Immigration / Politics

Reactions to Immigration: Comparing Assimilation in the EU and the US

Unlike most European Union member states, the United States has been a country that has experienced waves of migration since its conception. This latest wave to the United States has challenged politicians to pass effective reform, but it has not been the first to do so. Many of the groups that have migrated to the U.S. have faced opposition, but are eventually incorporated into American society. While there will always be opposition to migrants, Americans are able to deal with a cultural melting pot better than most.

In the European Union mass immigration in recent years, particularly, from North Africa and economic-crisis in many European countries have sparked the rise in popularity of far right-wing nativist political parties. Parties like Front-National in France and the Danish People’s Party in Denmark have been gaining traction in part thanks to anti-migrant rhetoric. Recent events such as the January 2015 Charlie Hebdo shooting in Paris, and a February 2015 shooting in Copenhagen have fueled public support for these parties.

Both these parties have begun to make significant gains in recent elections. The Danish People’s Party in early June won 21.1 percent of the popular vote, compared to 12.3 percent four years ago. Front National in May won 25 percent of votes in the fist round of French local elections, the highest percentage ever gained by FN. These parties reflect European immigrant-phobia. They present themselves as protectors of the cultural heritage and the borders of their countries, and people are beginning to believe that.

This success is partially due to the historic inexperience with immigration into Europe. In much of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Europeans were the ones emigrating. It was not until recently that world-events began causing shifting migration patterns. The Arab Spring, civil war, and lack of economic opportunity have all prompted migration into Europe.

This inexperience has made many afraid of foreign immigration into Europe. Out of fear, the public in Europe has also lashed out against migrants, sometimes even violently. For example, increasingly after the Charlie Hebdo shooting, there have been attacks on the Muslim immigrant population. In January, in the city of Villefranche-sur-Saone a make shift bomb went off outside a Mosque. Anti-immigrant violence has not only been against Muslims. In a northern-poor immigrant suburb of Paris, a 16-year-old Romanian immigrant was almost beat to death by a gang of youths in June.

For the United States, it presents an interesting contrast. While there is sharp opposition to immigration in the United States, it is not as widespread as in Europe. Greater economic opportunity and a history of migration prompt a short period of acclimation for the American public. Importantly, there is no radical political or social backlash fueled by anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States as there is in Europe. In the United States by a margin of 57 percent to 35 percent, the public views immigrants as strengthening the country rather than burdening it. In Europe, the growth of radical parties is only a reflection of public opinion as most people support limiting immigration.

Another critical difference between the U.S. and EU states is the concept of assimilation. In the United States, one can identify as being a hyphenated American, Latino-American or Arab-American, and not be forced to renounce ones immigrant culture. In Europe, this is not the case. Immigrants are expected to assimilate completely into their new society. In France for example, legal immigrants have to sign an integration contract by which they agree to undergo French language training and instruction on the values of French society.

These differences both politically and socially, should prompt us to consider the redeeming quality of American politics, its centrist nature. Our experience and history with migration allows us to adapt without prompting the growth of radical nativist, nationalist political parties.


Frontex by Rock Cohen is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0