Also posted on LinkedIn
It has been a very turbulent time for politics in the U.S. and Europe. As a political scientist who studies immigration and the radical right, it has been a particularly busy time following developments in electoral politics. From Brexit, to the various elections in Europe that saw gains by populist radical right parties, there has been great speculation about the impact of immigration on politics
I recently attended the American Political Science Association conference in Boston followed by the UACES annual conference in Bath, England, where I had been invited to give the Annual Journal of Common Market Studies Lecture. The topics I focused on in both conferences are at the top of the headlines these days, immigration, populism and the radical right, as well as antidiscrimination policy.
With images of children in cages, separated from their parents, and would-be migrants floating on overloaded boats in the Mediterranean becoming fixtures in the news media, politicians are struggling to find solutions to the ongoing issues related to migrant flows. Immigration has become a flashpoint not only in the U.S., but it has also had an impact on the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom, led to instability in Angela Merkel’s government in Germany, and has influenced the rise of populist parties across Europe. Since I began studying the politics of immigration in the 1990s, it is difficult to think of a time that the issue has had more of an impact on politics. Many studies have shown that recent voting behavior in the U.S. and Europe has been tied to racism and xenophobia. This will continue to be a challenge to democratic values as “white” populations become the minority amidst demographic change.
For example, France is celebrating a World Cup football win with a team that is dominated by French citizens of immigrant background, many of them Muslims. For many years, France has had an ongoing debate about citizenship, Islam, and immigration policy. France has banned the wearing of the burka in public places and has passed many restrictive immigration and integration policies over the years, including civic integration policies (initially introduced in the Netherlands) requiring language and civic education classes for those applying for citizenship, new arrivals and for those applying for visas from other countries. France’s National Front party (recently changing its name to the Rassemblement Populaire) has called for putting a complete stop to immigration and has used strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric in their campaigns. Although they have not come close to becoming part of Government, they have only recently begun to win seats in the French legislature and have also been winning seats in regional and local elections.
There is an overall trend toward more restrictions on immigration in recent years, but it is significant that the trend has focused specifically on racial and ethnic minorities. This is an issue that will continue to have high salience in the political arena, particularly as populist politicians focus on the issue and gain influence in both the U.S. and Europe. Whether this more restrictive trend will continue will depend on the electoral influence of both those wanting to restrict immigration and those more inclined to support more expansive policies, including recent immigrants.