disaffected, alienated immigrants, ripe for radicalism. The immigrant communities deserve their fair share of blame for this, but there's a cycle at work. European societies exclude the immigrants, who become alienated and reject their societies.

One puzzle about post-Sept. 11 America is that it has not had a subsequent terror attack -- not even a small backpack bomb in a movie theater -- while there have been dozens in Europe. My own explanation is that American immigrant communities, even Arab and Muslim ones, are not very radicalized. (Even if such an attack does take place, the fact that 4 1/2 years have gone by without one provides some proof of this contention.) Compared with every other country in the world, America does immigration superbly. Do we really want to junk that for the French approach?

For me, the flaw here is that he jumps from Germany to France, where there is a very different kind of immigrant problem, which has nothing to do with Guest workers. While some of the French immigrants Arab and African minorities in the Banlieux are sans papieres, quite a number of the kids rioting last fall were in fact French citizens. Meanwhile, the guest workers in Germany have been comparably docile (though I suspect they are nevertheless rather unhappy with the way they are treated by the German government).

The question we need to be asking is why legal immigrants in the U.S. have generally done better at integrating/assimilating, and moving up the social ladder, than their counterparts in Europe. It might have to do with immigration rules, or it might have to do with simple demographic and spatial issues (the spread out nature of American cities means there is less ghettoization). Or perhaps it might just be that America is a more welcoming society... I don't know.

Anyway, Zakaria's heart is in the right place. He ends with the (wise) suggestion that the U.S. needs to expand its legal immigrant pool to satisfy the demand for labor that is currently performed by illegals:

"The income gap between the United States and Mexico is the largest between any two contiguous countries in the world," writes Stanford historian David Kennedy. That huge disparity is producing massive demand in the United States and massive supply from Mexico and Central America. Whenever governments try to come between these two forces -- think of drugs -- simply increasing enforcement does not work. Tighter border control is an excellent idea, but to work, it will have to be coupled with some recognition of the laws of supply and demand -- that is, it will have to include expansion of the legal immigrant pool.

Can't disagree with that. Unfortunately, such a proposal is not on the table; in our xenophobic times, any politican even suggesting it would be committing a kind of political suicide.


Anonymous said...

Our friend Fareed isn't the only person to call second-, third-, and fourth-generation French-Arabs "immigrants." When "Paris was burning" last year, The New York Times wrote: "France has been grappling for years with growing unrest among its second- and third-generation immigrants, mostly North African Arabs, who have faced decades of high unemployment and marginalization."

MoorishGirl responded on her blog with: "And that's the problem in a nutshell: Referring to French-born people, some of whom have been there for three generations, as "immigrants." Could the attitude of the paper of record toward brown people in France be any clearer?"

4:47 PM  
Amardeep said...

Thanks -- here's the link to the post you're talking about.

And I guess I used the word "immigrants" too, though I agree with her that the term "minorities" would actually be more accurate.

5:01 PM  
Rix said...

the diff b/w treatment of immigrants in US and France i guess lies in the fact that immigration in its basic form is a race issue...
1. the US went thru its major race-related upheavals internally in the sense that african-americans demanding civil rights, de-segregation(imposed forcefully) etc won them and it made no sense to deny other non-white immigrant minorities (who fulfilled the citizenship criteria) the same. France on the other hand has continued the same racial divide.
2.moreover i think they suffer so much because of their rotten labour laws. if their is no flexible hire and fire, an employer would be reluctant to employ a ethnic-french let alone an arab-french. hence the cycle of poverty, lack of education and violence among the arab "immigrants" continues.

5:21 PM  
Kerim Friedman said...

My thoughts are here.

10:26 PM  
St Antonym said...

But, when the World Cup rolls around, Thierry Henry is as French as Delacroix, Zinedine Zidane is the new De Gaulle, and Patrick Vieira has more fans than Victor Hugo ever did.

The French labor laws are truly rotten, but a coddled polity such as theirs resists change, and considers protest marches, no matter how misguided, a sign of moral virtue. The nation's at a peculiar pass.

Would that we'd had such numbers taking the streets here last week in the US, as the white American lawmakers sought to criminalize large numbers brown and black people.

10:36 PM  
Suvendra Nath Dutta said...

I must be alone in remembering the race riots here and in UK in the 90's. That wasn't that long ago.

I must admit to being too stupid to understand how the new French law is supposed to help the unemployed or newly employed. However, given who's creating the law and who is saying its essential for unemployment to be reduced, if I were unemployed or newly employed, I would be deeply suspicious. Its unclear to me that either party have the interests of the unemployed at heart. What happened to old-fashioned class mistrust and paranoia?

10:15 AM  
raina said...

My guess is Europe will continue to have issues with immigration. Being European (French, German) is based on ethnicity. Being American is not. I have a US passport, I am American. I have French passport – doesn’t make me French. The only country to semi-successfully work this is the UK, where there is a difference in being British and English. Brown people will proudly say they are British not English.

1:29 PM  
Rix said...

"how the new French law is supposed to help the unemployed or newly employed."

this has been in debate elsewhere as well - do rigid labor laws hinder or help the unemployed or newly employed?
there is no simple answer...but lemme have a go(sorry for going a little of-topic)-very simplistically therefore
1. unemployed- no... the employers would be reluctant to hire because they know they could be stuck with the employee, if the employee proves to be below par.
2. newly employed- yes...the employer would have to go thru a lot of hoops before he can fire the employee.
i guess basically acquiring employment becomes like getting into an exclusive club..getting in is tuff, but once you are in, u are set.
3. what critics of flexible labor laws forget is that, tho firing is easier, hiring becomes easier as well...of course this might be of little consolation to individuals who get the wrong end of the stick, but typically this tends to help unemployment rates go down -as propnents of the free market will tell u.:)

The french have to wake up from their cosy labor paradise, if they want to survive the competition.

2:42 PM  
Archana said...

I would add to the end of Zakaria's last passage, "... as well as some foreign aid to support sustainable development in Mexico and Central America."

12:23 PM  

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