Richard Reeves

The Immigrant Paradox in Europe

LONDON -- Europeans have a problem with immigrants that is so obvious and simple, and so difficult, that it can be reduced to one of the oldest of cliches: They can't live with them and they can't live without them.

The short days of glory of Jean-Marie Le Pen, considered a neo-Nazi by many in France for his ultra-nationalist views, and the assassination of Pim Fortuyn, who was thriving politically by saying that the Netherlands was "full up" and must close its doors to outsiders, dramatized the problems caused by Asians and Africans trying to find a better life by moving to the relative riches of the north -- and now by immigrants from the former Soviet Union and its satellites. But less dramatic contradictions, attitudes and statistics in Great Britain tell the story in a few words and numbers.

-- The Office of National Statistics last week showed that the average level of births in the country is 1.64 per woman. In other words, merry old England is disappearing. Population is declining, and that will continue, particularly the young native (white, that is) population. The people in Britain having children are immigrants, legal and illegal, particularly Muslims from the old colonies of South Asia and North Africa.

-- More than 200,000 foreigners have sought asylum in Britain during the past five years. The countries they are coming from right now are Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka. A total of 38,495 of those applications have been approved, but 130,000 rejected applicants have "gone missing," and the presumption is that they are still someplace in England. There are enough of them (and they are young enough) that, for the first time, the country's Department of Education and Skills is turning primary schools over to religious groups. Public schools in Berkshire are the first to be transformed into single-religion schools, one for Muslims only, one for Sikhs only.

-- The British minister for Europe, Peter Hain, has caused an uproar by saying that a good part of Britain's immigration turmoil is caused by Muslims who are and are taught to be "very isolationist." In other words, they are refusing to become British, at least as the British define "British." Hain has responded to attacks from most all sides in what is a true national debate by saying: "It's really important that we have an honest debate on immigration and asylum. What we need is more honesty."

-- In January, the government instituted a "Highly Skilled Migrant Programme," which for the first time in 30 years would allow legal immigration of foreigners who do not have relatives or job offers in the British Isles. Britain needs doctors and engineers and such to "replace" the British who have not been born as the birthrate continues to decline. There are fewer and fewer natives available to do the skilled work of an advanced society, and that need is not met, at least in one generation, by poor and poorly educated young men sneaking into the country and earning enough to survive by cleaning toilets and picking fruit and flowers for sale on this green island.

The situation was summed up last weekend by an editorial in The Sunday Telegraph, a generally conservative journal, which ended an editorial titled "People of Low Birth" -- England has no shortage of clever writers -- by saying:

"A society with a declining birthrate presents its politicians with a no less pressing requirement: to import appropriately qualified migrants who can settle here, generate growth, pay taxes, and subsidize the welfare system rather than drain it. There is nothing to fear from ethnic and cultural diversity of this kind. On the contrary: It is the best option open to a country whose most affluent and talented members seem least willing to reproduce."

That's the point reached by editorialists reacting to yesterday's news. Today's news, as reported in the same day's Sunday Times, was a feature on "Asylum Alley," actually Folkstone Road in Dover, where illegal immigrants from Eastern European countries and former Soviet republics have begun to congregate after getting to England by hiding on freight trains that use the "Chunnel," the new rail tunnel connecting France and England.

Estimates for net migration into Great Britain are now in the 150,000-a-year range. Some the British want; most they don't. They have a new cliche now for what they want, but they have not yet figured out what it means or how to do it. The new cliche here and on the continent is "immigrant management."

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