Global doors slam shut on immigrants
While Arizona's anti-immigrant law gets all the attention, countries around the world are pursuing tough immigration polices on a scale rarely seen in history.
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"We in the West have the tendency to feel overwhelmed when migrants arrive," says Thomas Weiss, chief of mission in Mexico City for the International Organization for Migration. "This is without understanding exactly that many developing countries are at the present facing irregular flows that are much stronger and much more difficult to be absorbed by society and by local labor markets."Skip to next paragraph
Much of the resistance to outsiders stems from familiar fears: that the immigrants will take jobs, tax services, increase crime, and alter national identities. Yet if the reasons behind today's anxieties are common, the extent to which they are being expressed isn't. "We have witnessed a great deal of anti-immigrant sentiment in history," says Mark Miller, an international migration expert at the University of Delaware and coauthor of "The Age of Migration." "[But] it was not a global phenomenon to the extent that it is today. Now virtually every area of the earth is involved in significant ways in international migration."
Is today's backlash against immigrants a temporary phenomenon or the start of a more permanent do-not-enter movement? Has the world reached its maximum capacity to tolerate outsiders? Has, in other words, the notion of accepting the world's tired, its poor, its huddled masses become a quaint ideal of some era long past?
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Famile Arslan knows what it's like to feel the brusque shoulder of the state. Ms. Arslan is a Dutch lawyer whose parents moved to the Netherlands from Turkey more than 30 years ago. But not long ago authorities sent her mother an order requiring her to take a language test.
Arslan says Dutch officials only dropped the demand when she complained that her mother, a naturalized citizen, should not be treated differently from a native-born Dutch person. But the incident confirmed what she calls Europe's "trauma" over immigration. "We need immigration," she says, "but the sentiment now in the European Union is that we don't want non-Western and nonwhite immigration."
Mandatory language and integration tests for immigrants and would-be immigrants have become the rule in most European countries in the past few years. But they are only one sign of a general frustration over immigration policy across the Continent.
Mainstream politicians have joined far-right populists in calling for tighter controls of legal and illegal migrants, as well as differential treatment for foreigners and naturalized citizens already living in their countries. In just the past few months:
•Swedish voters elected an anti-immigration party to parliament for the first time.
•The French president has ignited a furor by targeting Roma, or Gypsy, illegal immigrants for expulsion.
•Britain's new coalition government has put a cap on non-European immigration and most foreigners are required to have identity cards.