Donald Trump’s inauguration took place at the White House last Friday, and the new president has already introduced stricter penalties for undocumented immigrants, refused to welcome Syrian refugees to the United States, and authorized the construction of a fortified wall along the American border with Mexico. The situation in France is not much brighter, with presidential candidate Marine Le Pen uniting voters around a program based on racism and xenophobia.
Is immigration really a major threat to the United States? There was once a mechanical correlation between the fear of immigration and unemployment in the West. And yet, unemployment figures are extremely low in the U.S.A. (4.7% in December 2016). What’s more, the expulsion of 12 million illegal aliens, even if it were legally and humanely possible, would destroy entire swaths of the American economy. The agriculture, restaurant and construction sectors would immediately grind to a halt. Donald Trump’s claim that deporting immigrants would boost wages is another of the same tired, unfounded populist songs. Economic science reminds us that higher numbers of workers lead to a higher rate of growth. Deporting undocumented immigrants who work would immediately stunt growth and, as a result, lower wages. The anti-immigrant furor has little to do with economics.
As for terrorism, the attacks against the United States in the name of Islam have often been carried out by converted citizens, but never by illegal immigrants. And far more gun crimes are committed every year by white, Christian Americans in public spaces, schools and theatres than by immigrants.
We must come to our senses: The reasons suggested for hunting down and expelling immigrants are merely alibis. Part of America has been whipped up by a wind of xenophobia, the likes of which have been seen before, directed against the Irish, the Italians, the Jews and the Chinese. As being racist is no longer seen as acceptable, populists have instead put forward pseudo-rational, economic, legal and security arguments. But why is this ill wind blowing today? A section of the white population has still not come to terms with being governed by a Black president for eight years. Republicans still see immigrants as people “of color”: No one has mentioned building a wall on the Canadian border.
In Europe, Arabs play the role of the scapegoat, harassed by arguments similar to those heard in the United States: Immigrants create unemployment and stir up violence. These two stances are as dubious in France as they are in America. Undocumented immigrants tend to work, as they have no other resources. Unemployed people receiving benefits in Europe are rarely immigrants, but in fact citizens who enjoy many advantages granted by the welfare state. Immigration is not a leading cause of unemployment in Europe, but the ageing of the population, the inflexibility of the jobs market, and the relative generosity of welfare payments certainly are. Let us consider the current wave of refugees, mostly from Syria. The majority of them want to work, but are prevented from doing so by national legislation. If they were allowed to work, they would integrate much faster and contribute to the country’s growth. It is worth noting that the Central European countries surrounding themselves with barbed wire and refusing entry to refugees are precisely the places refugees have no intention of going, such as Hungary and Poland. Just like the United States, the economic argument is nothing more than an alibi. As for the risk to national security, it seems pertinent to mention that the terrorist attacks in France in 2015 and 2016 were committed by French and Belgian citizens, who were apparently integrated but suffering from a psychological disorder known as jihadism.
I am not denying the logistical difficulties inherent to welcoming refugees and immigrants, but the arguments put forward on both sides of the Atlantic go against every single value upheld by the Christian West. This outcry against immigration also serves to gloss over 30 years of poor domestic and foreign policies, from both the left and the right, for which we are now facing a backlash. Examples include the creation of the welfare state, which has contributed to unemployment in Europe, and the unconditional support offered by Western leaders to Arab dictators who have corrupted and robbed their countries.
Instead of reflecting on our mistakes, we prefer to single out scapegoats such as Arabs and Mexicans, who have filled a space once occupied by the Jews. As we avoid accepting reality, we fall back on a tribal mindset, staying “with one’s own,” and exalting traditions reinvented by nationalists and independentists. Those who define the West as the land of reason should realize, in light of current events, that we have always been caught between a search for enlightenment and witch hunting. This struggle is no doubt rooted in the deepest recesses of our human nature.