The European Union is fractured. Immigration wrought this political crisis, reshaping discourse and fraturing alliances. It fostered a resentment among the populace that manifested itself within several populist movements. Without reflection, the US could find itself in a similar crisis.
The immigration issue began in 2015, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel opened Germany’s borders to large swathes of migrants and refugees. Without external borders, Germany’s open-door policy meant that migrants had to enter and pass through Italy, Greece, the Balkans, France, or Spain. The decision forced other EU member states to deal with the influx.
The first populist reaction was Brexit. British voters, who traditionally support border security, have a history of rejecting reckless open-door policies like Schengen. The Brexit referendum was as much a vote on immigration as it was about EU membership. Many nations followed Britain in tightening border controls. Less than a year later, Marine Le Pen, running on a platform that called for a temporary hiatus on all immigration, finished second in the French presidential elections.
The list of reaction continues. In Germany, the immigration reform party Alternative for Germany (AFD) won seats in the parliament, marking the first time a right-wing party with such tenets has held political power there since the end of WWII. In June, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte turned away a ship that attempted to illegally drop off migrants. Conte then stood up to Angela Merkel at her EU summit in Brussels and threatened to veto a bill that would have forced 650,000 migrants back into Italy. Few European countries are free of, at minimum, a burgeoning, if not already successful, populist movement.
Since President Trump’s victory in 2016, the United States has suffered similar polarization. He is the first hint of an anti-immigration backlash. If not handled carefully, the American political climate could descend further from consensus. Trump himself is a populist leader, but one with neither the centralized power nor an agenda for a totalitarian crisis. However, if not handled well, America could see ilk similar to the alt-right garnering political positions of power.
We can look across the Atlantic at our allies and learn from their mistakes. It is clear from the situation in Europe that if the people have little say on issues like immigration, then a movement like Trump’s is inevitable. Trump showed from the beginning that he cared about immigration when he called out the establishment for their disregard for national security. The media slammed him, but he won the election.
To keep ressentiment and thereby populist coups at bay, America needs to take away three strategies from the failure of their European counterparts:
- Immigration must be systematic, controlled, and contained. Something like Merkel’s open-border approach that put strain on undesiring states is not sustainable. Without proper vetting processes, unfettered immigration is extremely. dangerous. A poor policy will foster frustration among those forced to bear the legal muck created by the Federal Government
- The people must have a say. This explains the popularity of Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric. Few had heard their views expressed at the national level before and jumped in support of man who spoke their minds.
- Immigration must benefit American citizens as much as it does immigrants. Ideals are important, but the average voter’s primary ideal comes down to the food they can or cannot provide on their dinner table. Helping all without question is a privilege only to the elite who will remain largely unaffected by immigration’s economic impact.
Most importantly, immigration, like many other issues, has the potential to cause unity or division in our country and must be approached carefully. Our politicians need to realize that immigration affects culture, economy, and national security. This issue concerns more than just those who cross the border; citizens will vote accordingly.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.