It is time to analyze and understand the history as an entire contextual background rather than cherry-picking random facts and isolated moments in history to point to as evidence of the antiquity’s repetition. In this analysis, we will look at the historical evidence for migration paranoia as well as how this fear has built a new problem of generational wounds that can result in things like radicalization and new extremist organizations as well as depression and other psychological damage.
Immigration to the West has a very long history of tension. Many saw immigrants of the 19th century as unwanted competition for economic opportunity and tensions grew with each new wave. Although there was the common denominator of unease within the Anglo-Saxon communities of the west, the United States and Europe took very different paths in handling their immigration concerns. In the US laws began to form in order to bar immigrants from achieving a certain level of stability. For example, many government programs are exclusive to native-born Americans and even legal residents are unable to obtain things like food stamps. In Europe the shift was more cultural than policy-oriented. Highly exclusive ethnic enclaves began to form and the pattern has remained over the course of many years. Interestingly, the idea of the American dream has caused immigrants to flourish in the US and gives newcomers a sense of hope for a brighter future in their generations to come. However, in Europe the opposite effect has taken place in that the culture of exclusion towards immigrants has created a very low employment rate and level of education for most immigrant families.
Despite the significant differences between North America and Europe, there are many cultural similarities in family structure, career perspective, educational systems, and many other avenues. Immigrants may have integrated differently to these two regions but the animosity towards their perceived invasion has remained amongst many factions. In today’s political climate it appears that the years of history between immigrants and the native-born of the transatlantic are coming to a dangerous culmination. Changing the way that we define and discuss integration is vital in finding new ways to support the immigrant and refugee population in the region. Throughout history integration has been defined by common cultural traits such as learning the language of one’s new home, embracing the popular culture of the land or participating in traditions. However, this method of defining the process of integration has a tendency to divide people within a country based on those same cultural traits. This division deeply impacts our ability to grow and evolve as a culture by learning new things from cultures that we may be less familiar with. The world has benefited greatly from sharing ideas, mathematical and scientific discoveries, farming techniques and much more but by perpetuating the idea that cultures should be closed off from each other unless one is willing to abandon their past can prevent us from continuing this tradition.
Transatlantic governments along with media outlets have an opportunity to redefine integration of immigrants as an analysis of what they are contributing to the society as opposed to what they take away. Although many in the constituency of the United States have not yet embraced the immigrant population, they also have not been properly educated on the contributions that they have brought to the country. The country has a very low unemployment rate among its immigrants and a high percentage of small business owners. First-generation Americans are also highly likely to be more educated and successful than their parents and are more likely to fill technically skilled positions than native-born Americans. As a result, those descendants of immigrants also tend to be more Americanized than their parents and are less connected to their home country thus further embracing the vision of America. On the surface this seems like a threat to those who are native-born but in reality it is a testament to the visceral emotion that comes with a belief in the same American dream that most native-born also hold dear. This is a place of agreement from which the relationship can potentially be rebuilt and in doing so we can also impact the acceptance of immigrants in Western Europe.
The paranoia that exists towards immigrants has been heightened by the escalation of terrorism globally and particularly in Europe. However, that paranoia was born out of a perceived economic threat. As the immigrant population has been able to thrive economically on one side of the Atlantic, the unemployment rates and education levels for these groups in Europe have been abysmal. Concurrently, when these immigrants are accepted into most of these countries and have access to many government programs for low-income families that the North American immigrant population cannot reach. The combination of a lack of income and a large need for government assistance makes the immigrant population an unintentional drain on the country’s economy. This creates a need for close communities of immigrants assisting each other and living in multi-generational homes where they can be closed off from the remainder of society. The economic drain of these immigrants causes further animosity towards them from the native-born Europeans and the reclusiveness of the immigrant community makes the integration of their descendants a much slower and shallow experience than that of first-generation Americans.
The danger of this paranoia continuing is not only related to the economic drain or racial tensions in the transatlantic. This division has given terrorist groups like ISIS more of a propaganda tool to turn immigrants and their children against the Western country in which they reside. Anger builds out of major discrepancies in socioeconomic classes and that type of anger can grow exponentially when it is coupled with a lack of societal acceptance. Terrorist organizations prey on the impoverished, the vulnerable, the victims of civil war, and especially the young and impressionable. The Islamic extremism mantra when recruiting the soldiers in their demented war is that North America and Europe hate them and want to destroy the lessons of their faith. By allowing the division between the Anglo-Saxon world and immigrants, particularly from predominantly Muslim countries, to linger and grow we are creating the propaganda tools for the very enemy who we are trying to fight. By changing the definition of what it means to assimilate and contribute to a country we could begin a key pivot for the transatlantic partnership over the next few years and deal a severe blow to the ability of terrorists to build their network globally.