Xenophobia: An international perspective
I find the difference in perspective on immigration between North
America and Europe all the more striking, because on the standard
left-right axis the European consensus -- typically to the left of the
U.S. on issues like healthcare, private enterprise, and invading other
countries and torturing captives -- is so far to the right on the U.S.
and Canadian political spectra that it's hardly to found at all. This
was made clear in the recent controversy over the Arizona law that
would have police checking papers when they have "reasonable suspicion"
that someone is illegally in the country. This was treated as such an
obvious affront to decency that even most of the right wing didn't want
anything to do with it. In most European countries, there would be
nothing controversial about permitting police to stop anyone to ask for
identification. (The U.K. is a slight exception here, as the irrational
foreigners has to contend with an irrational hatred of identity cards.
Utility bills are considered asuperior form of identification.) In
Germany (which, despite the popular association in the anglophone
media with police-state tactics, is fairly casual about immigrants) I
needed to show proof of immigration status in order to get a library
card. And whereas even the farthest right in the U.S. distanced
themselves from Republican representative Duncan Hunter's proposal
that the children of illegal immigrants be deported (presumably after
having their citizenship revoked), I don't know of any country other
than the U.S. and Canada that automatically grants citizenship even to
the children of legal immigrants. For instance, my daughter born here
is not a U.K. citizen, even though her mother, as an E.U. citizen, has
the right to live and work here. (The usually even-tempered journalist
Joan Walsh has called Hunter's proposal "crazy",
and says "I'm not sure Hunter has a soul." I don't think it's a good
idea, but it's obviously not an absurdity, even if it does involve the
procedural hurdle in the U.S. of requiring a constitutional amendment.
There's clearly a problem of having minor U.S. children whose parents
can be (and are) deported.)
In the U.K. context, it's barely controversial to bash legal immigrants
(see, for instance, this), much less illegal immigrants. In the most
recent prime ministerial debate, the one thing David Cameron and Gordon
Brown agreed on was that the Liberal Democrats' proposal of an amnesty
for long-term illegal residents was simply insane and indefensible.
They didn't even have to respond to his counter-arguments, pretend that
they had an alternative solution for the problem. It's the putatively
left-wing party in power for the past 13 years in the U.K. that can't
think of enough new ways to attack foreigners, that they have to invent
bizarrely creative ways to attack foreigners, like the law banning
foreigners from marrying without Home Office approval, or instituting
new proposals that immigrants need to perform "volunteer" work to earn citizenship.
What I find amazing is how clear the consensus in the U. S. and Canada
in favour of (legal) immigration is, and that the very idea of basing
citizenship primarily on parentage rather than on birth in the country
is treated as an absurdity by right-thinking people.