Thursday, August 16, 2007

Immigrant integration policy: France and the United States

France is the primary immigrant destination in Western Europe, and the United States has historically been the melting pot of races from all over the world. According to Simon (1998)’s statistical data illustrating the population of immigrants, between the end of World War II and 2000, there were approximately 14 million new immigrants in the United States while France had about 10 million immigrants. In addition, the United States currently has about 24.6 million foreigners while there are 3.6 million foreign born residents in France (Simon, 1998).

The profiles of immigrants are varied – they can be our grandparents, and friends. They come from all over the world for many reasons such as religious persecution, racial tension, poverty and political reasons. Throughout history, immigrants have always had a great impact on a country’s society and its economy that accommodating the influx of new immigrants has been challenging as well. Nonetheless, the integration of immigrants into the society to which they migrate is essential for the future wellbeing of states. In this paper, the focus shall be on explaining various immigrant integration policies in France and the United States which include social interventions in the aspects of education, religion, culture, housing, workforce, social protection in case of immigrant Muslims in France and immigrant Filipinos in the United States. Furthermore, I would argue that that integration policy in France and the United States reflects the ruling government’s fundamental political ideology.


The French revolution began in 1789 and it established a secular state in France. The revolution also established a republican ideal which guaranteed religious freedom and imposed the separation of church and the state. Equal rights for all citizens abolished the formal-legal social hierarchy, which gave citizenships to Jews, notwithstanding providing free public education for all including Muslims in Europe.

As a result of the gains from the fall of the monarchy, the state ensures that the people of France lives within equal rights under the republican ideal. As such, the French government does not provide special considerations in public and private law for different religions or political groups to ensure that equal opportunities are afforded to every citizen.

According to Adrian Favell’s article, Integration Policy and Integration Research in Europe, there are three parts of the integration/assimilation process of the state: public education, military service, and employment.

For many years, the public schools were a key method of integrating immigrants into a society in which the state puts a very high premium on educating the youth regardless of their ethnic, social or religious background.

A second factor that promoted integration was military service during the First World War. Before the war, there were immigrants from various parts of the world who only spoke their ethnic languages, but the French government consolidated ethnic groups together by making them join the military service which helped immigrants to learn French language and republicanism. While most of these groups belonged to their former colonies, it did not preclude the French government from teaching them the cultural system and language of France.

A third factor of integration was employment. Due to the republican and libertarian ideals established by public education and the notion of equal rights, there was limited discrimination in the workplace against ethnic and religious minorities.

According to the Stephanie Giry’s article France and its Muslims, she argues that in France, the large Muslim immigrant community has proven to be problematic. There are approximately 6 million people of Muslim background, who mostly come from Algeria and Morocco and other parts of Middle East. It has been described as problematic because of the perception that Muslim communities are not considered well-integrated into French society. Education levels are often low among Muslims in a backdrop of a pervasive racial discrimination against some Muslims in employment. More so, the French government has refused to grant special privileges to them in public institutions such as disallowing Muslim girls to wear head scarves to class in public schools. (Muslims in Europe)

In France, there are approximately 35 percent of Muslims who are still practicing their Islam faith and religion which has resulted, in creating complex problems between a considerable number of Muslims and the French government. This is due to the strong attachment of Muslims to their traditions and languages, and the existence of government limitations on multiculturalism that precludes the full integration of Muslim people into the ideals of French society.

France is one of the most united of all European states due to its historic successes such as the French Revolution. While the revolution established secularism, the French people have apprehensions that the French “identity” would be diluted by immigrants from all over the world, to the extent that immigrants are often viewed as “others” in France. As a result, multiculturalism as an ideology and as a government policy is not very popular.

Despite the government’s strong belief in its republican ideology, there has been some efforts in French government promoting integration since 2002. First of all, the government appointed new members of public service agencies in 2006 for the further development and evaluation of integration policies which are designed to help facilitate social inclusion and access to employment of immigrants. More so, the National Agency for migration and the welcome of foreign residents (Anaem) was established in 2005 which has been responsible for welcoming migrants, and providing citizenship education and language learning. On the other hand, the French government is placing a high priority on learning the French language as part of its comprehensive integration policy for immigrants, in a backdrop of a changing government attitude towards immigration, as evidenced by its decision in 2004 to create a national museum of immigration history. Lastly, the High Authority to Fight Discrimination and to Promote Equality (Halde) was formed in 2004 which wasdesigned to combat all types of discrimination against immigrants and also promote equality (Major project, French Government Portal).

All of these efforts to promote integration among immigrants in France can be seen as a reflection of the fundamental political ideology carried by the ruling government, notwithstanding the political accommodation that ensues in the balance of political forces at a given time. These changes in French domestic policy on immigration stems, primarily from the radical backlash and violence that ensued in French suburbs a few years back which centered on immigrant issues such as employment opportunities and education access for the immigrant youth. On the other hand, the government of French President Jacques Chirac and Prime Minister Villepin can be viewed as a centrist, even liberal government that is not totally averse to the issue of immigrant integration compared to right and far-right parties who have consistently campaigned for stricter immigration controls by the French government. This kind of ideology is championed, at present, by the leading contender to the French government leadership, right-wing leader Sarkozy, as he vowed to clamp down on illegal immigrants who have flocked from poorer countries, especially Algeria and Morocco, in search of greener pastures in France. On the other hand, the socialist contender for the French presidency, Michele Bachelet, has argued for more openness and understanding of the immigrant question as she continually asserts in her campaign sorties that the immigrant problem is far more complex than simply blaming the illegal immigrants for the loss of jobs of the native French citizens.

In all of these, it is clear that French domestic policy on immigration and integration has a long way to go, especially at a time of global hysteria on Islamic terrorism. However, the question as to whether future policy will turn towards greater multi-culturalism or further immigration control will ultimately be left into the hands of whoever it is that will control the French presidency and the French parliament, including the prevailing ideology the French government will pursue in the future.

United States

More than any other nation on earth, the United States of America has a long history of immigration and even integration policies. Its primordial townships and cities were all a product of European, primarily English, immigration to the New World. On the other hand, the African-American population, were forcibly emigrated from the deserts of Africa to serve as chattel for colonial and American landowners to tend their cotton and corn fields. At present, different kinds of races from the world over has populated the different cities of the US, which includes Chinese, Japanese, Middle Easterns, Hispanics, Malays, and Filipinos. They have entered the US mainland in search for the American Dream, leaving behind their usually poverty-laden countries in pursuit of a better life in the United States. While various races walk about the streets of cosmopolitan areas and even the rural countryside in the US now, this study is particularly interested in the immigration of Filipinos to the United States and the particular integration policy which the US government affords them, because of their home country’s continuing colonial and post-colonial relations with the United States.

The Philippines, unlike the other countries and races mentioned above, is different because it was once the colonial pride of the United States in South East Asia. Even after its nominal independence in 1946, the United States even continued to exert influence in Philippine politics and economy due to several trade agreements signed in the last century, notwithstanding treaty agreement that ensured the continued operation of US bases in the Philippines, including Subic Naval Base which at one time was the largest naval base outside the continental United States. (Constantino, 1987)

As a result, the United States offered many privileges to Filipinos who wanted to flock to the United States in search of a new home and livelihood. According to Migrante International (personal communication, 2007), a non-government organization supporting Filipino migrants abroad, the United States, for the longest time, was very generous in granting citizenships and even green-cards to Filipinos, especially professionals in the field of engineering and healthcare, notwithstanding giving the brightest Philippine military cadets scholarships to prestigious American military academies such as West Point in New York. At present, Filipino nurses, and even doctors, have relentlessly immigrated to the United States, to fill the unceasing demand for foreign nurses, nursing technicians and caregivers in thousands of hospitals in the US. While this immigration of healthcare professionals has been detrimental to the Philippine healthcare system, it has given tens of thousands of previously underpaid Filipino healthcare professionals the opportunity to receive adequate compensation for their work in US hospitals.

The United States government, on the other hand, even if generous in providing citizenships and green-cards to Filipino professionals, have been utterly strict when dealing with illegal Filipino immigrants, in the same manner that Border Patrol agents continuously crack down on illegal Mexican immigrants. According to Migrante International (personal communication, 2007), Filipino illegal immigrants have a very hard time securing employment, usually contenting themselves with odd jobs, as they do not possess the required federal licenses for employment, such as the Green Card, to the extent that these illegals face immediate deportment once found to have overstayed in the United States. Nonetheless, the US government still affords adequate integration measures for legal immigrants to live a normal American life as they have access to free public education and even healthcare services. Being true to the democratic ideal of equal opportunities, no formal-legal discrimination exists between natural-born citizens and naturalized citizens such as Filipino immigrants. More so, the right of Filipino communities to organize themselves and form societies for their benefit, unity and enjoyment is also protected by the US government as part of fundamental democratic rights afforded by the US Constitution. As a result, countless county-, city-, and even state-wide organizations have been set-up by Filipinos to consolidate themselves to be productive force in American society, economy and even politics.

However, the specific issue of US government policies on Filipino immigrants cannot be examined without taking into consideration the current debate on immigration in the United States under the Bush administration. Last year, hundreds of thousands of legal and illegal immigrants from different countries joined a national day of protest in key cities to dramatize their opposition to the proposal of the Bush administration for stricter control measures to curb illegal immigration, especially through dangerous routes across the US-Mexico border. While this elicited intense condemnation and protests from a very large multi-cultural immigrant community, it has also received support from mostly Republican-oriented and conservative Americans who view relentless immigration as an affront to home-grown American values and a further threat to the already pressing unemployment problem. Nonetheless, the Bush proposals and the looming crackdown on illegal immigrants stem, as in France, from the prevailing political ideology pursued by the ruling Bush administration –right-wing neo-conservatism, notwithstanding the general conservative ideology of the Republican Party. Such an ideology, while not entirely averse to immigration per se, would necessarily find ways and means of curbing illegal immigration as it attacks the fundamental interests of their powerful political base – the generally conservative Christian/rural/southern cross-section of the American population. On the other hand, a different immigrant integration policy might ensue if the Democratic Party were to determine such a domestic policy, as the Democrats generally pursue a liberal-center ideology that tends to favor the protection and advancement of the rights and privileges of the country’s growing immigrant population. More so, a big chunk of its political base comes from the immigrant populations in key cities of the United States such that a policy similar to the Republican proposal would definitely be detrimental to its cause.

In all of these, the policy of immigration and integration of the United States, especially with regard to Filipinos, and other races in general, must still be re-assessed and reconfigured if the full integration of immigrants is undertaken as a long-term domestic policy of the US government. The decades of struggle of the American people against racial discrimination might have even helped many immigrants surmount the difficulty in penetrating American culture and society. But it is still up to the US government if it shall decisively pursue multi-culturalism or further constrict immigrant opportunities in the country.

Towards Greater Understanding and Acceptance

The current events that transpired in the United States and France refocused the immigration debate in both countries. While their governments have undertaken different measures to fully integrate the immigrant population to their societies, culture and economy, the tasks of these governments towards this end are not yet over. Sound integration policies of these governments can never be achieved for as long as the prevailing ideologies in these governments consider immigration as a threat to a nation’s economy, culture and values. There can be no greater understanding and acceptance of a very complex issue such as immigration if a direct, or even tacit, disdain for immigration per se exists as part of the prevailing fundamental ideology in ruling governments.

Works Cited:

1. Migrante International. “Filipino Immigration in America.” Email to author. April 11, 2007.

2. Constantino, Renato. A Continuing Past. 1987.

3. Coalition for Comprehensive Immigrant Reform. Principles for Comprehensive Immigrant Reform. Immigrant Solidarity Network. (21 March 2007). 10 April 2007. < Issues&report=SingleArticle&ArticleID=0807>

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