E.g., 09/19/2014
E.g., 09/19/2014

The Complexities of Immigration: Why Western Countries Struggle with Immigration Politics and Policies

Reports
April 2008

The Complexities of Immigration: Why Western Countries Struggle with Immigration Politics and Policies

Almost 200 million individuals, about 3 percent of the world’s population, live outside the country where they were born, according to United Nations estimates. Over 100 million migrants live in the more developed regions of the world, including nine million in Northern Europe, 22 million in Western Europe and 38 million in the United States. Proportionally, 9 percent of residents in Northern Europe, 12 percent in Western Europe, and 13 percent in the United States are immigrants. If we were to include their children born in these destinations (the so-called second generation), the figures would roughly double. The global number of migrants more than doubled between 1970 and 2002, and the number continues to rise. As international migration flows expand, so do both the benefits and complexities for governments.

The political puzzles that high levels of immigration create may be even more difficult to solve than the economic, cultural, or security puzzles. At any rate, they must take priority, since governments cannot promulgate and implement economic, cultural, and security policies unless sufficient political forces are mustered. Immigrants should also make politics a priority (although they usually do not do so). After all, immigrants will be successfully incorporated into their host countries only after they have enough involvement and influence in decision-making that they can help shape relevant policies. So politics matter — but for reasons we explain below, supporters of various ideologies in very different countries often run into trouble when they consider immigration and immigrants.

Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. The Puzzle of Rising Immigration in Democratic Polities

III. Ideological Conundrums

IV. Policy Choices

V. Conclusion