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On immigration, Bush is winning a few, losing a few

COMMENTARY | April 17, 2006

No consistency in European views but Bush may be gaining points in Middle Eastern and North African Muslim countries

By John Burke

Whereas American foreign policy, especially in Iraq, is overwhelmingly contested by foreign nations, immigration is an issue with which they can relate and in which opinions may seem askew.

Europe is torn with an immigration crisis of its own. Anti-immigrant groups have gained political strength and popularity in recent years as more immigrants arrive, increasing the burden on host countries already struggling with high unemployment. These groups don’t agree with Bush’s stance on immigration, but they identify closely with his party.

In Middle East and North African Muslim countries, Bush seems to be scoring more points. His support of the Dubai deal was welcomed by Muslim leaders who attributed the backlash by Congress and the Republican Party to racism. Now, as many people in these countries have

relatives who have moved abroad, they understand the need for immigration and support Bush’s call for a migrant worker program. The Republican Party, on the other hand, has worsened its image. One member, Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, was singled out for criticism in several places.

As for the foreign press, with visions of the Berlin Wall still ripe in Europe and global anxiety over the barrier being erected in the West Bank, in what is a rare occurrence, it generally agrees with Bush.

Dutch daily agrees with Bush

The Dutch daily Handelsblad praises America’s immigration culture as being much more advanced and effective than that of its European allies:

“Compared to America, Europe lags far behind when it comes to the participation of immigrant populations in society. Here in Europe, there now are too many immigrants who don't finish their education, who don't participate in the work force or who only manage to find marginal employment. And many times, Muslim immigrants are quickly branded as "un-Dutch" or "un-German"…

“Immigrants in America have more diverse backgrounds and typically come from all over the world. This makes it even more important for the U.S. to integrate newcomers quickly. And in this regard, this is an area where the U.S. is doing better than Europe. This is partly due to the fact that the U.S. is not a well-developed welfare state. Jobs are far less protected, making it easier for immigrants to find meaningful employment. Forcing immigrants to fend for themselves is a powerful driver behind quick integration…

“And in its effort to actively integrate minorities, America even occasionally resorts to reverse discrimination.” 

Contrasting French and American protests

THE ECONOMIST published several pieces on US immigration. “Not criminal, just hopeful” rejects the proposals of Sensebrenner and contrasts the recent protests in France with America’s Latino marches:

“In France the nation's youth marched for the right to work half-heartedly and not be sacked. By contrast, hundreds of thousands of immigrants in more than 100 American cities marched for a chance to work hard and not be deported. The French demonstrators forced their

government to back down. The mostly Latino masses on America's streets, despite impressive numbers, less violence and a worthier cause, are still some way from victory.”

In “Sense, not Sensenbrenner,” the British weekly reinforces its support of NAFTA and urges the US to “Build roads, not walls”:

“The main way to change (its lack of jobs for its citizens) is for Mexico's next president, who will be elected in July, to push through long-delayed reforms of taxes, energy, labour and competition laws. But there is one way the United States could help. Lack of roads and railways mean that the benefits of NAFTA have been largely confined to northern Mexico, rather than the poorer centre and south where most migrants come from. A North American infrastructure fund—in which the United States matched Mexican investment—makes much more sense than spending money on a border wall. In the long run, a richer Mexico means a richer and more secure United States.

“Don't fence us out” looks at immigration as a political issue not necessarily favorable for Democrats or the White House:

“…tough talk on illegals will go down well with conservatives in the Republican primaries; and Democrats are already worried that, in November, immigration will distract attention away from Iraq and the deficit.

“(Latino anger could change the immigration debate profoundly). America is bitterly divided over issues such as bilingual education, and whether illegals should be able to get driving licences. So far, rabble-rousing by Republicans such as Tom Tancredo, a Colorado

congressman, has been rather effective in galvanising some nativist sentiment. But Mr Bush and his chief political adviser, Karl Rove, have spent years courting Latinos. Hispanics are not just the biggest minority in America; they are spreading out, no longer concentrated simply in border states—and their votes are up for grabs. Worryingly for Mr Rove, the hundreds of thousands of Latinos who took to the street this week seemed confused, scared and angry.”

The Guardian on America as melting pot

In “Keep stirring the melting pot”, Britain’s THE GUARDIAN looks not only at unskilled immigrants, but also the educated that drive innovation, arguing that their exclusion would not only hurt America, but cause a domino effect affecting the global economy:

“The US has managed with uncanny success to maintain the illusion of being the land of the free and the home of the brave, despite evidence such as Japanese internments during the second world war and Guantanamo suggesting that it is in fact all too vulnerable to extremism…

“Much more is at stake in this debate than even the future of the immigrants and their families, whose livelihoods hang in the balance: as other countries look to the US example of past immigrant integration, it would be tragic if America hardened its stance and

failed to bring its undocumented population out of the shadows.

“Policies such as the ones approved by the house last December would increase ethnic tension, undermine the democratic process, lower quality of life and hamper immigrants' progress toward the "American dream.”

“Nor would the economic impact be confined to industries that depend on the stereotypically poorly paid immigrant workers who have become the focus of the debate. An atmosphere of intolerance also would hurt the US's ability to attract the skilled workers upon which it depends.

“Though foreign-born staff make up only 20% of low-wage (mainly agricultural, construction and service) workers, they make up 50% of research and development workers and 25% of doctors and nurses in the US.

“US businesses and universities have already been fretting about the blow dealt by the post-9/11 security measures, which hobbled visa processing, sent foreign student applications plummeting and cost businesses tens of billions of dollars by blocking foreign employees and export clients.

“If these industries do not recover their ability to attract the world's best and brightest, it would hurt America's role as an engine of innovation.

“In the short run, other countries might see this as a boon for their own high-skilled industries' ability to attract high-skilled workers. Yet this dispersion of talent and energy would bring with it costs, in the form of the likely decline of English as a scientific lingua franca and growing difficulties in international collaboration.

“With the US producing nearly a third of global economic output, the brakes on the world's largest economy would hurt global growth as well, dragging everyone down.”         

U.S. population seen rising 120 million by 2050

Britain’s THE TIMES looks at the predicted influx of immigrants to the US over the next half-century declaring it a “new mass movement that will complicate government handling of domestic and foreign policy:

But (immigration) is not something either party can duck. By US and United Nations estimates, the US population is expected to increase at an astounding rate. In 1990 it was 249 million; now it is 298 million; by 2050 it is expected to be 420 million.

That is a jump of 70 per cent, or 170 million, in only 60 years. The rate already eclipses the record 1910 wave of European immigration.

It is bound to make the US more introverted, with preoccupations very different from Europe’s. Those who protest against the US’s “overbearing” foreign policy should consider how hard it may become to keep it interested in the rest of the world when it faces such a revolution at home.

Another accusatory finger pointed at GOP, not Bush

Germany’s DER SPIEGEL reviews the center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung which absolves President Bush for, in the paper’s view, his favorable immigration politics while pointing an accusatory finger at the Republican party:

"’More confident than ever before, hundreds of thousands of Latinos are taking to the streets, while most US citizens would rather not have to do without their Mexican gardener or the nanny from El Salvador. But while society in general is opening its eyes, politicians are becoming increasingly narrow in their outlook.’

“The paper places the blame squarely on the shoulders of the Republican Party. Although the president and other enlightened members of the party realize that America's wealth and prosperity depends on the influx of cheap labor from the south, reactionary wings of the party look on the flood of immigrants with horror.

“Nevertheless the situation remains that although many of the workers from Latin America pay taxes, have bought homes and own stores, they have no right to vote and no legal status. ‘It is high time that Washington updates its legal framework to fit in with reality. That can only happen when the new law grants the 12 million people without papers a legal path to citizenship.’”

An essay (in French) on DEDEFENSA.ORG, a Belgian leftwing activist website, suggests that the Latino uprising will throw the American Catholic Church into the political spotlight:

“A complementary factor of this statistical phenomenon…is the religious fervor and dynamism of Catholics of Latino origin (fervor that can be compared to the intensity of Evangelical Christians). It is understood that this religious phenomenon is a sociological and cultural one, but it may also turn political, if it hasn’t already…

“It concerns a fundamental evolution in a country where religion plays a fundamental role... The Catholic Church, usually prudent, risks to find itself on a path in which political engagement will be almost obligatory; and we can be sure, considering the demanding character that action that the Latino community can take, that this path will not be easy…

“The Giant Awakes” in the US? Which one? Latin Americans certainly, but why not also the Catholic religion thanks to and by the will of Latinos? It is an unexpected perspective that is opening itself up for the Catholic Church, otherwise reinforcing the political circumstances surrounding the USA, notably the strongly anti-capitalist and reformist countries of Latin America.”

In “Cheap Labor in US: Do as We Say, Not as We Do,” ARAB NEWS compares the Republican stance on immigration to their uproar over the recent Dubai port fiasco and invokes the creed of the Statue of Liberty, which the author recognizes was assembled by immigrants.

“Most Republicans in Congress, seized with a xenophobic cultural chauvinism, are following up on their successful revolt over the Dubai Port World deal with an equally racist position on illegal immigration. Instead of recognizing the invaluable contributions these people have made, the focus is on how much they cost. As if they aren’t people but a commodity. As if we could survive without them…

“Even Lady Liberty, though made in France, was likely assembled by recent immigrants. When she arrived, packed into over 200 crates, it wasn’t New York’s lawyers and doctors who unloaded the containers. Rather, the grand dame of America stands tall due to the efforts of displaced workmen, carpenters and blacksmiths from Europe…

“The dilemma confronting President Bush is no different than it was 100 years ago: Will America pay the high moral cost of low labor standards, or accept the consequences of its thirst for cheap goods and services with long overdue benefits and protection for the people who make our standard of living possible. That’s not too great a price to pay for a man’s dignity and to preserve a nation’s honor.

In "Resisting Fences,” India’s national magazine Frontline, published by THE HINDU, investigates anti-immigrant congressman James Sensenbrenner’s family history and finds some curious contradictions:

“SHORTLY after the First World War, Frank J. Sensenbrenner developed the Kotex maxi-pad. He took the product to market and soon made a massive fortune through his firm, Kimberly Clark. Like other firms, Kimberly Clark has slowly divested itself of United States-based

factories and moved production facilities to places such as Mexico. In March 2005, for instance, Kimberly Clark moved its Fort Worth, Texas, factory (350 jobs) to Mexico. A year later, the firm closed its Neenah, Wisconsin, factory (700 jobs); it is anticipated that this unit will also move to Mexico. Kimberly Clark argues that this hemorrhage of jobs from the U.S. to Mexico is part of reorganization of its global workforce…

“If Kimberly Clark can only offer platitudes to the jobless of Wisconsin and Texas, Sensenbrenner's great grandson has tried to do more. James shunned the family business…As a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, (Wisconsin) has lost 25,403 jobs to Mexico, and between 2001 and 2004 alone it lost one in nine of its manufacturing jobs. Congressman Sensenbrenner had nothing to offer the laid-off workers of his State apart from economic packages that included considerable tax benefits for the upwardly mobile and the fiscal aristocracy. Caught between a commitment to corporation-driven free trade and a populist demand for meaningful jobs, he offered the best distraction: a highly xenophobic campaign against immigrants...

“The U.S. state has limited options on the immigration front. The two major political parties are in favor of corporate free trade, and yet they are under pressure from their populations to create jobs for those who are survivors of plant closings and other detritus of globalization. Rather than deal with these issues head on, the two parties are easily swayed by xenophobia: they blame the job crisis on a lazy domestic workforce (and on unions) as well as on immigrants who only come here because globalization policies have wrecked their home economies.”

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