Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Election-year immigration talk isn't just for the U.S.

A poster in French reading
A poster in French reading "not prison, not retention, not expulsion (deportation)."
Photo by cicilief/Flickr (Creative Commons)

A recent post explored the immigration-related rhetoric in the Republican presidential primaries and why it is that even as illegal immigration arrests have dipped to historic lows on the U.S.-Mexico border, talk of immigration restrictions and border fences still makes for good election-year campaign fuel. And it doesn't just work this way in the United States.

As elections draw near or have occurred recently in several other countries, all with their own immigration scenarios, similar talk of restricting incoming migration or cracking down on those already there has bubbled to the surface. Here are a few recent examples of what's been said where.

Russia: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who is campaigning for reelection in March, recently urged a crackdown "on migrant workers who break the nation's laws by failing to register or get work permits, and on companies that profit by hiring them," according to this Associated Press story:

Putin, who is campaigning for Russia's March presidential election, was addressing an issue that angers many Russians because Moscow is overrun with immigrants who often sleep in basements and overcrowded apartments.

Some 10 million labor migrants, mostly from ex-Soviet Central Asia, flock to Russia visa-free annually. Many face abuses, low pay and enslavement, while their presence triggers xenophobia and hate attacks in a country where unemployment stood at about 7 percent last year.

...Putin, who is expected to win the presidential election, said Thursday that people who violate immigration and labor laws should be barred from entering the country for up to 10 years.

He also said that Russians who profit by hiring and enslaving migrants, or by issuing fake work and residential permits, should face criminal charges instead of "symbolic fines."

France: In recent weeks, as President Nicholas Sarkozy prepares to announce whether he'll seek reelection this year, French government ministers have touted record deportations and plans to tighten immigration. More recently, interior minister Claude Gueant blamed immigrants from central and eastern Europe for a surge in burglaries. Reuters reported:
Gueant, who has been one of Sarkozy's closest aides during his presidency, oversaw the conservative government's controversial deportation of illegal Roma people early in his term and launched a crackdown last year on Romanian pickpockets.

Sarkozy's government has toughened its message on immigration as it tries to win back voters who have defected to the far-right National Front under Marine Le Pen.

Earlier this month Gueant trumpeted the deportation of a record number of illegal migrants in 2011.

He has set himself the goal of cutting legal migration to France to 150,000 people a year, having already cut the quota to 180,000 from 200,000 in past years.

Switzerland: The majority of Swiss voters in last fall's general election didn't wind up supporting the nationalist People's Party, whose rhetoric was highly inflammatory as immigration and energy topped the national agenda. From an Associated Press story:

The People's Party accused foreigners of driving up Switzerland's crime rate, and campaigned for those convicted of crimes to be deported. It also wants to reintroduce quotas on immigration from the 27 countries of the European Union, of which Switzerland isn't a member.

Its striking posters of black boots stomping on the Swiss flag with the message "Stop Mass Immigration" build on earlier graphically successful campaigns featuring white sheep kicking out a black sheep or dark hands grasping for Swiss passports.

"For us it's not acceptable that we have to open the frontiers and we have no possibility to say who can come, and under which conditions. We want to regulate this," said Oskar Freysinger, a hardline People's Party lawmaker.

Of course, there have been other immigration crackdowns announced lately that are not tied to elections, including in the United Kingdom, where the immigration minister recently said immigrants must "add to the quality of life" as the government aims to roll back net migration, and in Brazil, where reaction to Haitian immigrants settling in the Amazon region has prompted restrictions on immigration from Haiti. The Brazil debate is especially interesting, as some believe there's a racial component that harkens back to long-ago policies. From the New York Times:
The authorities in Brazil say that the new rules are needed to prevent Haitians from falling victim to human traffickers and thieves during the long journeys that many have endured. They often flew from the Dominican Republic to Panama, then to Ecuador or Peru, before traveling by bus or on foot to Brazilian border outposts.

...For other immigration specialists, however, the measures offer an example of shifting priorities. Senior officials in Brasília, the capital, recently signaled that they were planning to retool immigration policies to lure more skilled professionals, even as the government limits the entrance of Haitians.

Sebastião Nascimento, a sociologist at the University of Campinas in Brazil, said the new policies resembled efforts in the late 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, when Brazil emphasized European immigration as a way of “whitening” the country after the abolition of slavery in 1888.

“What exists now,” Mr. Nascimento said, “is an attempt to revive this infamous historical tradition of selective immigration.”

And while I have yet to see it in U.S. media, immigration from the south (in addition to U.S.-related immigration issues, like rising deportations from the north) is bound to make a showing in Mexico's presidential campaigns as well, with the national election coming up July 1.