This summer, while the immigration debate broiled in the U.S., the government of France launched a countrywide crackdown on the Roma, an ethnic group with origins in South Asia or Eastern Europe, that drew criticism from both the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church. And, in a “rare” move, the European Parliament called on France this week to suspend its expulsion of the Roma, accusing French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s government of “targeting Roma as a group” and “ignoring essential European human rights guarantees.”
The total number of Romanian and Bulgarian Roma deported from France so far this year has reached 8,313. The French government has defended its actions by pointing out that the deportations are necessary to combat crime and that they have paid about 300 per expulsion.
However, courts in Lille have stated that many Roma deportation cases “did not meet the legal standard of a real and immediate threat.” A court in Nantes ordered the state to pay damages to the 29 Roma concerned. Critics have described the ramped up expulsions “as part of a drive by Sarkozy to revive his popularity before 2012 elections and divert attention from painful pension reforms and spending cuts.”
The Roma represent the largest ethnic minority group in the European Union and, throughout history, they have been the target of persecution. The immigration debate in Europe is by no means limited to neither the Roma nor to France. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has praised France’s expulsion of Roma as a model to follow and accused the left of wanting an “invasion of foreigners.” Muslim, African, and Latin American immigrants have also been common targets of European xenophobia.
All of this is despite the fact that the European continent’s population is aging so fast that it desperately “needs young newcomers to fill the gaps.” Nonetheless, a survey released this week by the Financial Times found that many Europeans have a negative view of immigration:
Ultimately, during this modern era of globalization, almost every nation — including the U.S. — is grappling with the immigration issue in one way or another. But Europe’s harsh response to the influx of newcomers doesn’t diminish what is happening in Arizona, nor does it make it okay. If anything, immigrant-receiving nations throughout the world are keeping a careful eye on the U.S. to see how the longtime “nation of immigrants” deals with the issue. And rather than adopting the marginalizing policies that have aggravated Europe’s immigration woes, the U.S. would be better off leading the way in building a humane immigration system that’s in tune with today’s modern global economy.