Middle Israel: The immigration quandaries of 2017

When Trump accused Mexico of “sending” north immigrants who bring crime, drugs and rape, he derided those immigrants not only as individuals but also as a collective.

September 9, 2017 09:45
4 minute read.
PAULINA RUIZ chants with supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Olivera

PAULINA RUIZ chants with supporters of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program on Olivera Street in Los Angeles, California, earlier this week.. (photo credit: KYLE GRI/REUTERS)


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The immigrant – modernity’s unsung hero – is under fire.

On one side of the Atlantic, the Trump administration this week called on Congress to abolish Barack Obama’s decree that deferred the deportations of illegal immigrants’ children. Subsequent tweets were typically contradictory, but the principle remained clear: immigrant bad.

The following day the opposite happened across the ocean, where the European Court of Justice said “immigrant good,” as it rejected petitions by Hungary and Slovakia to cancel immigration quotas imposed on them by the European Union.

As tragedies go, the immigration that US President Donald Trump is out to block should not be blocked, and the one that the EU is stuffing down its members’ throats should be blocked.

Migrants have fallen since antiquity into three categories: the immigrant, the refugee and the asylum-seeker.

An immigrant was Abraham, who journeyed abroad because of his destination’s attraction. The refugee’s journey, by contrast, is unplanned, like the biblical Lot’s flight from the firestorm that leveled his city. And the asylum-seeker, like Jacob, flees not nature’s wrath but another man’s pursuit.

The differences between the three are profound, but today’s world freely confuses them, and worse, it confuses them with a fourth type of immigrant: the invader.

When Trump accused Mexico of “sending” north immigrants who bring crime, drugs and rape, he derided those immigrants not only as individuals but also as a collective, viewing them as an invasion of criminals who, unlike immigrants, are not out to join the veteran society but to conquer it.

That is, of course, absurd. Hispanic immigrants have been for the US what all their predecessors were, from the WASPs and the Irish to the Swedes and the Poles: innocent, industrious and hardworking people out to turn the page on their past, eke out a living, and make the most of themselves. Trump defaced them not because they are a problem, but because such grandstanding brings votes.

As for the jobs such immigrants “steal,” they are the menial and low-paying jobs other Americans won’t do, and someone must do. Had there been no such vacuum, they would not have arrived to fill it. Immigrants not only don’t damage the economy they join, they invigorate it, and in the case of the US – they made that country what it is.

To understand immigrants’ economic value, look no further than Israel, where recent decades’ influx of newcomers more than trebled the economy, and then look to Japan, whose lack of immigrants is feeding an ongoing economic decline.

Yes, immigration should be done legally, and yes, there comes a point when the immigrants’ destination must pause to digest before it can swallow more, the way the US did when it shut its doors in 1924. But even when the doors are shut, that does not make the immigrant a villain, much less an invader. This is besides the fact that the US today has room for more immigrants, and in fact needs them.

The immigrant is a social energizer, bringing diligence, modesty and optimism where they are never in surplus. That, surely, is what the European justices had in mind Wednesday, when they upheld the EU’s demand that its members admit hundreds of thousands of “asylum-seekers.”

Yet those Europeans are wrong about their immigrants, no less than Trump is about his; his are not invaders. Europe’s often are.

Invaders don't necessarily emerge from a military’s boats or gunships, or from flying saucers like those of the Invaders from Mars.

Rome was overwhelmed by barbarian tribes that pressured its borders, and by Christian missionaries who confronted its culture. Europeans who think they see these elements in the immigration they now face cannot be dismissed as racists.

Yes, many of Europe’s new Arab refugees want to just be immigrants, but too many of them are Islamists laden with anti-Western prejudice, agendas and also plans.

Islamist activists from Spain to Sweden see Europe not as a land of economic refuge but as a battleground for a clash of civilizations. The broader population of Muslim immigrants may not be as brazen, but a critical mass of them has no intention to become Europeans. Instead, they create islands of religious triumphalism, political hostility and social wrath.

As Middle East expert Bernard Lewis noted in his 1990 essay “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” Islamists recall medieval Islam’s domination of the world, and are unprepared to accept that era’s passage.

This quest to impose the past on the future, and one faith on the rest, is what makes Islamist terrorists tick, so to speak. When they attack pedestrians in Barcelona, they remember, and are out to restore, the days when Spain was a Muslim land; and when they strike in Paris, Nairobi, or Volgograd, they are out to restore their civilization’s lost status as leader of the world.

That is not what Mexican immigrants have in mind when they cross the border.

“Dreamers,” as all now call the Latino children at the heart of the American immigration debate, is an acronym (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) for Obama’s embattled program, and also an allusion to the historic immigrant’s dream of rebooting his or her life by journeying to the unknown.

The dream is indeed at the heart of any migration, as we Jews know all too well. The problem is when the immigrant is an invader. That’s when one man’s dream becomes another’s nightmare. The problem is even worse when judges confuse invaders with asylum-seekers. That’s how the nightmare migrates to reality.

Trump is sowing hatred where it doesn’t exist; Europe is denying it where it thrives.

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