Immigration, especially immigration provoked by climate change, is one of the issues of our time. Despite huge efforts, many of them unsuccessful and inhumane, the issue will become more rather than less challenging.
More and more citizens of our world, like the 4,000 or so people fleeing Central America and walking across Mexico to reach the American border, like many of our forefathers, risk all to reach some sort of hoped-for salvation because poverty and violence make their and their children’s lives impossible in the country of their birth.
Why should those struggling, able people not try to remake fate and escape a life of economy-destroying crime or relentless poverty, by trying to reach a functioning, less-hostile, more rewarding and secure society? Surely, pursuing that possibility is a fundamental human right?
Yet, despite that simple, clear principle, it is almost impossible to make any statement on immigration without offending one of the many hardening attitudes around the issue. The issue can often be complicated by immigrants’ religious absolutism or a determination not to assimilate, but, instead, to transplant old values the West regards as, at best, anachronistic, unwelcome and plain hostile.
German chancellor Angela Merkel’s career is ending in some sort of failure because her welcoming, open-door policy unnerved her supporters and angered her opponents. The UN estimates, as of 2017, that 12,165,083 people living in Germany are immigrants, about 14.8% of the population. But, most unfortunately of all, Merkel’s red-carpet policy energised the right-wing Alternative für Deutschland, who now hold 94 of the 709 Bundestag seats. This reflects the worldwide rise of the right, a phenomenon reflected in Peter Casey’s unprecedented and forewarning 21% vote in our presidential election. This week, Hillary Clinton suggested that immigration contributed to Brexit and to Donald Trump’s election. She warned that Europe’s leaders must better manage immigration to combat the growing threat of right-wing populists. She suggested that European leaders send out a stronger signal, showing they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support”.
Another venerable of the centre-left, Tony Blair, echoed her remarks. Speaking to The Guardian, he warned: “You’ve got to deal with the legitimate grievances and answer them, which is why today, in Europe, you cannot possibly stand for election unless you’ve got a strong position on immigration... You’ve got to answer those problems. If you don’t… you leave a large space into which the populists can march.”
In an irony of ironies, the left is being warned, in the most avuncular way, that it must consider at least a diluted version of the right’s build-the-wall policies on immigration, if it is to recover the influence it once had in Europe. Sadly, it is far easier to scoff at that assessment than it is to repudiate it. Immigration offers those who would exploit our fears and justified concerns an opportunity no other issue presents. Only time will tell if we have the courage to confront one challenge and resolve the other.