Friday, September 22, 2006

A Healthy Immigration Dialogue?

I find immigration to be an exceedingly difficult topic to discuss. It's an important topic in America, and even more so in Europe, and one that critically needs to be addressed. Yet it tends to morph economic and cultural insecurity into ethnic and racial prejudice such that it can become difficult to sort real policy concerns out from the age-old appeal of virulent immigrant-bashing. America has a singular record with respect to immigration, having been built on the back of waves of European immigration, yet even here hatred and discrimination against immigrants has a long and deep history.

We all need to be concerned with the problem of integration, as discussed in this CSM column today. As my Fallows post noted below this relates, among other things, to security issues. In Europe, awash in Muslim immigrants while the white population declines, it also calls national identities and the basic social fabric into question. So here's the challenge: we need to start to identify what constitutes healthy integration, and what factors influence it, and how to promote it, without descending into irrational discrimination, and hopefully without creating an overly adversarial relationship with our immigrant populations. And America needs to lead the way and create an example for Europe. As hot a topic as immigration is here, it is far worse in Europe, and that difference will only be exacerbated as time goes on.

Right now I have little faith in the people driving the dialogue in the US. The people with passion on immigration today (think Sensenbrenner) tend to walk a fine line with respect to anti-immigrant prejudice, generally not displaying it openly, but pandering to it in their supporters. I would very much like to see a counterpoint, acknowledging the seriousness of the issue, willing to act on it, even if some of the steps are difficult, but promoting an inclusive dialogue that respects the interests of immigrants and the unique cultures and viewpoints they can contribute to society.

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