After Norway Attacks, Taking a Sane View on Immigration

Immigration has remained remarkably stable over the last 50 years.


Marcelo M. Suárez-Orozco, founder of the Harvard Immigration Projects, is co-director of Immigration Studies at NYU and co-author of writingimmigrationWriting Immigration, to be published next month by the University of California Press.

Anders Behring Breivik, in the name of ending cannibalism, ate the cannibals.

The butcher of Norway acted with volcanic rage flowing from a worldview that the catastrophic destruction of Europe was imminent. The devil in the details, his extensive Internet postings, weld pre-modern millenarian Christian beliefs—brilliantly identified in Norman Cohn's magnum opus millenThe Pursuit of the Millennium—to post-modern anxieties over global immigration. The "Muslim colonization" of Europe, led by a Fifth Column of immigrants and asylum seekers, aided and abetted by multiculturalist-fellow-travelers and colluding weak-kneed politicians, was poised to destroy pristine Norway unless he acted. Breivik's European Declaration of Independence lists a series of demands, above all, that "immigration in whatever form should be immediately and completely halted, and that our authorities take a long break from mass immigration in general until such a time when law and order has been reestablished in our major cities." The manifesto and the monstrous agency it spawned will be read and reread for clues as to how one of the brightest jewels in Europe's crown, Norway, also gave the world the Breivikfication of immigration.

[See political cartoons on immigration.]

This irrational fear of immigration does not align with the facts. Immigration has remained remarkably stable over the last 50 years—with approximately 3.0 to 3.2 percent of the world's population as international migrants. Norway, which sent to America some 522,000 immigrants over a century ago, is paradigmatic of the status quo. Over the course of 150 years, it has experienced a tiny net migration gain. Today it has approximately 550,000 immigrants—half of them originating in Europe, with Poles and Swedes leading the way. Norway has a small Muslim population (roughly a quarter of its immigrants). Immigration's stability is remarkable. It trumps the dire predictions forecasting the uncontainable movement of people emanating from the so called "population explosion" in the global South, climatic catastrophes and deepening environmental degradation, and growing global income differentials. While the potential for immigration continues to grow, the reality of international immigration remains quite stable, with over 96 percent of all human beings living in the countries where they were born.

If immigration has been stable, it has also been terribly mismanaged. In this, Europe is not alone. The United States, the iconic country of immigration, now has the largest number of illegal immigrants in the world—the equivalent of entire populations of Denmark and Switzerland combined. In Europe, at best, in the unanimous chorus of Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Nicolas Sarkozy, and Prime Minister David Cameron, there is "failed multiculturalism." At worst, there is Breivik's European Declaration of Independence.

[Read Obama's four ways forward on immigration.]

Over the last three generations, Europe and America have entered into a bad faith agreement: mass migration with eyes wide shut. Most claims in the public sphere for or against immigration have been formulaic, underwhelming, and lack the seriousness the magnitude of this human dilemma demands. There has been no serious public debate on the purposes of immigration on either side of the Atlantic. Our research shows that public focus on immigration is episodic, crisis driven, and person-centered. There is no sense of history or of the structures in place that both stimulate and thwart migration. Europeans sleep walked into what most now see as an immigration nightmare without even the most banal sense of what, exactly, mass migration would entail. The guest worker programs of the 1950s and '60s were the lowest of the low hanging fruit policy-wise, entered for superficial reasons as short-term temporary fixes. It turns out that there is nothing is more permanent than temporary guest workers. For over 25 years now, it has been obvious to researchers, if not to the political class, that integration, not immigration had become the elephant in the room. But integration, beyond "multi-culti" platitudes, was never really given a chance. Beyond demanding the Muslims give up the veil and stop arranged marriages, nobody seemed to grasp that integration is a two-way street, bringing immigrants and native citizens alike into a cleared-eyed view that theirs is a shared fate in a changing world. At the First International Conference on Globalization and Integration, which I hosted in Scandinavia with the support of the Riksbankens Jubileumsfond, the most unsettling paper was by Norway's leading anthropologist of immigration, Unni Wikan. She concluded, grimly, "Western European governments in general, the Scandinavian ones in particular have failed dismally regarding integration."