Europe tightens immigration rules
France expected to pass DNA testing law for new immigrant families. In Switzerland, a conservative party wants to cast out 'black sheep.'
Paris — The ever-richer mix of migrant populations in Europe is a source of contention and part of larger, testier debates about the future of Europe. In France, the final language was settled upon Tuesday in a new law that includes DNA tests for immigrants wanting to bring family members here. Next door in Switzerland, voters are courted with an image of three white sheep kicking out a black sheep – a logo of the powerful right-wing Swiss People's Party, ahead of the Oct. 21 national elections.
Race and migration policy changes are mostly conducted in Europe with polite decorum, not street riots. Europeans largely advocate tolerance and multicultural values. Even many immigrants say they understand the apprehension felt by traditional white populations over their rising numbers. But from Copenhagen to Vienna, restrictions targeted at Africans and Arab Muslims are coming, experts say.
In Paris, the new immigration law, now ready for the French Assembly, will require language tests and behavior guarantees by parents for children. The law, which includes a DNA test for mothers and kids, is backed by 56 percent of French, according to a Le Figaro poll, and is expected to be swiftly passed.
Yet immigration issues remain divisive even within the center-right government of Nicolas Sarkozy.
In the midst of the current DNA discussion, a new museum in Paris's 12th district, dedicated to immigrant achievements, quietly opened. Too quietly, say critics. While the mayor of Paris, Betrand Delanoë, and the head of the Socialist Party, François Hollande, attended, Mr. Sarkozy, himself from an immigrant family, was not present. "Sarkozy shows up everywhere in France and the world, but not here," said one museum official.
Sorbonne historian Patrick Weil resigned from the museum advisory panel over the direction of Sarkozy's race politics, including the creation of a new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. He says the new president is alienating the 25 percent of French who come from nontraditional backgrounds.
"Our laws should be neutrally applied, and national origins should not bear on the matter," says Mr. Weil. "But the sentiments of the people are not neutral. In the polarized politics here, we have an anti-Muslim, antiblack feeling that is playing out through the policies of Sarkozy."
"Immigration is the problem of the 21st century for Europe," argues Thierry Mariani, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) lawmaker and author of the DNA test bill. "If Denmark, Finland, Norway, Holland ... countries that have a tradition of respect for human rights have accepted for many years the DNA approach, it is because there is a real problem."
Similar trends and views are emerging throughout Europe. In Belgium, one of the few agreements between the Flemish and Wallonians is to create far stronger measures to limit migration and asylum, and to make deportations of illegal workers easier. Last week, Holland debated whether to stop funding the protection of former Dutch lawmaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somalian who lives under a death threat by radical Muslims.
France, Belgium, Denmark, Holland, and Switzerland have all witnessed the rise of a conservative discourse that has shifted the gravitational center of immigration politics. The formerly extreme views of nationalist voices like Jean-Marie Le Pen in France are today part of the mainstream discussion.
Yet as immigration expert Judith Sunderland of Human Rights Watch in Milan, Italy, points out, immigration politics now cut across the European political spectrum. "Most of the fights are no longer over whether to proceed with new laws and policies," she argues. "Immigration is seen as a crisis for both the left and the right."
The conservative People's Party in Switzerland is one of the fastest growing political forces in the country. Funded by Christoph Blocher – who made his fortune in the chemical industry and is currently the justice minister – the party controls two of seven federal council seats.
The controversial People's Party poster of white sheep kicking out a black sheep symbolizes a proposed law to deport any noncitizen convicted of a crime – but critics say the real message runs to actual color. The sheep image is part of a mass mailing and poster campaign that blanketed Swiss households in September.
In France, the DNA law is officially described as an option to help speed up the new resident application process. But critics note that applicants who don't submit a DNA test will go to the bottom of the list. Thus, the law symbolizes a clearer negative attitude about non-French.
Fadela Amara, Sarkozy's Secretary of State for Urban Affairs, herself of Algerian extraction and a Socialist who is part of the broad coalition that Sarkozy has brought to his conservative cabinet – said the law was "disgusting" and threatened to resign her post. But this week Sarkozy appeared to have brought his closest DNA critics (including Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner) under control. On Monday Ms. Amara told France 2 radio, "I never thought to resign from the government."
Sarkozy has vowed to deport some 25,000 illegal migrants from France. In St. Denis, a Paris suburb, neighborhood "watch groups" have been set up to alert locals when police arrive.
Austria's deportation policy is under debate over the case of Arigona Zogaj, a 15-year old Kosovo girl who hid in Austria after her father and sibling were sent home. The interior minister and the Green Party have exchanged verbal blows after Arigona, released a series of letters and videos on the Internet, describing her plight-in-hiding.
Riva Kastoryano, an expert on immigration at Sciences Po in Paris, argues that the root of greater apprehension among mainstream Europeans is a fear of the spread of Islam. "Much of the old xenophobia about foreigners in Europe has been recast today as a perception of 'Islamophobia,' " she says.