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?
The United States has a real problem with flows of illegal immigrants, largely from Mexico (70 percent of illegal immigrants are from that one country). But let us understand the forces at work here. "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.
Ching Ching Ching. We have a winner. Aside from the perfect taunt on the issue ("Come on, do you really want to be French?"), Zakaria is absolutely right on the merits. Aside from absolutely draconian measures, there is no way we can deal with the immigration issue that does not involve increased legalization. The right is right about one thing: half measures like guest-worker programs will not fix this.
But to be honest, this is what scares me most of all. Congress being what it is, it most likely will pass some sort of half measure to "deal with" the immigration problem. It will inevitably fail, and the chorus will go up for even more severe crackdowns on these communities (and, as we're seeing, their children as well). Kevin R. Johnson once argued that America's attitudes and policies towards immigrants were like a "magic mirror" reflecting how we would treat other minorities were it not for pesky barriers like Civil Rights laws and the 14th amendment. There is no doubt that this issue has unleashed something very ugly in the hearts of many US citizens. I see talk of turning the US/Mexico border into a firing range, hear folks casually discuss "rounding up and detaining" illegals (am I the only one who flinches each time I hear "round up and detain" used with respect to other human beings), read about a bill passing in the House that would make it a felony to feed the starving, clothe the naked, or house the homeless, and I fear for our country's humanity. Not that we're there yet, but where we are going? The guest-worker program will fail, and when it does, I know that the right will use its failure to provoke another backlash against the immigrant community. This one, I fear, will not be containable.
This is why we must make our stand now. Those immigrant protest were incredibly inspiring to me. The GOP was on the ropes, and they again went to their oldest card--dividing America along ethnic and racial lines. They wanted to wedge Democrats and distract the voters from Iraq, from healthcare, from Tom DeLay, from Jack Abramoff, from the NSA--from everything. So they targeted a powerless minority group, constructed a debate centered on villification. It was the perfect plan. Except, this time the minority group didn't take it lying down. They fought back. They stood up. They took to the streets and boldly asserted that they too were Americans, they too were people. By showing their faces, they became human, and what looked to be a walkover for the Republicans became a real fight. They mounted a tiger, and they can't get off. And the tiger is getting hungry.
This sort of push back was long overdue. Those people who the right marginalizes, dehumanizes, and villifies as less-than-human have to stand up for themselves. The immigrant community did it, and the GOP is now backed into a corner. Hopefully, this experience will make them pause before they try to divide again.