Two Immigration Models

Fareed Zakaria observes that the United States has had a long history of attracting the best and brightest minds from abroad because of a very liberal immigration policy. He contrasts that with the approach taken by Western European countries like France and Germany, where skilled laborers from abroad are welcomed but given virtually no chance of becoming full-fledged citizens.

Germany was asking bright young professionals to leave their country, culture and families; move thousands of miles away; learn a new language; and work in a strange land — but without any prospect of ever being part of their new home. Germany was sending a signal, one that was accurately received in India and other countries, and also by Germany’s own immigrant community.

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.

A fair point. Of course, those who advocate “guest worker” programs in the U.S. mostly do so for Mexicans and others who are now coming in illegally, mostly without intention of assimilating into the culture. Still, his larger point has merit.

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?

That’s a powerful argument. While Steve Emerson and others can certainly point to radicalized Muslim communties in the United States (indeed, I pass by such a mosque on my way to and from work) the severity is nothing approaching what we’ve seen in Europe. Of course, assimilation is a two way street, requiring respect for the cultural norms of on the part of immigrant communities just as much as welcoming on the part of the receiving society.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. legion says:

    I’ve spent some time in the middle east, and seen “guest workers” first-hand. I understand the goals – on paper – but I don’t believe it can be implemented in any way that won’t devolve into the next best thing to indentured servitude.

    Frankly, I find the whole concept of deliberately creating a caste of second-class citizens morally repugnant. Immigration in the US is a major concern, but this isn’t the way to solve it.

  2. James Joyner says:

    My understanding of the U.S. variants of the guest worker proposal is that they are less insidious than that–basically aiming at removing fear of the current illegal alien class by giving them legal but temporary status.

    I generally favor Zakaria’s point but think he’s mixing two issues when he talks about skilled Indian tech workers and Mexican manual laborers. There are few logical reasons to oppose welcoming the former but some legitimate ones for limiting the latter.

  3. legion,

    Calling them second class citizens is wrong, given that they wouldn’t be citizens at all and would be expected to leave after a fixed timetable, thus avoiding an underclass.

    I’m not as crazy about the House bill as others, though I do favor a wall. I don’t like the Senate bill because I don’t favor a guest worker program.

    My own preference is a strong fence and substantially increased quotas for legal immigrants. The status of existing illegals should be ambiguous.

    A few weeks ago I would not have favored a fence and favored more immigration, regardless of circumstance. The protests have changed my mind, permanently.

  4. legion says:

    Good points… I’ve seen so many different variations on this topic the last week or so I can’t keep track of all of the good & bad points.

    I don’t have anything against a fence in principle, but you know as soon as one is erected in a given area, human enforcement & patrolling will all but cease. After that, it’s only a matter of time before the truly dangerous criminal side of immigration (the drug runners, etc., as opposed to the ones who really are just coming here for the jobs) will find a way to exploit things… How many major tunnels have been found in the southwest lately?

    My preference in this, as in many other socio-economic issues, is to provide the resources to actually enforce the laws we already have before looking into making new laws – in this case, actually organizing customs & border patrol out of the mess the whole DHS reorganization put them into…

  5. My own preference is a strong fence and substantially increased quotas for legal immigrants.

    Robert I think the overwhelming majority of Americans agree with you. It is just a common sense position. All but kooks recognize the contribution immigrants have made to our country.

    We just want them to come here legally.

    Guest worker programs are nonsense. Someone living in a cardboard shack in Mexico is not going to come here for 6 years and live the relative good life then go back to a shack when their time is up. It ain’t gonna happen.