There are plenty of apt and relevant quotes in Paul Scheffer’s account on modern day issues of immigration, but one stands out in particular and seemingly informs the author’s approach to the topic, said by Elspeth Huxley in the mid-’60s: “Immigrants have created few new problems, they have merely underscored those which already perplex our society. In this case, it is a lack of national purpose, or self-confidence.” (320)
Examining European nations and the United States as case studies, Immigrant Nations looks at the issues of immigration not so much from the perspective of those coming in, but from the vantage point of those receiving the influx of migrants. With major cities as focal points, Scheffer argues for a revision of both how we look at our legislative and cultural relationship with immigration by way of revisiting historical precedents as well as considering the profoundly different (more densely populated and globalized) world in which we live today.
Scheffer notes that when Theo Van Gogh was killed on an Amsterdam street in 2004, he was killed by a Dutch citizen. But was the killer really a Dutch citizen, since he was a Muslim of Moroccan descent? The issue here is one of identity and integration, both on the part of the Dutch nation and the Moroccan immigrant. It’s not unique to The Netherlands, but deep seeded in most all European, especially Western European, nations, the results of which can be seen in examples of civil unrest like the banlieues riots of 2005, and the London Riots of 1958. Causality is twofold, in Scheffer’s view: on the one hand it’s the immigrant group’s refusal or inability to integrate itself into its new society (whether because they see their stay as temporary or because they have not learned the language, etc.); and on the other hand it’s the native population’s folly in not effectively including the immigrant group in its fold.
As a solution, Scheffer offers that immigrants give up the “myth of return”, the notion that their stay in France, Britain, Germany or the like, is temporary and will result in a glorious return to their homeland, for they fail to recognize the paradox that the more time they spend in a country as immigrants, the less “immigrant” they become.
To the receiving native population, Scheffer has a bit more to say. First, he takes the reader through a recap of immigration history in Europe and suggests that Europeans revisit this as well to recognize that migration is not solely a 20th century phenomenon (Europe has a long history of migrant workers traversing its internal borders). Secondly, look at past dealings with immigration issues and realize, as is the case with Holland, that “norms are often held out to others as standards to be met without any awareness of just what an uphill struggle it was to establish them, and therefore without any real understanding of their fragility.” (120) In other words, realize that norms have to be set, criteria has to be laid out, a national identity has to be cemented, in order to provide a platform for immigrant groups to latch onto.
Comparatively, the United States, calls itself a “nation of immigrants”, making this central to the image it presents to the world, but Scheffer points out that, historically, immigrants were by no means always welcome. Immigrants, even in a culture that claims to open its doors to all those who wish to live here, were often seen as an “other”, and met with discrimination and exclusion. In speaking of integration, or the long road leading to it, Scheffer makes note of the “lingering shadow of slavery” (237) and the practice of segregation, which is in direct opposition with the principles of inclusion and equal opportunity which the “nation of immigrants” puts forth as a public relations front.
Immigrant Nations is impersonal but informative; it’s educational like a college textbook, with Scheffer’s opinions illuminated and backed by historical and sociological research. His passion for the subject matter shows in the thorough research with which this book is constructed.