I began to understand the importance of comprehensive immigration reform not in interactions with immigrant communities in the USA, with whom I had little contact despite living in a farming community, but in studying abroad in France and traveling across Europe. In France, I took sociology and history classes that touched on the social impact of migration of maghrébins (North Africans primarily from Algeria but also Morocco and Tunisia)--- a particularly salient issue as there have been riots in these ethnic communities that have received national attention (in 2005 mostly, but this is not new or over--- watch the film La Haine [Hate] for an artistic exploration of this social dynamic). I spoke with my host family and other French people about Islam and immigration. And I began to see how across Western Europe, immigration is a hot button issue--- from the insanity of the border security in the UK (I stood in line once as the only white person in a long line of brown men in Heathrow for "random" security checks--- I was the evidence that they were supposedly not racially profiling), to the debates over whether or not Turkey should be admitted into the European Union, to learning about Turkish immigration to Germany and initial attempts to prevent Muslims from becoming citizens. In October 2008, one of my best friends, a Bosnian woman (so a woman from the "other" Europe and a Muslim---read: not white enough), was supposed to come visit me but her ticket was revoked when it turned out she needed a visa in order to land in Germany twice (she had two layovers in Germany and would have spent a grand total of two hours in the country). So I began to study the insanity of xenophobia (fear of the foreign) in my own country (you can check out some of my reflections here).
The news today turned me back to the mess that is xenophobia in Europe. Last month, French president Nicholas Sarkozy announced mass deportations of Roma immigrants (more commonly, though derogatorily, known as gypsies--- for more of an explanation check out the Slate article called "Why do the Roma wander?").
"Hey, hey Sarkozy why don't you like the gypsies?" (VAMA feat. Ralflo's "Sarkozy versus Gypsy")
This is nothing new, of course: Italy, for example, declared a state of emergency in 2008 "due to the presence of Roma" and, let's not forget, during the Holocaust, the Nazis exterminated 220,000 Roma in its attempt to "purify the race."
And, for the French government, such despicably racist and xenophobic policies are nothing new. They are forever trying to ban the veil and blaming young men of color for everything wrong in the world. Last September, police invaded and dismantled a migrant camp in Calais. This event has stuck with me these past months because I have often wondered where those families went and what it was like to live through such a traumatic experience of loss.
Thursday and Friday, French police began the ethnic cleansing* program, resulting in the removal of some 700 people and a dismantling of 40 Roma camps, according to the BBC. Robert A. Kushen, executive director of the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre, pointed out in an interview for the New York Times that "Mass expulsions based on ethnicity violate European Union law...and the failure of France to do individual assessments of each case--- as opposed to cursory examinations of papers by the police--- also violates European Union rules." Sound familiar?
If that does not sound familiar what about this story from the UK's The Guardian:
Although [an unnamed 27-year-old Romaian man] has lived in Marseille since he was child, he still has no papers, and cannot get a job. "This discrimination will not go away. France has become the opposite of liberty, equality and fraternity," he said. Asked about any friends and acquaintances among the 1040 people to have gone home "voluntarily" from Marseille to their native countries since January last year, he said he doubted they would have gone happily. "Even in Romania you had discrimination," he remembered. "No one wants us. There is no place for us. Not in Romania, and not in France."
I read these articles and am constantly reminded of the stories of refugees denied asylum in the USA, of immigrants who arrive in the USA as children and know nothing of their "home countries" and yet are deported, of USAmerican politicians who are attempting to overturn the fourteenth amendment to deny citizenship to USAmerican-born children of immigrants. Xenophobia is not exclusive to the USA, which is something we must remember as we are fighting for comprehensive immigration reform in our own country. The reason for the French government's stance on immigration is an appeal to the populist vote--- much like the increase secure-the-border furor in the USA. This is a problem across the world--- and not just in the global North: in South Africa, for example, there have been violent attacks against immigrant communities. While we do need to focus on policy and reforming immigration law step by step in the USA, we need to be thinking globally of how we can create a world in which we welcome strangers rather than demonizing them.
The title of this blog, comes from a quote in a New York Times piece from Ioan Lingurar.
* I know a lot of activists reject using the term ethnic cleansing when talking about Arizona's SB1070 and other anti-immigrant policies because its connection to the Bosnian genocide such a term brings with it. I am not suggesting that we forget that the term ethnic cleansing served as a euphemism for genocide. However, I am asking that we look at the definition of ethnic cleansing--- the forced removal of an ethnic group from a geographical area--- and use the weight of the term to name the reality of anti-immigration policies like France's.
**Matthew 25: 34-36,40, The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation, Priests for Equality (Sheed and Ward 2007).
UPDATED November 9, 2010 with the "Sarkozy versus Gypsy" song.
Shannon is a seminarian at Drew Theological School. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.