Where Open Borders Fail
Right off the bat, I want to clarify that I support making immigration easier, and that the way most countries deal with immigrants is inhumane; I should know that myself since I was an immigrant in my own country and now I am an immigrant in Europe. Furthermore, I would like to concede that the neoliberals have the academic literature on their side, as there is good evidence suggesting that ALL types of immigration are economically beneficial, and that even open borders is not an economically unsound idea.
My concern here is not economics. It never was. It has always been about the culture.
And I don’t mean the culture in the way that the right wing populists always push it. I do not care for pretty looking churches, bizarre customs, or the color of someone’s skin. As a matter of fact, the culture I am speaking of is a common enemy of both the populist right and many of the immigrants I will be discussing here: Namely liberalism and other variants of social progressivism. What inspired me to write this was the massive amount of backlash that Macron got for his comments on Islam. Mind you, I do think there are issues with his approach, but outside observers often look at the issue with the wrong lens. Especially Americans.
The aim of this essay is to criticize the approach of many American or “American-ized” liberals AND leftists when it comes to the rhetorical battle around this subject. Furthermore, I will be pointing out concerning trends and some of the internal contradictions that liberals and leftists often run into. I will also point out the differences between liberals and leftists in how exactly they botch up.
Are we clear?
Being able to contemplate the idea of Open Borders to begin with is essentially an American privilege.
Despite Donald Trump’s election victory in 2016, and the rise of right wing populism, America remains one of the best countries when it comes to treatment of its immigrants. Yes, even when compared to Europe.
There are currently 3 million gypsies in America. These Roma in America have integrated so well that nobody even notices them or talks about them. Meanwhile, France in 2009, decided to deport the entire gypsy population indiscriminately. And while this decision was met with some level of outrage, most Europeans felt apathetic about it. Some even encouraged it. Not only are gypsies treated as a separate entity, but they’re not even tolerated.
This extends to Muslims as well. Sure, you occasionally do get the cringe-worthy article from the Huffington Post, but overall Muslims in America view themselves as Americans, take pride in their own country, tend to be more educated and richer than the average American, and are even more secular than Evangelicals as many more Muslims believe in evolution than evangelicals. Muslim Americans are not a society within a society, they are a part of that society. Muslims in Europe, however, are much poorer on average, commit more crime, and feel more detached.
This is more of a personal observation than anything I can empirically prove but even among those who support immigration, the difference is clear as day between Americans and Europeans. Americans ACCEPT different groups. Europeans only TOLERATE at best. Americans think that diversity is good in and of itself, while Europeans only accept diversity under conditions. This even extends to linguistic expression. Many Turks are still called Gastarbeiter (guest-workers) that live in their Gastland (guest-country) despite being born in the country. Minorities in Europe are seen as guests that should be treated kindly, but if they “overstep their boundaries” or “overstay their welcome” then they are to be disposed of. This sort of perspective isn’t unique to Europe either. This is very much the norm worldwide.
These comparisons have all been with other liberal Western democracies. When you compare America to developing nations, It paints an even grimmer picture. Libya enslaved many of its immigrants under Gaddafi’s police state, Asian-looking people in India faced heavy discrimination after the COVID outbreak, Filipino maids are regularly abused and raped in the gulf states, China has essentially erased the Mandschu culture, while running sterilization camps on Uighurs, and Lebanon is simply Lebanon.
Macron was on the mark when he spoke about “Islamic separatism”. What he said was of no controversy in my opinion. Macron also acknowledged that France had failed its immigrant communities, creating “our own separatism” with ghettos of “misery and hardship” where people were lumped together according to their origins and social background. “We have thus created districts where the promise of the Republic has no longer been kept, and therefore districts where the attraction of these messages, where these most radical forms were sources of hope,” he added.
If the advocates of immigration fail to recognize this problem then they will lose the spiritual and rhetorical battle with the illberal right.
So how is this related to my overall thesis? Doesn’t this prove that integration CAN be done and that it’s mostly Europe’s fault for how it treats its immigrants?
Yes, it is partially Europe’s fault, but this doesn’t mean we should blindly support mass immigration or expect the issue to resolve itself.
Pointing fingers at Europe isn’t going to solve the fact that, simply put, Europe does not have the institutions or the cultural Zeitgeist to integrate these immigrants fully or even properly. And that blindly increasing immigration will only cause further tears in social cohesion and empower the populist right, and that is especially the case if the advocates of immigrants fail to reform and rephrase their positions and rhetoric. Europe simply lacks what America has and it’s important to realize that these deficiencies in the European system ought to be solved first.
What are the results of those deficiencies?
The result is that 63 percent of German Turks voted for Erdogan. In Austria, that percentage was 71 percent. As a reminder, Erdogan is an Islamist authoritarian Leader who has repeatedly denied or justified genocide, and imprisoned many journalists, including German ones. And mind you, Turks in Germany have been a significant minority for over 60 years now, ever since they came as Gastarbeiter (guest-workers). The claim that the Muslim immigrants from the Refugee crisis in 2015 will eventually integrate does not sound as reassuring when you take that fact into consideration.
One interesting fact is that Turks in Turkey vote for Erdogan by a lower percentage at 53 percent. It seems that Erdogan exploited how ostracized many of these groups feel by signaling Turkish identity and nationalism which is why even more Turks supported him in Germany than in Turkey. This theory seems to be consistent as well since Austria had even more people voting for Erdogan, and Austria is overall more xenophobic than Germany. This is a theory according to a professor in the University of Duisburg-Essen and goes to show how failed institutions can lead to radicalization, not just of the native populace, but also the immigrants.
It’s very obvious that these communities are neither liberal nor socially progressive by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, in some cases, they are more violent than the populist right. While most antisemitic incidents in Germany happened due to the far right, most of those done by the far right included things like verbal harassment but not a lot of physical violence. Meanwhile, 80 percent of the Jews that did experienced physical violence have said that they have been attacked by someone with a Muslim or Turkish background. Furthermore, what these reports define as “far right” often includes Islamist organizations and demonstrations such as Hizbollah and Hamas.
In the UK and France, the birth rates between the Native population and Muslim population are laughably disparate. The non-Muslim French and British population hover around 1.9, while the Muslim population hovers around 2.9.
What’s concerning here is not the “White Genocide” as many right wing populists and racists are quick to point out. Rather, what’s concerning, is that higher birthrates are correlated with having lower or no education/employment for women on average, and a more “traditionalist” (I prefer calling it a misogynistic) culture. Women are clearly seen as “breeders'' for the lack of a better term in much of these communities.
For comparison sake, the highest difference in the US birthrates is between whites and Hispanics, whites having a 1.65 birthrate and Hispanics having a 1.95 birth rate — a mere 0.3 difference — and yet Republicans have exploited the differences in birth rates over and over to fear monger about the extinction of white people...can you imagine how much more ammo the right wing has in Europe?
Oh and remember the statistics about Erdogan? Turns out that only 16 percent of American Turks have voted for Erdogan. This has been overwhelmingly due to the fact that American turks are much more educated on average than European-Turks.
In Birmingham, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of the anti-LGBT movement that seeks to remove LGBT and sex ed from schools. Even more concerning is that these trends don’t just apply to Muslim minorities, but to many Easteren Europeans as well. A recent survey of school children in Germany found out that homophobic views were almost just as widespread among children from ex-Soviet countries as those from Muslim countries, and that both groups had a far higher rate of homophobic views than German children. In the German state of Baden-Württemberg, Yugoslavian women and Serbian women had a higher birth rate than Turkish women.
So what’s happening here? Clearly, America has better institutions, but how are those institutions exactly better?
In America, cultural integration is made possible due to several factors:
- Economic activity has been shown to be the best way to integrate immigrants. Labor union and market regulations have been shown to be much more flexible in the US, which has given many immigrants the economic opportunities that they need to blend in within society. Protectionism also runs rampant in Europe, especially when it comes to qualification of degrees. For example, many of the refugees that came to Germany had education and a degree, but due to very protectionist policies that only recognized German or European degrees, these immigrants faced great discrimination in the labor market. Another example is that many high skilled Muslims in Sweden are deported due to strict union contracts and regulations.
- America has much higher standards and vetting for those who it lets in. This means that the sample of immigrants that arrives in America will not be representative of what views average Muslim holds, as they will be more educated and richer on average. However, this factor might not be as effective as previously thought since even low income American Muslims showed signs of being more integrated than low income European Muslims.
- America has less “cultural and historical” baggage. The colonial past between the Middle East and France/UK is a heavy one. 1.5 million deaths in the Algerian struggle against France, plus burning down entire forests on their retreat. Things like that will always push these groups of people towards anti-West and anti-liberal views. The American psyche is not defined by such historical scars...except for a certain group that we will cover later in this text.
Many are quick to point out that America had a period of time where open borders was the norm, and that “everything was fine” back then, however, they forget two important factors
- For a significant period of time, these “open borders” only allowed white, able bodied men to enter the country. Furthermore, most people did not have any level of higher education back then, so the disparity in education that we see in Europe nowadays is much more concerning.
- Cultural Liberalism was not as big of a thing as it is right now. What is meant with this is that back then, most people were homophobic, sexist, bigoted, and so on. Women’s rights, gay rights, civil rights and many other liberal values only developed much later on, and every since then, there has been a huge divergence between developed countries and developing countries on these issues. The political framework was not at all the same and pretending that the cultural impact would have been the same.
Returning to a previous point, there is one ethnicity in America that can be compared to the plight of European minorities in terms of discrimination and integration. You probably guessed it by now, but yes...it’s African Americans.
Remember the study that compared European Muslims with American Muslims? One interesting finding is that the overwhelming majority of American Muslims who felt like they were detached from American society, and felt unsatisfied with their conditions, were African Americans. African Americans also face similar issues to the Roma, Arabs, and Turks when it comes to finding proper housing and job applications.
I do think it’s intriguing, however, that it took 400 years of historical scars in the form of slavery for an ethnicity to be treated the same way that many Europeans treat their minorities on a regular basis, whether their arrival was new or not. If anything, this only demonstrates even further how much better America is at this.
Now we come to where I think liberals and leftists have failed, and why they have failed in the rhetorical battle against the right.
Many people who support immigration are wary of the term “merit-based immigration”. They say that the term is usually just a dog whistle because how exactly do we define “merit”?
They are correct that the “merit-based” has been used to justify racist views. However, I still think it is important to think of “merit” in terms of liberalism. I find it funny that the same leftists that will go on and on about the “paradox of tolerance”, fail to apply it when it comes to immigration.
Of course, the paradox of tolerance is entirely correct. A tolerant society needs to crush intolerant elements in order to survive in the long run. However, it is bizarre that this always only applies to the Republican party or the conservative opposition in general, and not the illiberal trends among immigrants.
It should also be noted that voting patterns do not necessarily mean that a group of people has embraced the values of that party. Many minorities only vote Democrat due to the rampant racism in the Republican party. African Americans have a homophobia problem, and have more conservative views on criminal justice, as 80 percent of African Americans support more or the same level of policing. Many Hispanic immigrants tend to be very religious and conservative.
It was only a matter of time before Democrats got a taste of what it means to have an illiberal minority. I fondly remember the meltdown that happened when the results from Cuban Americans in Miami Dade county came about. Despite Biden’s attempt to distance himself from socialism, he couldn’t beat how right wing many of these minorities skewed. Another example was in Texas. One of the major factors as to why Democrats underperformed with Hispanics in Texas, was that many of these groups were no longer immigrants. Many were already third or fourth generation, had a green card or even citizenship, and so Democrats’ support towards illegal immigrants did not strike them as sympathetic. Some even viewed border patrol as protectors and not enemies.
This returns to my main thesis. We simply can not blindly support open borders in regions that are less than ideal when it comes to integration, and constantly chastise anyone with right wing beliefs at the same time. If you fear the rise of illiberalism in Western countries, you can not simply shrug your hands at existing illiberalism within many immigrant communities. That is a privilege that you can afford as an American due to the fact that your country is capable of integrating immigrants (albeit not perfectly)..
Our political situation has reached a crisis, as one side has the right values yet does not call for the assimilation to these values, and the other side does call for assimilation but not assimilation to the right values. That is the issue that haunts the liberal/populist divide when it comes to the immigration debate.
On the rhetorical side of things, I would like to note an incident that made me realize how bad liberals are at marketing their ideas. I fondly remember an Anti-AfD demonstration (AfD being the far right party in Germany) where many activists held a sign that said “Rassisten essen heimlich Döner” which translates to “Racists eat Döner in secret!” (Doener being a type of Turkish street food). The next day, I saw the caretaker of our dormitory, who has repeatedly said racist and xenophobic things to me and other students, eat a Doener in front of the Turkish shop owner.
The idea that immigrants are somehow good because of “food” reflects the white suburban nature of many liberals. Immigrants like me are merely commodities that make exotic foods for them. It screams of patronization and commodification. I am an Arab who has never worked in the food industry. My value to a community extends far beyond food, yet liberals are keen on mentioning Gyros, Tacos, and Doener whenever they express their support. As an immigrant, I want to be a part of society and climb new heights. I am not here to make you your favorite dishes.
Even worse, it highlights how detached liberals and leftists are from the working class. The working class does not care for delicious food. The working class does not desire revolution or utopia. What most working class natives want is security and stability. This is exactly how the right managed to tap into their fear: Fear mongering. What liberals needed to do was give assurance. Rambling about human rights or how “arbitrary” borders are is not a discussion that the average person cares about. However, the average person does care about crime and economic opportunities within their own community. Instead of endlessly romanticizing immigrants or screeching about racism, activists could have pointed out, for instance, that crime in Germany has been the lowest it’s been since 1992 , despite the influx of refugees. Utilizing statistics like that is what gets people to take your side. Not vague calls for humanity.
Among leftists, there is a popular theory that capitalism and neoliberalism are the cause of the rise in the far-right. However, this idea is simply incorrect. For starters, it is ironic how the biggest surges in far right populism were actually in ex-communist states such as East Germany, Poland, and Hungary.
Secondly, many of the labor regulations and union contracts that made integration hard for immigrants, were passed by leftists. People are too quick to forget that it was the socialists and social democrats who pushed the heaviest for protectionism in the past. Thirdly, the last major economic recession happened in 2008 (excluding COVID). However, most of the far right in Europe saw its surge immediately only after the refugee crisis in 2015, so it’s obvious that the recession only played a minor role in enabling the right compared to the refugee crisis, as there were already many Muslim communities in Europe way before 2015 and 2008. Lastly, many of these immigrants are moving out to begin with precisely because capitalism in the West offers them better opportunities.
Even phrasing such as “Open Borders'' is problematic. When a xenophobe, or even an average person, hears the phase “Open Borders'' they think it implies being vulnerable or weak to foreign attacks. It’s similar to “Defund the Police'' in terms of bad marketing. Changing to something like “Flow of Labor'' might prove to be better.
In conclusion, those who advocate for immigration must change their approaches and must seek the correct institutional change in order to help out immigrants and avoid damaging social cohesion. Immigration is indeed beautiful, but we have to be careful about how we conduct things, and avoid viewing minority groups as helpless victims, and instead understand that they have just as much agency as the populist right.