Ethics & Public Policy Center

Immigration Crackdown

Published in National Review Online on June 25, 2007



In a move that will surprise — maybe even shock — America’s conservatives, the president has apparently decided to put deportation at the forefront of his immigration policy. This is not window-dressing, but a serious and sweeping national crackdown on illegal immigration. The president has set tough numerical goals for yearly expulsions, and quotas for questioning suspected illegal aliens.

The only drawback here is that I’m talking about the president of France.

Even so, the emerging crackdown on illegal immigration goes well beyond France. The European Union has just proposed a tough new plan, featuring sanctions on employers who hire illegal immigrants. Under the proposed new policy, ten percent of Europe’s companies would be inspected every year, employers would be required to run identity checks, fines would be levied on business violators, and employers who repeatedly or egregiously breach hiring laws would be subject to severe economic penalties or imprisonment.

That’s not all. The European Union as a whole, many of its individual states, and even immigrant destinations outside the EU (such as Russia) are moving to negotiate “readmission accords” with African and Asian nations. In return for financial help and the creation of well-monitored guest-worker programs, the EU hopes to obtain agreement from third-world nations to accept deported illegal migrants.

In short, Europe as a whole is moving toward a sharp crackdown on illegal immigration — with a plan built around deportation and tough employer sanctions.

Media Silence
Funny how there’s been little more than a whisper about any of this in America’s mainstream media. True, some papers ran a story last week — about a group of leftist artists and academics protesting French President Sarkozy’s new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity. The story was little more than a press release for these anti-Sarko radicals — presenting no opposing views, and creating the impression that only far-right followers of Jean-Marie Le Pen support Sarkozy’s tough new immigration policy. Actually, the French favor Sarkozy’s new immigration ministry by a margin of three-to-one.

Despite limited media discussion of Europe’s tough new immigration stance, this story has everything to do with our own immigration dilemma. There are certainly conflicting political currents on immigration in Europe, and the final policy outcome is by no means certain. Still, the overall trend toward toughness is clear, as is the European public’s deep disenchantment with uncontrolled immigration.

The Europeans are moving toward a “comprehensive” immigration policy of their own, and that certainly includes expanded opportunities for legal immigration. Yet bitter experience with uncontrolled immigration from the Muslim world has apparently taught Europeans that reform needs to focus on tough sanctions against illegal immigration, cultural assimilation, a paring back of family reunification, greater language competence and job skills, and temporary-worker programs that are truly temporary.

Returns Expected
France’s newfound status as Europe’s leading opponent of uncontrolled immigration has everything to do with the suburban riots around Paris in the fall of 2005. France has more Muslims than any other European country, and broadly speaking immigrant integration has worked out somewhat better in parts of France than elsewhere in Europe. Nevertheless, the large numbers of embittered and poorly integrated Muslim immigrants and their descendants concentrated in the suburbs around Paris have convinced the French public that uncontrolled immigration, and a cavalier attitude toward assimilation, are no longer acceptable. That conviction has much to do with Sarkozy’s recent victory.

Back when president Sarkozy was minister of the Interior, he doubled the number of deportations to 24,000 annually. Now he’s raised the target for 2007 to 25,000 expulsions. With somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 illegal immigrants in France, several years of expulsions at that level are bound to make a serious dent in the total. According to Brice Hortefeux, who heads the new “Ministry of Immigration, Integration, National Identity and Co-Development,” the number of illegals in France has already started to drop. The tough expulsion policy has also discouraged new illegals from entering. Christopher Caldwell recently reported that even French-speaking illegal immigrants from Africa now prefer Spain as a destination, avoiding France because of its rigid labor markets, but also because of Sarkozy’s tough immigration stance.

Sarkozy’s administration has rhetoric to match its policy. “Generosity is not opening wide the borders without thought for how people will integrate, how they will subsist,” says French Prime Minister Francois Fillon. Immigration Minister Hortefeux adds, “undocumented immigrants have no authority to stay in France…” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner elaborates: “Even though I understand the reasons for this illegal immigration, I don’t approve it…Returns (i.e. deportations) must be expected…France cannot accept all the world’s poor.”

Having spent several years as an interior minister with a demonstrated commitment to tough enforcement, President Sarkozy now has the credibility to introduce a more comprehensive immigration-reform plan to parliament. The bill’s chief effect will be to make family reunification more difficult, thereby shifting legal immigration away from the unskilled and unassimilated and toward those with professional skills and command of French.

A law passed just last July requires immigrants to prove they can support family members without welfare. The new bill would require “reunifying” family members to pass a French language and civics test — before entering the country (and offers two months of training for the test). All family members would have to sign a “contract of integration” and parents would be held responsible for their children’s integration — to the point where a family’s welfare benefits could be cut off by a judge.

Of course, Europe’s powerful “anti-racism” groups object to all this, arguing that EU countries still have “huge capacities” to absorb the world’s poor. In addition to rejecting the idea of assimilation itself as xenophobic and racist, these groups hype the “brutality” of those odd cases of deportation in which force must be used. Sarkozy himself was jeered on a visit to Mali last May by Africans angry about “Sarkozy charters” (i.e. deportation flights).

One of the leftist academics who resigned from government service in protest of the new Ministry of Immigration and National Identity explained, “If the president creates this ministry…our institutional role becomes absurd, because the ministry itself destroys the educational work we want to do.” He has a point. The symbolism of a Ministry of Immigration and National Identity does indeed undermine the multiculturalism purveyed by professors on the left. The very existence of the new ministry, like all of Sarkozy’s new policies, sends a message to immigrants in France to integrate — and a message to prospective illegals to stay away. Not only does Sarkozy’s policy seem to be working, the French public overwhelmingly approves. “France is a country of immigration and will continue to be,” says Prime Minister Fillon, “but it only wants to take in foreigners who are able to integrate.”

Paid Departures
The most curious of France’s new immigration policies is a plan to actually pay immigrants to return to their countries of origin. Beginning in late 2005, France began offering immigrant families the equivalent of between $6,000 and $8,000 dollars to return home (often to Africa). The idea seems unworkable on its face — merely a financial incentive for more illegal immigration, or an invitation to abuse. Immigrants could simply take the money, go home, and then return again illegally, as many did under a similar program in the 1970s. New biometric identification cards and the tough deportation policy may prevent that.

But the real problem with paid departures is that very few immigrants are accepting the offer. Immigrants make far more money in Europe than they would at home, transferring greater wealth to their home countries in family-remittances than those same nations receive in foreign aid. Illegal African immigrants spend large sums of money on smugglers and risk their lives at sea to get to Europe. It’s unlikely they’d do all that to take $8,000 and go home. But if this means paid departures won’t induce new immigration, it also means the money won’t motivate immigrants already in Europe to leave.

Still, there are some takers, and the program may grow after further experimentation. At the moment, the key effect of paid departures is symbolic: “Assimilate, or return to your home country,” France is saying. That message adds to others now telling illegal immigrants — and those who refuse to assimilate — that France is not the place for them.

Readmission
It isn’t just France. The EU itself has floated a tough new set of proposals aimed at stemming the tide of illegal immigration. Franco Frattini, the EU official in charge of immigration affairs, spoke the central truth: “It is vital to acknowledge that the near certainty of finding illegal work in EU member states is the main driving force behind illegal immigration…” That’s why Frattini has proposed all those employer sanctions. With almost no current checks on the staff records of Europe’s businesses, the chance of an illegal immigrant being discovered is close to zero. But with ten percent of companies inspected annually — and serious penalties for violations — businesses hiring illegals would be taking serious risks.

And the EU’s getting tough in other ways as well. Right now, African immigrants landing on European shores go “asylum shopping.” That is, they apply for political asylum in as many European countries as possible. That’s why the EU now plans to set up a biometric database to prevent people denied a visa by one European state from applying to others. The new identity cards will include a “biometric photograph” and fingerprints. Obviously, this raises privacy issues, but the EU claims there will be “strong data protection safeguards.” In any case, EU policy does seem to be turning sharply against illegal immigration.

The most dramatic policy move of all may be the EU’s plan to set up “mobility partnerships” with various immigrant-sending countries. Essentially, a mobility partnership is a deal in which the citizens of, say, an African country would receive priority for both legal immigration and short-term visits to Europe — in return for that country’s willingness to accept illegal migrants deported from Europe. To prevent such deportation, illegal immigrants now make a point of destroying their identity papers. Yet these “readmission accords” would not only require a country to take back its own citizens, but would obligate it to receive “stateless” persons as well. Right now, European Union countries expel around 200,000 illegal immigrants a year. If the EU manages to establish “mobility partnerships” with several countries, that number could rise substantially.

Convincing African and Asian countries to sign readmission accords will be far from easy. Immigrants remit so much money to family members, that governments in developing countries now look on illegal immigration as a financial boon, not a problem. Illegal immigration is favored by the public as well, and the leaders of African and Asian nations are loathe to alienate their own populace by facilitating deportations from Europe.

Even so, if the EU manages to induce even a few countries to sign readmission accords, the advantages of eased legal immigration — and the growing barriers to illegal immigration — could pressure other countries to sign as well. The EU has been working with Ghana, and an accord may be in the offing. Switzerland is making progress toward establishing an independent readmission accord with Nigeria. Russia (a major world immigrant destination) is actively seeking readmission accords as well.

Besides tough employer sanctions, biometric identification cards, and deportations, there’s another plank in the EU’s emerging immigration policy: “circular migration.” Circular migration is a fancy name for a guest worker program. Europe’s current cohort of Muslim immigrants entered as guest workers in the 1950’s and 1960’s, yet never went home. Will today’s “circular migration” be different? The new biometric identification cards will help insure that “temporary stays temporary.” But Europe’s real ace-in-the-hole is a plan to withhold a portion of employee salary until guest workers actually return home.

Euro-Tough
So why is Europe cracking down on illegal immigration? Obviously, the French riots, Van Gough’s assassination, the cartoon affair, honor killings, battles over the veil (and now the revived Rushdie affair) have soured Europe’s mood. While there are certainly public divisions, opinion in Europe is now highly skeptical of immigration. At the same time, Europe is facing intense demographic pressure, still barely acknowledged by the public at large. With fertility rates low, and an age-wave set to hit when the baby-boomers retire, Europe is about to confront a serious labor shortage. So the question for the EU’s leaders is how to facilitate the sort of legal migration the continent needs, while also avoiding the pitfalls of uncontrolled immigration.

Europe now has between 4.5 and 8 million illegals, yet few are educated, assimilated, or able to fulfill Europe’s labor-market requirements. Many depend on welfare. So Europe needs to attract educated migrants with good professional and linguistic skills, and it needs to do so in a way that will credibly convince the public that illegal immigration is under control. The result is a tough-as-nails effort to combine deportations and employer penalties with a truly temporary guest worker program and skill-based legal immigration. Yes, it’s “comprehensive” immigration reform, but with a hard enforcement edge at the forefront. And in Sarkozy’s case, proof of seriousness about enforcement is already on record.

This isn’t to say that Europeans are of one mind on immigration. The new Dutch government has turned around a previously tough policy, approving an amnesty for 30,000 immigrants who refused to leave the country when their applications for asylum were rejected. This is supposedly a one-time amnesty, but critics call it an open invitation to more illegal immigration. And under Socialist prime minister, Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Spain has all but invited an armada of illegal immigrants to its shores.

Whether Europe’s governments can work out their differences on immigration is uncertain. Yet the overall drift is clear. America’s media may not want you to know it, but Europe — especially France — is now leading the way toward credibly comprehensive immigration reform. At least when it comes to immigration, years of hard experience with illegal migrants, failed assimilation, and an expanding welfare state are gradually turning all those so-called Euro-weenies Euro-tough.

Stanley Kurtz is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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