New US National Security Advisor John Bolton Chairs a Website that Spreads Disinformation About Migration

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump announced on Twitter that he would be replacing National Security Advisor Lt. General H.R. McMaster with John Bolton, an attorney and former US representative to the United Nations (2005-2006). While Bolton has had a long and varied career that he describes on the website of his political action committee, he fails to mention there the role that we at Migration Voter find most interesting, as the chair of a website that been successful in spreading false and misleading information about migrants in Europe, the Gatestone Institute.

On Gatestone’s website, John Bolton is described as the “Chairman” of the site, a role he has occupied since 2013, when it was announced by Gatestone Founder and President Nina Rosenwald. (Rosenwald is an active philanthropist who has been described by The Nation and The Intercept as one of the chief financiers of the anti-Muslim movement.) At the time Bolton commented, “I am privileged to be a part of an organization that provides vital information and analysis on a daily basis to address the critical issues facing the United States and all freedom-loving people in a dangerous world.” Since then he has been an active contributor to the site, penning pieces such as “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First” and “How to Get out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.” Gatestone confirmed today that Bolton is still chairman with a press release congratulating him on his new position and stating that his appointment “is great for America, great for its allies and great for the free world.”

Spreading Fear and Confusion

The website spends a great deal of time commenting on America’s allies and its idea of a free world, and their view is rather frightening. Articles like, “Sweden: Rape Capital of the West“, “Germany’s Migrant Rape Crises Continues Unabated“, “France: Toward Total Submission to Islam, Destruction of Free Speech“, “Is the United Kingdom an Islamist Colony?” are filled with inaccuracies and confusing, baseless claims designed to link migrants, particularly Muslim migrants, to sex crime and societal problems. For instance:

  • In the article linked above on Sweden, the authors suggest that Sweden’s rape rate is mainly owed to a “mass influx” of immigrants from the Middle East, but then admit that reports on rape statistics do “not touch on the background of the rapists.”
  • The article on Germany relies heavily on statements that many sex crimes in Germany are unreported or unsolved- a claim that may be true, but bears no plausible relation to alleging the culprits must be migrants.
  • In the article about France, the author claims that opponents of Islam are fiercely prosecuted while “hate-filled, racist organizations are never touched”- and yet government statistics show hundreds of criminal cases brought against people for anti-Semitic hate speech, statements “apologizing for terrorism” and anti-Christian hate crime (among others.)

Using poorly constructed arguments that rely on conflating statistics, anecdotal evidence and logical fallacies to spread misinformation, Gatestone has managed to become prominent, cited by anti-immigrant sources from Breitbart to white nationalist terrorist Anders Breivik, who killed 77 people in the 2011 Norway Attacks. (Breivik quoted a Norwegian Gatestone blogger, “Fjordman” aka Peder Jensen, over a hundred times in his terrorist manifesto.)

Links to the European Far Right

The website also hosts thinkers with deep connections to Europe’s far-right anti-immigrant vanguard. For instance, David Horowitz, whose foundation the David Horowitz Freedom Center frequently comments on Gatestone, came under fire in California for possibly violating IRS rules by donating election funds to Geert Wilders’ far-right People’s Party (PVV) in the Netherlands. According to The Intercept:

Records posted by the Dutch interior ministry show that in 2014 and 2015 the Freedom Center provided multiple donations totaling 126,354 euros — approximately $134,000 — to the “Stichting Vrienden van de PVV,” or the Friends of the PVV Foundation, the fundraising arm of the party.

As described in last year’s election manifesto, Geert Wilders’ PVV platform includes withdrawing from the European Union, banning migration of Muslim people to the Netherlands, accepting zero refugees and banning the Koran.

What does Bolton think?

Bolton fails to mention the chairmanship position he has held at the Gatestone Institute since 2013 on either his political action committee biography, his twitter biography, or his biography at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is a Senior Fellow. Will he pursue an agenda in line with Gatestone’s distorted anti-migrant, anti-Muslim worldview in his new position advising the US president? For an administration that has made opposition to migration one of its hallmarks, it seems unlikely Bolton will not add more fuel to the fire.

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Sources and Further Reading
President Donald Trump announcement on Twitter, March 22, 2018
Meet John Bolton, BoltonPAC.com
The Sugar Mama of Anti-Muslim Hate, Max Blumenthal, The Nation, 2012
Her father championed Jewish refugees. She finances the anti-Muslim refugee movement. Lee Fang, The Intercept, 2017.
Breivik’s political idol Fjordman emerges from anonymity VG Nyheter, 2011
One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre In Norway, Åsne Seierstad, 2013
California Non-Profit May Have Violated Tax Law by Donating to Anti-Muslim, Far Right Candidate, Lee Fang, The Intercept, 2017
Where do the Dutch Parties Stand on Refugees? MV
Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, https://bit.ly/2FYi0c5 (CC BY-SA 2.0)
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Where the Italian Parties Stand on Immigration and Asylum

Italians will head to the polls today to vote for parliament in an election that is as anticipated by the rest of the world as it seems dreaded by Italians. The election will be the first test of a new election law meant to provide for more proportional representation, which combines “first past the post” (or “winner takes all”) voting for 36% of seats with proportional representation for the rest. This, in combination with a high number of undecided voters, has made the results very difficult to even guess at.

Another feature of the new law is special rules for pre-formed coalitions. The threshold for an individual party to enter parliament is 3%, while pre-formed coalitions must reach 10% of the vote. While higher, the threshold favors small parties who link up with others to form a super-group, who may not have made it into parliament on their own.

The main person to take advantage of the new arrangement is a familiar figure hoping for a comeback: Silvio Berlusconi, who is technically barred from serving as prime minister until 2019 due to charges stemming from his last term. His center-right/ far right Forza Italia coalition is edging others out in the polls, followed by the populist Five Star Movement (running as a stand-alone party), whose political platform was unusually created and voted for online.

The ideas Italian parties present on migration mainly do not deviate much from the rest of Europe. The main difference is that the harsh idea of mass deportations for undocumented individuals, while impractical and likely illegal, have a better than usual chance of moving out of the far-right fringe and into mainstream discourse because of their presence on the program of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia as well as its composing parties.

We’ve taken a look at the programs of the top parties to see what could await migration policy in Italy.


The Five Star Movement (Movimento Cinque Stelle

Beppe Grillo

Five Star’s candidate for prime minister, former comedian Beppe Grillo. (Image http://bit.ly/2tjxe5A via Giovanni Favia on Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0))

“Stop the Business of Immigration”

  • An end to the Dublin regulation and automatic redistribution of people seeking asylum via quota to other European countries.

  • Cut back on corruption in the territorial commissions in charge of asylum processes

  • Up aid and ban weapons sales to the global south.

Five Star’s jointly written program on immigration is harshly critical of past parties’ handling of the migration issue, saying that it has been used to distract from the responsibility of the state, blame the EU as a wicked “stepmother”, and treat immigrants as the other, “a social enemy to be fought.” In the meantime, they describe an overwhelmed asylum system, where a backlog means asylum claims take an average of 18 months to process and EU funds to help end up being dispersed in obscure ways, “permeable to infiltration by organized crime.” Against this backdrop the movement prescribes a mixed-bag of solutions, highlighting calls for more transparency in Italy and more solidarity from Europe.

They propose that evaluation of asylum claims be handled by embassies in the countries of origin and transit, with help from the EU, UNHCR, and IOM. They call for obligatory and automatic distribution of asylum seekers to various member states, and to override the Dublin system to allow this to happen. In addition, they would install multiple bilateral agreements with other countries to help smooth the possibility for people to return to their countries voluntarily if their asylum claims are rejected (“voluntary repatriation.”). The weakness of such a plan is that it will require the EU to take action- something a domestic party would only have nominal influence over.

They suggest that territorial commissions (CIE) in charge of asylum processes should receive more employees so they can carry out their work more effectively. Also, asylum interviews should be videotaped. Making these commissions work more effectively will reduce the pull of organized crime, Five Star says, but it should also be standard to install timely reporting measures on funds, and to publish budgets publicly to further cut down corruption and enhance transparency.

Finally, Five Star wants to stop the sale of weapons to conflict zones, and amp up efforts to reach Italy’s commitments for foreign development aid: 7% of the GDP.


Democratic Party (Partito Democratico)

Matteo Renzi

Matteo Renzio, former prime minister and leader of the center-left Democratic Party (Image via Flickr http://bit.ly/2CXPHE9 (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

“There is no better answer than the facts.”

  • An end to the Dublin regulation and automatic redistribution of people seeking asylum via quota to other European countries.

  • Withhold aid from EU member states that do not participate in redistribution schemes

  • Expand citizenship rights for children born and raised in Italy

The Democratic Party is the party currently holding power, that was thrown into disarray when former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi stepped down following a failed constitutional reform. Typically for incumbents, their electoral platform seeks to highlight what they have already achieved in tandem with staking out what they will do next. They are running in a pre-formed coalition with Civica Popolare, Insieme (center left/ Greens) and Più Europa (a pro-European party.)

When it comes to migration, the PD sets very high, even frightening, stakes (perhaps aiming to counter the fearful rhetoric on the right). They note that concerns about immigration are not necessarily driven by racism but the current situation is nevertheless driven by fake news and xenophobia and can lead to “bloody” consequences, as has been seen in the past in Nazi Germany, wartime Yugoslavia and Italy itself under dictator Benito Mussolini. However, for fears and misinformation “there is no better answer than the facts.” Migration must be managed, not stopped.

The PD notes that arrivals to Italy are down (33%) and that with the so-called Minniti agreement struck between Rome’s Interior Minister and the UN-backed government in Libya they have created “humanitarian corridors” that allow verified refugees to travel risk-free to Europe, while sending non-refugees back. (However, this agreement has been heavily criticized, particularly for confining people to conditions in Libya that range from unsanitary to deadly.) This plan would continue, combined with a long-awaited reform of the Dublin regulation and implementation of an automatic redistribution scheme, wherein people arriving to seek asylum would be sent to other countries throughout Europe to have their claims processed (a so-called “quota system”.) As noted above, the weakness with these policies is that they are highly reliant on agreement from the other member states, and remain highly controversial (especially among the Visegrad group.) One proposal stands out though: the PD says they would advocate “solidarity” in Europe by withholding Italian aid from states that refuse to help manage migration. Its not clear whether they can do this, but such an idea has been proposed before, notably by Germany’s Martin Schulz.

In short, the PD would continue in the same direction: advocating for a higher European share in managing migration flows to Italy, relying on a shaky repatriation agreement with Libya, and following their obligations to process asylum claims of those who make it to Italy.

Additionally, the PD wants to approve a new citizenship law that would grant a right to citizenship for children born and raised in Italy.


Italian Force (Forza Italia)

Antonio Tajani

Antonio Tajani, former European Parliament president and Forza Italia’s candidate for prime minister. (Image via EPP on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2tgHYBl CC by 2.0)

“Restore Control”

  • Marshall Plan for Africa

  • End landings on Italian shores (to “zero”)

  • Mass deportations of people with undocumented status using bilateral agreements with home countries

The Forza Italia coalition is the Silvio Berlusconi backed pre-formed coalition containing far and center-right parties. In their one-page program on immigration, they keep it brief and a more than a little fuzzy.

Since Berlusconi left office and the “Left” has been in control, there have been “biblical waves” of immigration, they say. (While immigration to Italy has certainly increased in the last years, the idea that this is related to Berlusconi’s departure is spurious to say the least.) In order to bring an end to this situation, Forza offers a brief package. First, they would support a so-called “Marshall Plan for Africa,” referring to mass investment that would give sufficient resources to North African governments that would somehow result in lower immigration. (It would appear this idea is gaining European traction: the same idea has been floated Austria’s center-left Social Democratic SPÖ as well as by Germany’s center-right Christian Democrats CDU.)

Second, they would block migrant departures and bring illegal landings to zero (they do not elaborate how.) Third, they would immediately repatriate illegal migrants using bilateral agreements with the individuals’ home countries. And fourth, they would develop a plan for real and sustainable integration. Again, they don’t elaborate further. But this general program is in line with other European center-left parties with the exception of one point: the highly impractical and partially unlawful idea of arranging mass deportations.


Northern League (Lega Nord)

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini, leader of the far-right Northern League (Image via flickr, http://bit.ly/2oGojWL (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0))

 “Africa doesn’t fit in Italy”

  • Build new regional identification and expulsion centers (CIE) and transfer more powers over immigration to the municipal level

  • Mandatory detention of migrants for first six months, longer for individuals lacking identification papers

  • Simplify possibility of revoking refugee status and deny status to individuals destined to require high levels of state assistance

  • Mass deportations of people with undocumented status using bilateral agreements with home countries

  • Make process for acquiring citizenship more difficult and subjective.

The far-right Northern League is in a coalition with several other parties (Forza Italia) backed by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, but they have their own electoral program centered on the localization of immigration management and easing deportation of undocumented people. Their policies, though sometimes mysterious in their aims, are clearer and more limited than the average far-right party, with strategies that appear to aim at making life in Italy uncomfortable for foreigners.

The League proposes that multiple new Identification and Expulsion Centers (“CIE”) are opened in different regions (currently there are four) to ensure faster expulsion. They would have migrants remain in detention for at least six months, and also note that detention would be mandatory for anyone lacking identification papers. Control over identification and expulsion, as well as over issuing residence permits, would be transferred to regional and municipal authorities, and data on such matters would be shared with the police.

The League wants insofar as possible to prevent people from seeking asylum in Italy. They would achieve this through the US of off-site reception centers in “safe countries” such as Libya and Tunisia, although they later note that Libya is a war and propose hosting a peace conference for the state parties, and suggest (mysteriously) enlisting the cooperation of Russia to secure agreements with different Libyan factions.

The League would make multiple new rules affecting individual people seeking asylum. For one, they would simplify the process for revoking refugee status and also expand the reasons for why it may be revoked to include crimes such as drug dealing and occupation of buildings. They would also enable the possibility of canceling benefits for individuals who fail to comply with rules in reception centers. Moreover, new budget constraints would ensure that individuals destined to be on 100% disability in Italy would not be admitted to the country. (This is likely an unlawful reason for excluding someone seeking asylum- the Refugee Convention allows for states to exclude refugees who have committed war crimes or crimes against humanity, but not based on their potential costs to the state. See Art. 1(F) of the Refugee Convention.)

Other people who have migrated to Italy would also be treated more toughly. Non-EU citizens would banned from receiving welfare benefits, and the possibility (which currently exists) for migrants to get identity cards in Italy would be revoked. The process for getting Italian citizenship would also be tougher, requiring a subjective evaluation of an applicant’s “overall integration” into Italy.

 


Sources and Further Reading
Law 3 November 2017, Official Gazette of Italy
Women Dominate Italy’s Army of Undecided Voters, Financial Times, March 2018
Immigration Program of the Five Star Movement [Italian] (PDF) Five Star Web Site
Taking Care of People – Theme of PD Program [Italian] Democratic Party Website
Italian PM Renzi Resigns After Election Defeat, The Guardian, December 2016
The European Union’s Immigration Agreement with Libya- Out of Sight Out of Mind? Delphine Nakache and Jessica Losier, E-International Relations, July 2017
Democratic Party Platform 2018 [Italian] Democratic Party Website
Electoral Program [Italian], Forza Italia
Forza Italia Brochure: Security [Italian] [PDF]
Electoral Program Lega Nord 2018 [PDF] [Italian]
Header Image “Italia” by Stefano Corso on Flickr: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) http://bit.ly/2F7IWFN

Why Germany’s Plan to Fight Anti-Semitism through Expelling Immigrants Doesn’t Add Up

Early in January the deputy chairman of the Bundestag’s center-right CDU/CSU fraction, Stephan Harbath, announced a new proposal to counter rising anti-Semitism in Germany. Slated to be released in time for Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27th, he told Die Welt that it would allow for the expulsion of migrants who express an anti-Semitic worldview. He emphasized that the law was especially targeted at migrants from Africa and the Middle East. 

“We must also resolutely oppose the anti-Semitism of migrants with an Arab background and from African countries.” – Stephan Habarth, CDU/CSU

The final resolution, passed by the Bundestag in mid-January with support from all parties except for Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Die LINKE, lays out a range of new measures meant to fight the alleged rise of anti-Semitism, including the appointment of a new minister responsible for anti-Semitism (Antisemitismusbeauftragte/n) to coordinate activities across the different ministries and states. While the resolution points out that anti-Semitism can come from different backgrounds, it also highlights that it has “a special breeding ground” in Africa and the Middle East, which would seem to be a reference to the people who have immigrated from those regions to Germany in the last few years. The resolution thus, in number six, calls for a strengthening of the ability to expel immigrants on the basis of anti-Semitism.

German states should “ensure that the possibilities of § 54 (1) no. 5 of the Residence Act are consistently applied to foreigners who call for anti-Semitic hatred. It is the will of the German Bundestag to counter the call for hatred against sections of the population and the endangerment of peaceful coexistence by intellectual arsonists early on by classifying this behavior as a particularly serious expulsion interest.”

In other words, the Bundestag is calling on states to expel non-German individuals if they incite anti-Semitic hatred. Can they do that? Let’s take a closer look at the provision being referred to.

Expulsion for Incitement: Is that legal?

Rather than proposing a new law, the Bundestag is calling for an expanded interpretation of current law, specifically, a provision of the Residence Act.


Section 54 (1) (5)

There shall be a particularly serious public interest in expelling the foreigner […] where the foreigner incites others to hatred against sections of the population; this shall be assumed to be the case where he or she exerts a targeted and permanent influence on other persons in order to incite or increase hatred against members of certain ethnic groups or religions, or he or she publicly, in a meeting or by disseminating writings in a manner which is suited to disturbing public safety and law and order,

  1. a) incites others to undertake arbitrary measures against sections of the population,
  2. b) maliciously disparages sections of the population and thus attacks the human dignity of others or
  3. c) endorses or promotes crimes against peace, against humanity, war crimes or acts of terrorism of comparable severity,

unless the foreigner recognizably and credibly distances himself or herself from his or her actions.


The language of this act is vague. For instance, what does “targeted and permanent” mean? What would constitute “credible distance”? And most importantly, why hasn’t this law already been used for anti-Semitic incitement, since nothing in the law as it is written rules that out?

A review of the case law on section 54(1)(5) makes two things clear: 1) This law has almost exclusively been used to expel people on basis of suspicion of “Islamist terrorism” and 2) the standards for expulsion are quite high.

All of the cases we reviewed related to expulsions of individuals on suspicion that they were members of a terrorist group from their own home country. (See, for instance, here, here, here). These suspicions were often based on their associations with other alleged members, their having donated money to alleged terrorist causes, or possession of materials related to a terrorist group. Often, German courts found this type of evidence was not enough to warrant expulsion.

German courts have repeatedly held that expulsion can only be justified by facts that support a “high probability” that the person is “present danger”. Past membership in a group, past statements, and previous behavior are only indicators in so far that meet this burden. A person who has since distanced him/herself or cut off contacts with the group in question effectively counters the suspicion of present danger.

Also worth noting: There is no case where an individual’s statements were enough to have them expelled (and one showing that statements were not enough). The use of 54(1)(5) seems obvious to officials only in the context of membership in a dangerous group constituting a current threat of violence. It’s difficult to imagine how this can be applied to an individual based on anti-Semitic statements views or speech, although it can’t be ruled out.

There have been instances in the past of terror groups with an anti-Semitic worldview  committing violence and murder in Germany, but the members could not possibly have been subject to expulsion because they were German nationals (see, for example, the 2011 case of the National Socialist Underground, a neo-nazi terror group who murdered ten People of Color and migrants).

In fact, the vast majority of illegal anti-Semitic acts in Germany appear to be committed by German nationals with inspired by a right-wing worldview.

Anti-Semitic Crime and Migration: No Convincing Connection

The German Federal Office for Protection of the Constitution (Verfassungschutz) collects statistics on anti-Semitic crimes in Germany. These are divided into several different categories (that deserve more critical attention another time):

  • right-wing
  • left-wing
  • “foreigner”
  • “various”

These are further divided into criminal offenses and violent offenses. The first might refer to anti-Semitic graffiti or attacks on property, the second to violent hate crimes (such as assault).

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 11.13.46 AM

As the above chart from the Ministry of Interior‘s expert report on anti-Semitism shows,  the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes since 2001 have been committed by right-wing motivated individuals. In 2001, right-wing motivated anti-Semitic crime accounted for 96% of all cases, by 2015, the percentage was 91% (however, the number of overall crimes had also fallen by 18%). According to information recently obtained from a Bundestag inquiry from Petra Pau, a politician from Die LINKE,  2017 saw a total of 1,453 anti-Semitic crimes, with 95% committed with right wing motivation. This represents an uptick from 2015, but is still down from 2001. However, at 95% the share of right-wing motivated activity also has increased, inching closer to 2001 levels. 

Anti-Semitic Crime

Source: German Interior Ministry

The exception to this trend of anti-Semitic crime being totally dominated by the right-wing is the year 2014, when an unusual number (11%) of the anti-Semitic crimes were committed with “foreign motivation”. In that same year, there was a brief 30 day war in Israel. It seems overwhelmingly likely that the number of “foreign-motivated” crimes in that year were related to this event.

In contrast, in 2015, the year where Germany experienced the highest year of net migration in its history with a total of 1.1 million people, anti-Semitic crime went down, and the percentage of right-wing motivated anti-Semitic crime jumped from 83% to 91%, continuing to rise to the present day even as total numbers of crime remain relatively stable. 

One might conclude from these numbers that the greatest threat of anti-Semitic incitement and violence has continuously been and remains the far right, who has maintained their grip on the overwhelming majority of anti-Semitic crimes throughout a period where the migrant population to Germany increased by several million people, many from the countries the CDU/CSU accused of being “special breeding grounds” for anti-Semitism. With easy access to government information documenting these trends, why would the CDU/CSU think that anti-Semitic hatred is effectively fought by focusing on immigrants?

An Appeal to AfD Voters?

As we have demonstrated, the numbers simply do not support an argument that there is an increasing risk of anti-Semitic crime originating from migrants or people with “migration background”. So why did the CDU decide to focus on this population with their press statements, declaration and resolution?

It’s not entirely clear, but one hypothesis worth considering is that the CDU/CSU is attempting to appeal to voters they may have lost to the far-right AfD in the last election. The AfD program is highly pro-Israel (despite having numerous members accused of  Holocaust revisionism) opposed to the BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanctions) movement, and of course, deeply opposed to migration from the Middle East and Africa, as well as to equal rights for German Muslims. By taking a position that casts blame for anti-Semitic hatred onto non-Germans and suggesting that exclusion of people from Middle East and Africa is a way to protect Jews, the CDU/CSU embraces a worldview that is common to the populist far right.

As our research shows, this view appears deeply misguided. The law the Bundestag wants to expand seems very unlikely to result in the successful expulsion of individuals on the basis of their anti-Semitic views. And given that the vast majority of anti-Semitic crime is committed by German nationals with right-wing motivation, this law targets the absolute wrong demographic to show a serious interest in battling anti-Semitism.

In the absence of an alternative explanation, it would appear that the CDU/CSU is taking the occasion of Holocaust Remembrance Day as an opportunity to push an, at best, symbolic legal solution that falsely demonizes minorities in order to win back right-wing voters. If this is the case, it’s a cynical move that negates rather than remembers the lessons of the Holocaust. 

 

Sources and Further Reading
Anti-Semitism: Union wants to expel Jew-haters (German), Welt,  January 2018
Resolution of the CDU/CSU, FDP, Greens, and SPD: Decidedly Fighting Against Anti-Semitism (German) [PDF] Bundestag, 19th Voting Period.
German Residence Act, Section 54
Ten Murders, Three Nazis, and Germany’s Moment of Reckoning, Jacob Kushner, Foreign Policy.
Anti-Semitism in Germany: Current Developments (German) [PDF], Independent Expert Committee on Anti-Semitism, Ministry of Interior, April 2017 )
Response to Inquiry from Petra Pau, (German) [PDF], From PetraPau.de, February 2018
Immigration and net immigration peaked in 2015, De Statis, Statistisches Bundesamt
Georg Pazderski: No tolerance for anti-Semitism (German) Press Release, Alternative Fuer Deutschland website
Header Image: BMVI on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2EE1mNd (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

Can the Czech Runoff Election Impact the Country’s Stance on Migration?

On Friday and Saturday, voters will head to the polls in the Czech Republic for a presidential runoff vote between incumbent Miloš Zeman and his competitor, Jiří Drahoš. The polls are very close, with Czeska Televisa 24 / MF Dnes reporting a slight lead for Drahos with 47 percent of the vote to Zeman’s 43 percent, with ten percent still undecided.

In Czech, the president appoints the prime minister, making this vote more than a referendum on Zeman’s past performance. Waiting in the wings is billionaire populist and recently elected Prime Minister Andrej Babiš of the ANO (“Yes”) party, who has endorsed Zeman and expects his support if he wins in forming a government. A vote for Zeman then is a vote for Babiš, who is under investigation by Czech authorities for decades-old corruption charges related to EU subsidy fraud, charges which he denies. Whether this association is an advantage or a liability will only become clear this weekend.

As we have explained previously, the immigration debate in the Czech Republic is extremely tilted towards immigration restrictionist views, with nearly all parties and political figures united in their opposition to accepting asylum seekers as part of the EU’s proposed quota distribution system, and politicians making outspoken remarks against migrants from Muslim majority countries. Both Babis and Zeman have in the past made remarks characterizing people who migrate or seek asylum as dangerous threats to Czech citizens, with Zeman comparing Muslims in general to Nazis and warning of a “super-Holocaust” during an interview with the Guardian in 2016. Such violent rhetoric has been accompanied by a rise in hate speech and an antagonistic environment for minorities. (Given that there are very few accepted refugees in the country, threats and attacks have rather been aimed at minority groups such as Roma and groups who show support for refugees, according to Amnesty International.)  In addition, Zeman is an important figure in the Visegrad Group, the club of countries (with Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary) that have strongly opposed EU distribution of people seeking asylum.

But where does his opponent Drahoš stand, and would a win for him be an opening for a change in the country’s stance on migration?

Drahoš, formerly the president of the Czech Academy of Sciences, lays out his stance on refugees on his website, where it is second on his list of “frequently asked questions“. He states, “As a scientist, I am used to finding solutions to problems and I believe that even the refugee crisis has its solution.” This would consist of the following steps, according to Drahoš:

  • Strengthen secret services to help identify people entering the EU and offer assistance to Italy,
  • Invest in measures to improve the living conditions in countries people are currently fleeing from,
  • Distinguish between “real” refugees and people who are seeking welfare benefits, who he ideally would not let in at all,
  • Terrorism is not a reason for excluding refugees and can be combatted, but we must fight against the erosion of our values and standards,
  • Migrants should be interviewed at European borders to determine whether they are willing to embrace European norms and values.

In short, Drahoš embraces a center-right stance on asylum, a view that on the surface has much in common with other mainstream parties in Europe, such as Mark Rutte’s VVD in the Netherlands. These proposals also largely match the solutions stated by the Visegrad group. The “V4” also calls for aid packages to incentivize people to stay in their home countries and for better distinction between what they refer to as “economic migrants” and refugees. Drahoš’ policy proposals fit squarely in, with the exception that he does not outright oppose quotas (at least here), but rather argues that forcing people to stay in a country they to which they did not intend to immigrate violates the principle of freedom of movement, a creative argument that somewhat avoids the question.

His proposals also enter familiar territory for the center-right immigration stance: ideas that sound tough but end up flirting with illegality or impossibility. For instance, pre-selecting between “real” refugees and others, “ideally” outside of the borders is an idea frequently floated but in violation of the ground principals of the 1951 Refugee Convention and other laws and treaties. Namely, individuals have a right to leave their own country, to enter a country to ask for asylum and to have their claims evaluated while they remain in the country. Sending them back to a country where they potentially face persecution or preventing them from entering before evaluating their claim risks violating binding international and European law. (We have pointed this out repeatedly in response to similar proposals by the Front National and the Tories.)

Further, conducting interviews to ascertain whether individuals adhere to “European values” is perhaps not illegal but highly unrealistic. What are “European values”? How is asking someone to adhere to European values different or better than holding them to follow the law? How can you square the requirement to hold a certain set of beliefs in order to enter with the European legal concept of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights article nine?

These policies differ from Zeman not so much in substance as in style. While Zeman has run a “non-campaign” and has not proposed concrete policies, he has made his opposition to migrants, and especially people from Muslim majority countries, well-known. In an interview with Večernje Novosti in 2017, he repeated his typical war-like language to describe migrants and Muslims more generally:

“…[I]t is said that in Africa, at least several million people are ready to migrate to Europe. Because they are mostly Muslims whose culture is incompatible with European culture, I do not believe in the ability to assimilate them. 

By the way, when you look at the history of Europe, it was actually a constant war with Muslims. And I think that Serbia has experienced it, among other things, in Kosovo’s field.” 

These comments don’t elucidate much in the way of policy recommendations and do not differentiate between migrants who are Muslim or citizens of Europe who are Muslim. In either case, he is suggesting that they do not belong because of their religious affiliation and should be viewed as a hostile enemy, as the Ottoman military forces were in Kosovo in 1389, but he does not promote any policy proposals to exclude them. It is rhetoric that promotes fear and enmity without directing it anywhere concrete- perhaps because policies that exclude or discriminate on the basis of religious belief violate numerous European laws and do not stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The fact is, even with a incomplete or unrealistic immigration policy, Drahoš presents an alternative to rhetoric that relies on fears from back in the Middle Ages. The policies he promotes do not suggest a major departure for the Czech Republic’s stance on refugees and migrants, but they do take a risk in actually spelling out ideas that can be subjected to debate. As the President of Czech does not legislate, his stance on the refugee issue is mainly symbolic. But for voters, its a question of a leader who sounds like other mainstream European leaders, or one who sounds like he is expecting all-out war against a religious minority.

 

Sources and Further Reading
The latest poll for the election favors Drahos, a tenth of voters still hesitate, [Czech] Czeska Televiza, Jan. 22, 2018
ANO supports Zeman for President, Babis for Prime Minister, [CzechNovinky (also linked to on official ANO website), Jan. 22, 2018
If I wanted to hide something, I would have stayed in the shadows, [Czech] Andrej Babis’ blog in iDnez.cz, Feb. 2016
Milos Zeman: the hardline Czech leader fanning hostility to refugees, The Guardian, Sept. 2016
Facebook has a problem with death threats in the Czech Republic, Vice News, Nov. 2017
Czech Republic 2016/2017, Amnesty International Report
Frequently Asked Questions, [Czech], JiriDrahos.cz (campaign website)
Guide to Article Nine: Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion, [pdf] Council of Europe
Interview of the President of the Republic for Večernje Novosti, [Czech], Reprinted on the President’s website, http://www.zemanmilos.cz
Header image: Via Ivan Centes on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2neIdqB (CC BY-NC 2.0)

“Fake News” and Elections: How did disinformation campaigns come to focus on immigration? Part One: USA 2016

With numerous new studies investigating the impact of false and misleading news on election campaigns, it seems taken for granted that a majority of the false or misleading information relates to immigration. In a new research series, Migration Voter asks why the topic of immigration became central for those wishing to sway campaigns and referendums, looking at the USA, Britain, France and Germany. 

Online manipulation and disinformation tactics”

The US-based democracy watchdog Freedom House released their yearly study investigating freedom on the internet this week, Freedom of the Net 2017. This edition evaluated 65 countries on a range of indicators, including state restriction of internet access and attacks on independent media, but one finding really stood out for us at Migration Voter:

“Online manipulation and disinformation tactics played an important role in elections in at least 18 countries over the past year, including the United States.” Freedom House

The study discusses numerous forms of “online manipulation and disinformation” in the lead up to elections: completely fabricated news stories about the parties or candidates, bots and fake accounts retweeting and amplifying campaign messages,  and accounts with no discernable side simply sowing chaos and confusion.

But in many of the countries, the disinformation or manipulation focused heavily on one topic: immigration.

Although Freedom House and others studying this phenomenon seem to take it for granted, the power of immigration-related propaganda to shape elections is not a forgone conclusion. It would be equally plausible to focus on individual-driven scandals, the economy, corruption, or even divisive social issues like abortion or gay marriage, as elections have done in the past. So why the sudden shift, and why such a massive shift?

In this series we’ll be evaluating the new information available from Freedom House and numerous other sources to explore the following question: when trying to influence elections, why did foreign and domestic sources believe that focusing on immigration was their strongest bet?

United States

Examining the exit polls from the 2016 presidential election, one could only conclude that immigration was one of the top issues in the United States. 64% of people who voted for Republican candidate Donald Trump identified immigration as their biggest concern, more than any other subject on either side of the political divide. (Terrorism was the second biggest issue concerning people who voted for Trump.) Asked what should happen to “working illegal immigrants,” 84% of people who voted for Trump called for them to be deported. And 86% agreed with the proposition of building a wall along the US border with Mexico. People who voted for Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, generally opposed both mass deportations and the construction of a wall, while identifying “foreign policy” as the most important issue.

For someone concern about and opposed to immigration, it would be reasonable to vote for Donald Trump, who centered immigration policy starting literally day one of his campaign, calling for restricting immigration from Mexico and linking Mexican immigrants with crime.

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best …They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump

He went on throughout his campaign to continuously highlight immigration- both lawful and unlawful, promising if elected to ban Muslims from lawfully entering the US, “build the wall,” end funding for sanctuary cities, and deport immigrants with criminal records (see how he fared on these campaign promises during his first 100 days here).

So did Donald Trump successfully align himself with voters’ already existent wishes on immigration? In other words, did he tap into a growing anti-immigrant sentiment? Or did he successfully persuade voters to think about immigration first and foremost when heading to the polls?

From Economy to Immigration

Looking back four years at 2012, exit polls show that immigration did not make it into the top four issues in the Presidential Election- for either side. Instead, Republican voters prioritized the deficit as the overall most important issue, with the economy ( which is obviously very related) coming in second.  On a second question about the economy, people who voted for Mitt Romney identified taxes as the most important economic issue and prices as the second- both concerns that have the potential to be affected more by domestic policy-makers than by immigration.

Capture

Exit polls from 2012, via CNN

In the years between the 2012 and 2016 election, migration from Mexico continued to decrease, continuing a downward trend that had started in 2004. Immigration from China and India increased, but the overall percentage of the US population that hailed from abroad rose modestly from 13% in 2013 to 13.5% in 2015- only 3.5% more than in 1850, when data is first available. At the same time, the Obama administration deported record numbers of people who came to the US irregularly, well over 2 million people.

Also during this period, popular opinion shifted: according to Gallup, who periodically polls Americans on the “most important problem” facing the country, fewer and fewer people identified the economy as the most important issue facing the United States.

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Via Gallup.

To summarize, in the time between the 2012 and 2016 election, immigration did not dramatically increase,  Mexican immigration to the US decreased, and record numbers of people were deported. It would appear that, more than tapping into frustration based on surges of immigrants or other observable facts, Trump’s campaign was successfully able to persuade a large number of voters that immigration was at the center of their frustrations, not the economy.

But Trump’s campaign had lots of help.

Fake News and Bots

By now, numerous studies have demonstrated that large amounts of the content surrounding the election, both real and fake (“real”, as in, arising from real people and websites, and “fake” as in, arising from concealed organizations pretending to be citizens or interest groups) focused heavily on immigration.

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Image via Slate:

Following Trump’s election, both the US media and Congressional investigatory committees have been heavily focusing on uncovering Russia’s attempt to influence the US election in favor of Donald Trump. So far this influence appears to have played out heavily over social media. Testifying before the US Senate, Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch said Facebook learned that a set of “coordinated, inauthentic accounts” had spread 80,000 pieces of content using paid ads between January 2015 and August 2017, reaching an estimated 11.7 million people directly, and perhaps 126 million people indirectly through shares, a number that is over one-third of the US population. The content covered a range of issues, including, Stretch notes, immigration.

Immigration Russia Facebook Ad 2016 Election

A sample facebook ad paid for by a Kremlin-backed group, according to the House Select Committee on Intelligence.

But Kremlin-backed groups also published free, “un-boosted” posts, and these may have had an even wider reach. Jonathan Albright, research director at Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism, made public his data demonstrating that the reach could have been much higher than estimated by Facebook, especially considering the views of images on Facebook-owned Instagram. The unpaid posts were often lengthy diatribes containing odd wording or mistakes (“Now wait to see how many more states will also ban the so-called ‘refugees’ – more appropriately to call them ILLEGALS.”)

But regardless of the exact numbers of people reach (or influenced) by Russian created content, the influence coming from inside of the United States also tended towards discussing immigration negatively.

The Breitbart Effect

Hyperpartisan media outlets and social media users continued to flourish online and affect the visibility of and attention paid to more balanced sources of news and informationFreedom House

A study cited by Freedom House argues that, more than Russian influence, one “hyper-partisan” media outlet had an outsized impact on the outcome of the election by dragging the conversation of the mainstream media towards both Trump and the topic of immigration: Breitbart News.

The study, conducted jointly by researchers from Harvard and MIT, examined over a million stories published between April 2015 and election day, showing that Breitbart and a related network of conservative media outlets set a tone for the election that successfully influenced coverage from the mainstream media of both presidential candidates Trump and Clinton. For Clinton, this translated to covering scandals such as her emails, and for Trump, this largely translated to covering one of Trump’s primary campaign themes: immigration. By partway through the campaign, the number one word polled voters associated with Hillary Clinton was “email” and for Donald Trump, “immigration.”

While mainstream media coverage was often critical, it nonetheless revolved around the agenda that the right-wing media sphere set: immigration. Right-wing media, in turn, framed immigration in terms of terror, crime, and Islam, as a review of Breitbart and other right-wing media stories about immigration most widely shared on social media exhibits. Immigration is the key topic around which Trump and Breitbart found common cause; just as Trump made this a focal point for his campaign, Breitbart devoted disproportionate attention to the topic.  – Benkler et al in Columbia Journalism Review

The chart below demonstrates just how prominent the theme of immigration was for Breitbart, based on the articles sampled.

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Proportion of Media Coverage Focusing on Immigration by Source – via Benkler, et al, Columbia Journalism Review

Numerous of the articles published on Breitbart contained information about migration that was false, misleading or simply confusing, combined with alarmist, eye-grabbing headlines. For instance, from August 2015, “Unchecked Immigration Greater Threat to US Than ISIS” was an opinion piece that borders on incoherence:

“Americans need to understand that too many legal immigrants from one region, country, or ethnicity which is opposes our historical norms cripples our country’s ability to have a future that stays faithful to our past.”

Another example from August 2015, “Mainstream: Polls Show Americans With Donald Trump on Immigration,” misleadingly stated that a majority of Americans backed Trump’s restrictive immigration measures, using as evidence a poll conducted by Trump campaign advisor Kelly Anne Conway and a poll that surveyed only Republican voters as prime examples.

In another example, Breitbart published in June 2016 this scandalous piece by former congressman Tom Tancredo, “Obama invites 18.7 million immigrants to avoid oath of allegiance, pledge to defend America,” claiming that then-President Obama had unilaterally exempted naturalized citizens from pledging to bear arms, a claim very far from the truth and apparently meant to frighten readers about gun rights, immigrant loyalty, and the motives of the Democratic president.

Why lie?

The combination of Kremlin-backed accounts spreading frightening falsehoods and memes about immigrants with Breitbart’s misleading alarmist invective provided a backdrop that reinforced and spread Trump’s messaging about immigration, touting his proposals (many of which have been impractical to enact) as the only solutions for America’s most urgent issue (according to them). In short, there is ample evidence for the sort of manipulation and disinformation spread during the US election campaign cited by Freedom House and many others. But it still doesn’t tell us why so much of that misinformation was about immigration.

What does it mean that both Kremlin-backed sources and the Conservative/ Far Right media led by Breitbart focused so heavily on misleading immigration-related stories? Were they sincerely concerned with representing the voices of Americans opposed to immigration? Were they attempting to help the Republicans by moving the national conversation to an arena they felt Democrats were weak on?

Both motivations are difficult to accept from the Russian side. What incentive would the Kremlin have to either amplify the concerns of any sub-section of US citizens, or to attempt to highlight policy differences between the two parties? As for Breitbart, the website had focused on immigration prior to both the election and to Donald Trump’s primary win, before which it was still possible that Republicans would lead a traditional campaign focusing on security and the economy. Moreover, it would seem unnecessary to conflate facts, lie and mislead about immigration if Breitbart sincerely wanted to highlight a real political movement.

So what was the real motivation? It seems to us that Breitbart, Trump and the Kremlin all recognized the power of activating a divisive issue like immigration and fueling fear and uncertainty with false and misleading information. As a wedge against both centrist Republicans and Democrats, it could prove capable of making Trump stand out from opponents on both sides with a clearly defined problem and a simple, clear-cut solution. After the primaries, it could be used to move the conversation away from complex areas like foreign policy or the economy, and on to a topic Democrats would be reluctant to engage with but the media would be forced to report on. They knew that such a strategy could bring fringe groups with unusual, even radical views into the mainstream, where they could force real changes that most politicians would have previously been unwilling to touch.

They didn’t just hope, they knew. Because they had just watched the exact same tactic work in the UK.

 

NEXT in our series: The Brexit Referendum in the UK 


and Further Reading
Freedom of the Net 2017, Freedom House, Nov. 2017
Exit Polls of 2016 US Presidential Election, Published by The New York Times, collected by a consortium including ABC News, The Associated Press, CBSNews, CNN, Fox News and NBC News.
Exit Polls of the 2012 US Presidential Election, Published by CNN
Trump Calls Mexicans Rapists (video clip), Youtube
In Historic Shift, New Migration Flows from Mexico Fall Below Those from China and India, Migration Policy Institute, May 2015.
Frequently requested statistics on immigrants and immigration in the United States, Migration Policy Institute, Feb. 2015
Gallup News: Most Important Problem, Gallup, Accessed Nov. 2017
What we know about the Russians’ use of Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Slate, Oct. 2017
Testimony of Colin Stretch, Facebook General Counsel. US Senate Judiciary Committee on Crimes and Terrorism, October 2017.
Sample Kremlin-Backed ads, Democrat House Select Committee on Intelligence
Study: Breitbart-led right-wing media ecosystem altered broader media agenda. Benkler et al, Columbia Journalism Review, October 2017.
Oath Creeper, Snopes.com,
Header Image via KellyBDC on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2hv3EB6, (CC by 2.0)

 

“Rutte III” promises restrictive changes to Dutch asylum system

A record 209 days after their parliamentary elections, four Dutch parties have formed a coalition for a majority government that will lead by a single seat. Mark Rutte‘s center-right VVD, Democrats D66, Christian Democrats CDA, and the conservative Christian Union (CU) have hammered out a fragile accord that will lead the Netherlands into the so-called “Rutte III” era. Coalition talks initially included the environmental leftists Groenlinks, but talks broke down over a single issue: migration.

Now, thanks to a leaked version of the coalition agreement from AD.NL, we are able to see the consensus reached by the parties on migration and gain some insight into why Groenlinks may have found it so problematic. (Refresh your memory on the parties’ stances here.)

The coalition agreement sets out that the parties want to maintain a “recognizable Netherlands” that preserves and promotes Dutch traditions and customs. At the same time, the parties agree to introduce new limits and restrictions on immigration and asylum, and to pursue “a much stricter approach to Jihadism.” What will this look like in practice? Here are some highlights, found in the section about migration, asylum and integration (pages 50-55).

Make it more difficult for people who receive asylum to stay in the Netherlands

The parties would limit the number of times an applicant can apply for asylum or appeal a rejected asylum claim. Succesful applicants would be entitled to stay three, instead of the previous five years. After three years, authorities would seek to determine whether it would be possible for the person to return to the country they fled, and if not the person would be able to receive an additional two years protection. At five years, they would be eligible for an indefinite residence permit. By inserting a new hurdle at the three year mark, the government can possibly prevent more people who receive asylum from making it to a more permanent form of residency.

A two-track procedure for asylum claims

The agreement proposes that people seeking asylum from the Netherlands be divided into two groups during an initial evaluation. People who appear to have a good chance of receiving asylum would go to a smaller facility in the municipality they would eventually be housed in, and start right away on language classes. People who are deemed to have less chance will be housed in larger facilities, where their rejection will lead to immediate deportation.

Limit access to welfare for people seeking asylum and make integration mandatory

In order to ensure that people become “self-sufficient,” the agreement proposes that funds for healthcare, rent or welfare are no longer distributed directly to people who receive asylum themselves, but instead to the municipalities who shelter them to dole out, at least for the first two years. Following a test period, people may be able to enter the labour market exit this scenario.

People receiving protecting are expected to start language classes on day 1 and to eventually reach level B2 (formerly A2), and the state will pay for the courses. “Integration is a duty,” the parties write, and people who fail to integrate may lose their immigration status or fail to get a better status or more permanent residency. Aside from learning the Dutch language, integration also means respecting laws and equality, as well as finding employment.

Tougher crackdown on “jihadism”

An additional 13 million euros is allocated to counter-terrorism activities, especially, the agreement notes, for combatting “hate preachers.” The parties propose that new legislation is drafted to ensure that returnees to the Netherlands from conflict zones can be detained upon arrival to be investigated for their possible participation in acts of terrorism. In addition, the parties want more careful monitoring of asylum seekers to mark individuals as possible war criminals.

A shift to the right

If the leaked version becomes the official coalition agreement, it will clearly represent a shift to the right on migration policies in the Netherlands. VVD did not get its way on everything – for instance, they called for refugees to finance their own mandatory language classes- but in many ways this set of new policies is a win for those who oppose migration. It is clear that for Groenlinks this entire program was a no-go. They had called for equality between Dutch and asylum seekers on the job market, the right to state assistance for rejected asylum seekers, and other less restrictive policies. Left democrats D66 may have opposed some many of these changes, but had called during their campaign for smaller numbers of asylum seekers in order to focus on integration- and smaller numbers may well be the result of these policies once enacted.

 


Sources and Further Reading
Green Light for Coalition, (in Dutch), De Telegraaf , Oct. 2017
“Confidence in the Future” Governing Agreement [PDF] [in Dutch], Leaked by Ad.nl Oct. 2017
Dutch Coalition Agreement 2017- Migration & Integration (EN) [PDF] Poorly translated version of Migration Section
Header Image: Mark Rutte by Arno Mikkor on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2kMyfib (CC BY 2.0)

Austrian Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

By Klaudia Wegschaider

In a few days, on October 15, Austria will elect its new parliament. And unlike in the recent German election, it is uncertain who will be the next Chancellor and which parties will form the future governing coalition. Currently, Austria is headed by a coalition between the Social Democratic Party and the People’s Party. In the run-up to the election, however, disputes between these two parties have risen due to an imbroglio involving a well-known negative campaign manager and several leaked documents. The likelihood of another coalition between the two parties thus appears to be decreasing. Instead, the populist Freedom Party may gain further relevance after this election.

In the meantime, it is worth taking a look at what the party manifestos say on migration, integration and asylum. Similar to many other countries, migration has been one of the key topics in the public debates in the run-up to the election.

Social Democrats (Sozialdemokratische Partei Österreich, SPÖ)

Integration requires a limit on migration

Here’s the link to the SPÖ manifesto.

With a page count of more than 200, this is the second longest manifesto. Relevant for this post are two chapters — on integration and on migration.

The chapter on integration starts off by stating that the number of refugee arrivals has to be “reduced to a level that makes integration possible.” To specify this level, the chapter references the annual limit on refugee arrivals that the Austrian government passed since 2015 (37.500 per year). Integration – as envisioned by this manifesto – is a combination of rights and duties. Among those duties is the mandatory integration year for asylum seekers and refugees (Integrationsjahr). During this year, participants receive integration counselling, qualification checks, language and skills training, job application support, and more.

The manifesto then turns to several targeted approaches to foster integration. For example, the party stresses the importance of special programmes for asylum seekers and refugees who are no longer of regular school-age. Apart from proposing new programmes, the manifesto also draws attention to existing initiatives in need of more support – such as programmes aimed at preventing radicalisation as well as all forms of extremism.

The chapter on migration carries the title “migration with a sense of proportion” and the sub-heading reads “humanitarian, solidary, consequent.” After outlining the current challenges, the manifesto briefly delves into seven steps: (1) A clear plan for a cooperation with West African countries is needed. (2) The EU should invest in a Marshall-Plan for North Africa to strengthen local development. (3) The EU needs to protect its external borders. (4)  A joint European asylum system ought to be developed. (5) Information campaigns need to reach out to migrants in countries of origin and transit. (6) Refugees whose claims are granted should then be relocated within the EU. (7) Those whose claims are rejected need to return to their countries of origin. To this end, further return agreements at the EU level are needed. The manifesto calls for a new position at the EU level to speed up this negotiation process.

Summary of main positions:

  • Asylum arrivals have to be reduced to a level that makes integration possible
  • Faster asylum procedures
  • Special programmes for asylum seekers and refugees who are older than regular school-age
  • General reform of the EU asylum system needed
  • Marshall-Plan for North Africa
  • Need for more return agreements between the EU and countries of origin

People’s Party (Liste Sebastian Kurz, die neue Volkspartei, ÖVP)

Promising to halt illegal migration

The ÖVP manifesto was released in three parts. Here’s are the links to part one, part two, and part three.

This three-part manifesto is by far the longest. The first mention of the word migration is on page 46 and talks of rising social costs due to illegal migration. The manifesto then states that a change in migration policy could in the long-term save Austria up to 1.5 billion euros (a time frame is not mentioned).

One chapter elaborates on the importance of development aid to ease the migration pressure. The manifesto promises to almost double the budget of the Austrian Development Agency to 155 million euros by 2021. However, if a country of origin is not cooperative in facilitating return, then development aid would be cut.

The second part of the manifesto takes a closer look at integration. Children whose German skills are deemed insufficient ought to have access to and take special German classes. In addition, more teachers with a so-called “migration background” are needed to offer further support for those children.

The final part promises a “return to the top” by halting “illegal migration.” Those who are rescued at sea, for example, are to be brought to “rescue centers” outside of Europe. Those who reach Europe and are in need of protection are to be brought to “protection centers” outside the territory of the European Union.

Parallel to that, the manifesto proposes two legal pathways: First, some of the most vulnerable are to be resettled to Austria from refugee camps abroad. This ought to happen in close cooperation with UNHCR, IOM and the European Asylum Support Office. Second, the existing points system ought to be improved so that skilled workers needed by the Austrian labour market have the chance to immigrate.

Summary of main positions:

  • Increase spending on development and cut aid transfers for countries that do not facilitate return of rejected asylum seekers
  • Faster asylum procedures
  • German language support for children
  • Halt to illegal migration
  • Demand-based immigration of skilled workers

Freedom Party (Freiheitliche Partei Österreichs, FPÖ)

Rejecting all forms of migration

Here’s the link to the FPÖ manifesto.

The Freedom Party places the principle of fairness at the center of its campaign. Throughout its manifesto, the party speaks of a “fairness crisis” and implies a division between “us” and “them.” For example, a brief look at the table of contents shows that each of the 25 sections in the manifesto starts with the pronoun “our.” The emphasis on the pronoun “our” is lost in translation, but the headings are nonetheless telling: “1. Protecting our borders — Austria is not a country of immigration.” “2. Protecting our sovereignty and self-determination.” “Guarding our culture, values and traditions” … etc.

The central FPÖ demand is unequivocal: “For the time being, the FPÖ rejects all forms of immigration due to the migration waves in the recent past.” In the following sentence, the party acknowledges the right to asylum of all people who are persecuted due to their race, religion, or political beliefs. However, this right to asylum in Austria is only granted if the claimant did not reach Austria by traveling through a safe third country (note: Austria is a landlocked country and surrounded by safe third countries). In addition, the FPÖ promises to eliminate all financial incentives for claiming asylum in Austria — by cutting social spending and by switching to non-cash benefits.

The manifesto has much less to say on integration. There appears to be no section that addresses the challenge of integration explicitly. Instead, the following calls are included in the manifesto: Chapter 1 clearly states the FPÖ does not see Islam as a part of Austria. Chapter 8 calls for a restrictive limit on the proportion of foreign students in school in order “not to jeopardise the success of the Austrian children.”

Summary of main positions:

  • Rejection of all forms of immigration
  • Asylum only for those who did not arrive through a safe third country
  • Rejection of Islam as a part of Austria
  • Replacing monetary support with benefits in kind (for asylum seekers)
  • Limits on the proportion of foreign students in schools

Greens (Die Grünen)

Solutions at the EU level

Here’s the link to the manifesto of the Green Party.

The manifesto of the Green Party counts 64 pages and is filled with bare text, no pictures. This makes the manifest of the Greens stand out at first sight because all other parties extensively rely on visual material in their manifestos.

Migration features several times in the manifesto and often in relation to the European Union. Indeed, one of the central positions is that “actions taken by single states are not real solutions.” Thus, the European Union “requires a joint and harmonised immigration system.”

Just what exactly would this look like? The Greens focus on creating safe and legal pathways. For those who seek to study or work in Austria, there should be a system in place that selects candidates based on qualifications, language skills, age as well as additional integration factors. For those in need of protection, the Greens advocate for the reintroduction of the Botschaftsasyl, i.e. the possibility to claim asylum at embassies of EU member states. For asylum seekers that have already reached Europe, the Greens propose that they first stay at a joint initial reception center (Erstaufnahmezentrum) before being relocated to one of the 28 member states.

Integration is seen as “a key for social cohesion.” The manifesto goes on to mention the importance of language courses, the recognition of qualifications, education as well as coordination between the different levels of government. Among the more detailed policy proposals are the introduction of “Austria-for-Newcomers”-courses as well as initiatives on the equality between men and women, both aimed for refugees.

In addition, the Greens seek to enhance participation options for non-citizens. For example, the Greens call for the right to vote at the local level not only for EU citizens (which already exists), but also for third country nationals (after an undefined length of stay). At the same time, the Greens stress the importance of anti-racism initiatives and acknowledge the work by volunteers who stand up for refugees.

Summary of main positions:

  • Criteria-based selection system for those seeking to study or work in Austria
  • Reintroduction of the option of filing an asylum claim abroad at embassies
  • Joint initial reception centres for asylum seekers that arrived on EU territory
  • Relocation of refugees within the European Union among all 28 member states
  • Speedy and affordable access to language courses
  • Passing of a law that would ease the recognition of qualifications
  • Introduction of the right to vote for third country nationals at the local level (after several years of living in Austria)

NEOS 

Searching for a coherent policy approach

Here’s the link to the manifesto of the Neos.

The NEOS manifesto sees solutions neither in “left-wing dreams” nor in “right-wing hatred.” It then goes on to list a few specific measures. First, it promises a more coherent approach to integration. To achieve this, the party envisions a new department focussed on integration. Its responsibilities would span from kindergarten to labour market entry.

Second, the manifesto calls for faster and more efficient asylum procedures. To this end, they set a time frame of 180 days for a decision on an individual’s asylum case. Persons fleeing from war immediately ought to have the chance to apply for subsidiary protection — a status valid for a certain time. (Instead of first having their application for refugee status denied and then being considered for subsidiary status.) Those applying for asylum would have the duty to reside in their assigned town or city for as long as they are dependent on social spending (Residenzpflicht).

While a positive asylum decision ought to come with support for the integration process, a negative decision is grounds for immediate deportation. Therefore, NEOS seek to negotiate binding return agreements with the relevant countries of origin. In exchange, these countries would see their development aid significantly increased.

In the European context, the party reaffirms the importance of the free movement of people for EU citizens. At the same time, the manifesto states that countries unwilling to take part in the “alliance of responsibility” with regard to refugee migration no longer ought to reap the benefits of the Schengen area.

Summary of main positions:

  • Found a department dedicated to integration, developing solutions from kindergarten age to entry to the labour market
  • Faster and more efficient asylum procedures
  • Option to immediately apply for subsidiary protection
  • Binding return agreements with countries of origin
  • Requirement for asylum seekers to live in their assigned town
  • Benefits of Schengen area only for those who share responsibility within the EU

A note on the parties covered: This post only covers five of the 16 parties standing for election on 15 October 2017. Selected were only those parties that are already represented in the parliament. The order is based on the result of the last national election in 2013. Omissions of relevant sections and simplifications are possible, but not intended. For a complete picture, please see the linked manifestos.


*About the author: Klaudia Wegschaider graduated with an MSc in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford, where she focused on the intersection of migration and democracy. She now works for an independent German foundation and volunteers for the Oxford Monitor of Forced Migration. Klaudia is not affiliated with any political party.


Sources and further reading:
SPÖ Consultant Silberstein organized a right-wing Facebook page [in German], Profil, Sept. 2017
Austria’s Election Has Been Upended Over A Shady Meme-Posting Facebook Page, Buzzfeed, Oct. 2017
Campaign Platforms [all in German]
SPÖ: Plan for Austria: The Program for prosperity, security and good mood
ÖVP: Part 1: New Fairness and ResponsibilityPart 2: Awakening and prosperityPart 3: Order and Safety
FPÖ: Austrians Deserve Fairness
Die Grünen: This is Green
NEOS: The future manifesto for a new Austria 
Header Image: Austrian Parliament via SPÖ-Parlamentsklub  on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2gC1mQA (CC BY-ND 2.0)

 

 

 

AfD’s American Model

By Christina Lee

Results from yesterday’s parliamentary elections in Germany are in, and they could spell big changes for the future direction of migration policy in Germany. Although the dissolution of the Grand coalition between the CDU and SPD, as well as the re-entrance of neo-liberal FDP into the Bundestag will certainly have a major impact, the story of the evening for people interested in migration is the success of the anti-immigration Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party, who arrive in parliament for the very first time as the third strongest party with close to 13% of the vote.

This is a major achievement for the young party, which started in 2013 as a Euroskeptic, neo-liberal party and has shifted to making opposition to immigration, diversity, and people who are Muslim the focus of their campaign (our summary of their manifesto can be found here). While many are explaining the party’s success as a backlash to the status quo or as a sign that German society is moving to the right on the issue of migration, we at Migration Voter are equally convinced that the AfD has managed to harness some very powerful methods for gaining and keeping public attention, tricks that they learned by following the success of the right-wing political movement in the United States.

Trump-style Publicity

During the election campaign, the AfD stood out very markedly from their peers by their confrontative and combative style. On their webpage and in social media marketing blasted on facebook and twitter they urged Germans to “take their country back” and depicted the CDU’s Merkel in a burqa or measuring “ordinary” Germans against refugees (and weighing refugees more). They used vibrant, jokey ads mocking Islam and multiculturalism while highlighting women and children, and moved away from the more sober and alarming advertisements they used in the last election, exhorting voters against the Euro and warning of Germany’s imminent destruction.

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As the Spiegel revealed, their “meme”- based social media strategy was likely influenced by their engagement of the US-based PR firm Harris Media, a group that formerly worked on the election campaigns of US Republican Donald Trump and the British anti-immigrant, Euroskeptic party UKIP. As the company touts on its homepage, their founder has been called “the man who invented the Republican internet’ and has been involved in campaigns in favor of fracking and natural gas and opposed to Syrian refugees and solar energy.

The shift towards lighter, meme-worthy advertisements coincided with a press strategy that seemed aimed at garnering any attention, even negative. Like Trump during his campaign in 2016, the AfD barraged the media almost daily with controversial statements and events geared towards grabbing headlines. This would lead to interviews and greater coverage until the next controversial remark would appear and start the cycle again. For instance, AfD candidate for Berlin Beatrix von Storch invited the controversial ex-UKIP representative and right-wing media personality Nigel Farage to come speak at a private campaign event, where he led the crowd in cheering for Donald Trump and Brexit and harshly mocked the media, Merkel,  SPD candidate Martin Schulz and former US President Barack Obama.

Another example came a few days later when a conspiracy theory-laden email, apparently written by co-lead candidate Alice Weidel, leaked to the press. In it, she (allegedly) writes in 2013 that Germany has been “overrun by Arabs, Sinti and Roma” as a result of policy pursued by the government,  “pigs”.. who “are nothing other than marionettes of the victorious powers of the second world war, whose task it is to keep down the German people.” The full letter was published in Welt am Sonntag to objections from Weidel, who initially threatened to sue and later stopped claiming that the document was false (after it had been in headlines several days.)

Just as the firestorm around Weidel was dying down, her co-candidate Alexander Gauland’s taboo-shattering statements at a meeting with supporters broke out in the press, in which he stated (in an apparent dog-whistle to the extreme far-right) that Germans “have a right to be proud of the achievements of the German soldiers in two world wars.” This resulted in another round of media condemnations, accompanied with headlines and interview requests for Gauland.

In all these cases (and these are only a few examples), the AfD was itself publicizing the “gaffes” as evidence that the mainstream media was attacking them and attempting to harm them before the election.

Tea-party Crowd Infiltration

The AfD doesn’t seem to just be taking inspiration from President Trump, however. The actions AfD used to protest pre-election rallies of Merkel were extremely reminiscent of the tactics used by Tea Party organizers to get attention for their movement opposing Obamacare.

As investigative journalist Jane Meyer writes in her book Dark Money, which covers the rise of anonymous forms of political financing, Tea party protestors were instructed in how best to disrupt town hall meetings about health care in 2009, creating the illusion of a mass outbreak of anger by ordinary citizens that had in fact been carefully arranged in advance by professionals.

“The anger appeared spontaneous. But the investigative reporter Lee Fand discovered that a volunteer with [Koch sponsored org] FreedomWorks was circulating a memo instructing Tea Partiers on how to disrupt the meetings. Bob MacGuffie, who ran a Web site called RightPrinciples.com, advised opponents to “pack the hall.. spread out” to make their numbers seem more significant, and to “rock the boat early in the Rep’s presentation… to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early.”

Of course, there is nothing illegal about protesting in this way, but it is a distinctive style of protest that is particularly misleading to outsiders. That is why it is interesting that the AfD, with help from other groups, engaged in such a similar tactic in protesting Angela Merkel at her campaign appearances. Opponents of the Chancellor were told about events and given free rides to them on buses provided by the AfD, NPD and local right-wing groups (including some outlawed ones), reports Die Zeit, and were instructed on how best to gain attention: spread out, be loud, and actively seek out reporters. It worked. Numerous reports showed Merkel being booed and whistled at by angry crowds on the campaign trail.

“A maximum of ten percent of the attendees make noise, but they are so conspicuous that they subsequently determine the picture.”

Shadowy donors

It is common on the left and the right to lament the outsized influence of money on American politics, and there have been numerous articles and books written exploring the way that anonymous billionaire donors shape US elections. One way, which ProPublica explains in detail, is to donate anonymously to tax-exempt 501c3 organizations. Under US law, 501c3 organizations must report how they spend their money, but not necessarily where they receive it from. So long as the organization works for “public welfare”, the donations are also tax deductible, even if used for political lobbying and materials such as flyers, billboards and campaign ads. These non-profits are, in theory at least, not supposed to directly engage in politics. However, in recent elections, they have spent millions on advertisements supporting their candidates.

In Germany, the state partially finances election campaigns, which tend to be much cheaper and shorter than American election campaigns. Nevertheless, the AfD seems to have taken inspiration from American politics in a way that is quite unusual for Germany, by funding large portions of their campaign through anonymous donations funneled into a non-profit association.

As the non-profit watchdog group Lobby Control reports, AfD is the only party that has a registered association (e.V) providing millions in support from anonymous donors.

Since spring 2016, it has been taking part in election campaigns by an opaque association – with measures such as large-scale billboards and internet spots worth several million euros . Who is behind the association is unclear; traces lead to the Swiss PR agency Goal AG. The donors deliberately use the association as a legal gap to remain anonymous. This is an unprecedented dimension of non-transparent electoral campaign support in Germany.

The supporting organization engages in campaigning for the AfD via newspaper inserts, billboards (as seen on their website) as well as internet ads and video spots. These and the AfD’s own fundraising have been effective at ensuring a massive online presence for the AfD- an upcoming analysis from Oxford that Der Spiegel previewed will apparently demonstrate that fully 30% of tweets about the election were in favor of the AfD.

A Successful Strategy

In sum, it is difficult to dismiss out of hand that the AfD may have taken some inspiration from Donald Trump and other right-wing movements in the US. In messaging and in tactics, the AfD appears to have liberally borrowed ideas and even occasionally slogans (such as the “Make Germany Safe Again” hat Beatrix von Storch was sporting in a recent twitter selfie.) Undeniably, these tactics have been extremely successful, helping take the party from the fringes to the third largest party in parliament.

What remains to be seen is whether the combative tactics of the campaign will translate well to governing. Unlike in the US, a multi-party system like Germany makes coalition building a practical necessity, and the AfD will need to build more proactive policies into their platform if they want to be anything more than an angry opposition. But here as well there is a US model, for we can see that by bashing the media and creating now altercations with public figures and even other world leaders, President Trump has managed to maintain his base’s support. Whether the AfD achieves its aims is one thing, whether it is able to retain power now that it has gotten some, is another.


Sources and Further Reading
AfD Engages US Agency, (in German) Der Spiegel, Aug. 2017
Nigel Farage’s Full Speech in Berlin Youtube.com
These pigs are nothing more than puppets of the war victors” (in German) Welt am Sonntag, Sept. 2017 (email reproduced in article)
AfD Candidate Weidel is no longer talking about forgery, (in German) Welt am Sonntag, Sept. 2017
Gauland Speech in Kyffhäusertreffens des Flügels (in German), Youtube.com, Sept. 2017
Dark Money, Jane Meyer (New York: Anchor) 2017, page 238.
Alternative Mobs” (in German) (with video) Die Zeit, Sept. 2017
How Non-Profits Spend Millions on Elections and Call it Public Welfare, ProPublica, 2012
Exemption Requirements: 501c3 Organizations, The Internal Revenue Service
Germany: Campaign Finance. The Law Library of Congress.
Why Germany’s Politics are Much Saner, Nicer and Cheaper Than Ours, The Atlantic, 2013.
Party Check before the Election (in German), Lobby Control, Sept. 2017
Recht und Freiheit Verein
Oxford Study: Why the AfD Dominates the Twitter Campaign. Der Spiegel, Sept. 2017.
Header Image: via Beatrix von Storch on twitter

The ups and downs of DACA

By Elisa Santana

On Tuesday, September 5, the Trump administration announced it would terminate the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. The executive branch will give Congress six months to pass permanent legislation to address DACA recipients, otherwise it will completely phase out the program Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would end the program.

The announcement and public’s response has made DACA a domestic and internationally known acronym.

What led to the creation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program?

In the early 2000s, federal politicians were tasked with the issue: What should be done with people who were brought to the United States by their parents as children without legal permission, or sent alone as unaccompanied minors? The child may or may not have known while growing up in the United States that they were undocumented.

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) was first introduced in 2001 to address this issue. The idea was to give youth the opportunity to work legally and obtain higher education without the threat of deportation. Finally in 2010, after being reintroduced multiple times, the DREAM Act came to the U.S. House of Representatives floor for a vote, where it narrowly passed. Soon after its House passage, the DREAM Act failed in the U.S. Senate with a 55-41 vote. This is important because five Democrats at the time voted against the DREAM Act, while three Republicans voted for it.
While Congress and the American public went on with their day-to-day lives, undocumented youth and immigrant advocates waited for relief. 18 months after the failed vote, in June 2012, President Barack Obama announced the DACA program.
The DACA program provides undocumented youth the opportunity to have “deferred action from deportation”. It does not provide a pathway to citizenship, or as some opponents of the program have feared, “amnesty.” Amnesty, in this case, means a blanket pardon extended by the U.S. government where undocumented immigrants obtain citizenship.
It does allow DACA recipients to be considered a low priority for deportation, given their history in the United States and lack of a criminal record. DACA recipients are eligible for a work permit for two years, permitting they have a background check and meet other guidelines:

1. Were under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012;
2. Came to the United States before reaching their 16th birthday;
3. Have continuously resided in the United States since June 15, 2007, up to the present time;
4. Were physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012, and at the time of making the request for consideration of deferred action
5. Had no lawful status on June 15, 2012;
6. Are currently in school, have graduated or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States; and
7. Have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors, and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

DACA gave many individuals the confidence to speak out about their undocumented status. This concept was deemed as “coming out of the shadows.”

Each one of the 50 states and the District of Columbia have people who have been granted DACA, whose total comes to almost 1 million. Over 90% of DACA recipients are currently employed or in school.

Where do things stand on DACA right now?

Even though the State of Texas has the second highest number of DACA recipients (over 120,000), their state government has led the charge to dismantle DACA. On June 29, 2017, Texas Attorney General, Ken Paxton, along with nine other state attorneys general and the governor of Idaho, sent a letter to the Trump Administration, threatening to sue the executive branch if they did not make a choice to dismantle DACA by September 5, 2017. The letter stated that “DACA unilaterally confers eligibility for work authorization, id., and lawful presence without any statutory authorization from Congress.” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cited similar reasons in his September 5 letter to DHS.

The state of Texas cited their successful lawsuit against the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) and Expanded DACA– noting the same lawyers who sued the Obama Administration, would sue Trump’s Administration. The DAPA case did make it to the U.S. Supreme Court, however, due to the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court was tied 4-4. The tied decision left an appeals court’s decision in place, which blocked DAPA and Expanded DACA based on administrative law. The Supreme Court did not make any opinions on presidential power, or unconstitutionality.

The DACA program was established through an Executive Order. This means that President Trump can revoke, modify, or supersede any Executive Order of previous president.In addition, Texas and the other states may have had good reason to believe President Trump would be willing to do so.

On June 16, 2015, during one of his first campaign events, Trump said, “I will immediately terminate President Obama’s illegal executive order on immigration. Immediately.” More than a year later on August 31, 2016, Trump says to a crowd, “We will immediately terminate President Obama’s two illegal executive amnesties.” Trump campaigned on the promise to terminate the DACA program and appealed to voters who draw a hardline on immigration. The eleven states threatening to sue Trump over DACA are asking for him to fulfil the promise, which got him elected.

Once in office, Trump picked Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General. Sessions has a long history of voting and speaking out against pro-immigration measures. Remember the 2010 DREAM Act vote?– Sessions wrote a letter encouraging his fellow senators to vote against the bill. In his opinion, the DREAM Act rewarded illegal behavior and would give legal status to “gang members” and “aliens with misdemeanor convictions.”

On September 5, Sessions sent a letter to DHS and publicly announced that the Trump administration would phase out DACA. Trump gave Congress a deadline of six months to pass a permanent legislative solution for DACA. The announcement threw the U.S. into a frenzy, with many asking: How could the U.S. government continue to keep young people with undocumented status in limbo?

Congress has not been able to pass legislation on immigration in years, which is why the task ahead is so difficult. In the days after the announcement, President Trump has flip-flopped on the topic. After pledging to phase out DACA on September 5, he said he would revisit the issue if Congress could not pass legislation (September 6). Then in a turn of events, on September 14, Trump said he was working with Democrats on a plan for DACA. The GOP was caught off guard by Trump’s comments, with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan noting that Trump’s plan “’was a discussion, not an agreement.”

Currently, there is a 2017 version of the Dream Act pending in the U.S. Senate. Introduced by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Jeff Flake (R-AZ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY), the DREAM Act would provide a path to U.S. citizenship for DACA recipients. It is likely that Republicans will add border security measures to this bill for them to accept its passage.

As far as public opinion goes, a recent poll conducted by Politico shows that 54 percent of voters want Congress to establish a path to citizenship for DACA recipients.

For now, people who have received DACA must renew their application by October 5 if it expires between Sept. 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018. The renewal application costs $495, with thousands of applications needing to be filed across the country. Undocumented youth who trusted their private information and pay the lump sum to the Department of Homeland Security will have to decide if it is safe to continue investing in the federal program. The thought that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) could use data given for the purpose of applying for DACA in their efforts to deport individuals has become a new fear for some. Both ICE and the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) are hosted under the Department of Homeland Security. 

*Elisa Santana is a guest researcher at the Berlin Institute for Integration and Migration Research (BIM) and a German Chancellor Fellow supported by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Elisa previously worked for at the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington; she advised on immigration, refugees, homeland security, and civil liberties.


Sources and Further Reading
DREAM Act of 2011, US Congress
DREAM Act dies in Senate, Politico, Sept. 2010
Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Number of Form I-821D,Consideration of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, by Fiscal Year, Quarter, Intake, Biometrics and Case Status Fiscal Year 2012-2017, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (March 2017)
Results from Tom K. Wong1 et al., 2017 National DACA Study, Center for American Progress, 2017
Re: Texas, et al. v. United States, et al., No. 1:14-cv-00254 (S.D. Tex.), Ken Paxton, Attorney General of Texas, letter to Us Attorney General Jeff Sessions (June 29, 2017)
Jeff Sessions Letter Advising an End to DACA, reprinted in The New York Times, Sept. 5 2017
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Big Immigration Case Wasn’t About Presidential Power, Peter M. Shane, The Atlantic, June 2016
Here’s What President Trump Has Said About DACA in the Past [w/ video], Time Magazine, Sept. 2017
Letter from then-Senator Jeff Sessions regarding the DREAM ACT 2010, reprinted in Politico, Dec. 2010
S. 1615 DREAM Act 2017, US Senate
Poll: Majority wants Congress to establish path to citizenship for DACA recipients, Politico, Sept. 2017
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals 2017 Announcement, US Citizenship and Immigration Services, Sept. 2017
Dreamers’ new risk after Daca: US could use their personal data to target them, The Guardian, Sept. 2017
Header Image; LA March for Immigrants Rights (Sept. 2017) via Molly Adams on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2femn2E (CC by 2.0)

German Elections: Where do the parties stand on asylum, immigration and integration?

Germany’s Bundestag elections are quickly approaching and while many are presenting the outcome as a foregone win for the indefatigable Angela Merkel of the CDU, with nearly half of voters undecided it’s still possible that there are some surprises in store. The only thing that’s for sure? Hardly anyone has read through all the long and jargon-packed campaign platforms that parties have published to present their vision for their future.

Hardly anyone- except us! As usual, Migration Voter presents the run down, straight from the party platforms, of what parties are promising to change or keep the same in the areas of immigration, asylum and integration. We’ll delve in deeper to certain topics over the next few weeks, but in the meantime, we present here an overview of the specific policies proposed by the big six parties. You may think you already know where they stand- prepare to be surprised, as we were.

CDU/ CSU: 2015 won’t be repeated

Christian Democratic Union (Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands) and Christian Social Union (Christlich-Soziale Union)

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Angela Merkel and Joachim Herrmann – Image via Markus Spiske on Flickr (http://bit.ly/2xAPlll) CC by 2.0

Main Proposals:

  • Prevent a repeat of 2015 by reaching deals with third countries to stop people seeking asylum from entering Europe, using the EU-Turkey deal as an example
  • Support a new immigration act that will allow qualified workers with a job contract to migrate to Germany under certain conditions
  • Strengthen external EU borders by providing additional support for external border agency Frontex, and continue to allow internal EU borders until a common EU asylum system has been defined
  • Oppose dual citizenship

There is surprisingly little in the way of direct policy proposals related to refugees and immigrants in the CDU and CSU’s joint platform. In a way that makes sense, since they have their name on most current policies. On the other hand, the program refers in many places to areas of dissatisfaction with Germany’s migration experience, offering reassuring statements that stop short of concrete policy proposals.

The CDU/CSU makes clear in their program that the refugee experience of 2015 will in no way be repeated– important, since the CDU’s Chancellor Angela Merkel was at the helm. To prevent a repeat, they pledge to keep the number of refugees “permanently low” and are in favor of Europe concluding further treaties with third countries to prevent migration across the Mediterranean- using the model of the EU-Turkey deal. They would also declare North African countries Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria safe countries of origin to enable faster returns of people from those countries. At the same time, they propose a “Marshall Plan” for Africa, an interesting idea that deserves more detail.

They briefly touch on a possible reform to the immigration law to make it possible for people with job offers to migrate to Germany (“Skilled Workers Immigration Act” ). This idea is trendy among other parties as well, but CDU/CSU fails to elaborate further on what such a policy would look like.

“Whatever their background, every single person in Germany is expected to abide by our laws. There will be no exceptions in this respect. Integration is beneficial to both sides and prevents the emergence of parallel societies.”

Their other mentions of immigrants are normative but lack concrete policy recommendations to back them up. For instance, they write that they expect all people in Germany to follow the Consitution, regardless of whether they have “migration background”. They want to prevent the emergence of “parallel societies” and multiculturalism, preferring instead German leading culture (Leitkultur) and regional or local cultures. . The platform fails to explain what German leading culture is. The reference to the preservation of regional or local cultures leaves the reader slightly confused. They think everyone should speak German, and respect the existence of Israel. It’s unclear, however, how such statements translate into policies- aside from a mention of opposition to dual citizenship.

In short, the CDU has kept it vague on the issue of immigration and asylum this time around, perhaps preferring to stand on their record, or hoping to change the subject to less controversial terrain.


SPD: European solidarity to handle migration

Social Democratic Party (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands)

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Martin Schulz- via SPD Saar on Flickr, (http://bit.ly/2esoYcI) (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Support sharing of asylum management across EU countries, i.e. people who arrive in the EU to seek asylum are distributed amongst member states. Countries who participate should receive financial support from the EU.
  • Create a new immigration law based on the Canadian model: a points-based system that will allow qualified individuals with a job offer to come to Germany if they meet certain requirements.
  • Permanent Residents should have the right to vote in local elections.

As we have previously discussed, the SPD’s program in relation to asylum and refugees is heavily tilted towards EU-wide solutions. This is a reasonable position given the EU-wide scale of the phenomenon but contains an inherent weakness for a domestic electoral platform in that it contains many positions which cannot be directly achieved by the party in power in Germany, only with the acquiescence of other EU member states.

That being said, the SPD also has some domestic policies in mind. First off, they would continue to support a “thorough and careful” asylum procedure. They would increase support for people who work in the field of integration and expand language courses, education, and training. They also support gender-appropriate housing solutions for women and the LGBT community.

The party says it prefers voluntary returns to forced deportations and wants to punish countries who do not accept people returning after their applications were rejected by, for instance, failing to issue visas to that country. In addition, they would end deportations to Afghanistan.

The SPD would propose a new employment-based immigration act for Germany, reflecting their view of a “modern, cosmopolitan Germany.” It would be modeled after the Canadian system, including a points system for qualified professionals who have a job offer.

Finally, the SPD would extend the right to vote to some non-German citizens: people with permanent residency would have the right to vote in local municipal elections. (Current German voting law dictates that EU citizens have the right to vote in local municipal elections, but only German citizens can vote on the state and national level. Thus, currently, all third-country nationals – any citizen of a country outside of the EU, are precluded from voting in any German election.)


FDP: Market-based Migration

Free DemocraticParty  (Freie Demokratische Partei)

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Christian Lindner- Image via Dirk Vorderstraße on Flickr http://bit.ly/2espl72 (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • The right of asylum should be available only in individual cases of persecution. People fleeing from conflict should be able to receive temporary protection only until the conflict or war is over – then they must return to their countries of origin.
  • Support the creation of a humanitarian visa after the Swiss model that would offer a person under a concrete, life-endangering threat the chance to come to Germany and avoid a dangerous journey.
  • Germany needs a new point-based immigration system
  • Dual citizenship should be allowed, up to a point

The FDP’s liberal approach to migration reflects its market-based priorities, while still allowing for asylum in clearly defined and limited cases.

While it describes the right to asylum as unassailable and opposes an “upper limit” to the numbers of people able to receive asylum, the FDP seeks to limit asylum through several proposals. First, asylum for people fleeing war should be temporary and individuals who receive protection must return as soon as the conflict has ended. Second, they would create a humanitarian visa after the “Swiss model,” according to which individuals under acute, specific threat of death could apply for a visa to come to Germany to seek asylum. (However, even for Switzerland, the chance of obtaining such a visa is incredibly small.)

“We Free Democrats want Germany to have an immigration law and finally a modern citizenship right from a single source – just like other successful immigration countries.”

In terms of migration, the FDP also calls for a new immigration system, which would allocate points based on language skills, education, and qualifications to allow people to immigrate to Germany. Under their system, refugees who meet the same level of qualifications could also apply. In addition, the FDP calls for easing bureaucracy by simplifying recognition of foreign accreditation and degrees, and to make English a working language in administrative offices– both of which would theoretically make life easier for newcomers hoping to enter the job market. Another help is that the FDP would abolish priority entrance for Germans over non-Germans to jobs and housing.

Finally, the party has specific ideas about integration. They think people with refugee status should receive individualized, “modular” integration courses suited to their specific needs and stage in the process. In addition, they propose that dual citizenship should be available, upon request, to people meeting certain conditions or by birth, up until the grandchildren of the original holder.


Die LINKE: Right to Stay for All

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Sarah Wagenknecht and Dietmar Bartsch. Image via Die Linke on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2ew384o (CC by 2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • A new ministry should be created for dealing with immigration and integration, and there should be a new ombudsman for refugee issues 
  • Anyone residing in Germany with an insecure residency status for over five years should get a right to remain
  •  End “Residenzpflicht”/residence requirement the obligation for people seeking asylum to remain in the same area for the duration of the asylum process (restriction on freedom of movement)
  • Oppose deportation in principle, and especially in certain circumstances (e.g, when a person would face a medical emergency, discrimination or homelessness in their home country)
  • Anyone born in Germany should have access to citizenship as well as the right to hold multiple nationalities
  • Permanent residents should be entitled to vote at all levels of election

Die LINKE (the Left) has a great deal to say about migration and asylum in their platform, and though much of it is simply supportive, as opposed to elaborating on a specific policy, we have drawn out some of the main policies.

Like the SPD and Greens, Die LINKE wants to fight the problems that cause people to flee their countries and offer safe pathways to Europe to prevent deaths at sea. They support fair trade and development of sending countries and reject the “dirty” Turkey deal and others proposed deals with third countries to prevent people from entering Europe.

“Good and affordable living space for everyone! To accommodate asylum seekers in emergency and mass shelters is inhuman, expensive and anti-integration.”

Unlike the other left-leaning parties however, Die LINKE unequivocally calls for an end to deportations and a right to stay (“Bleiberecht”) for all. Refugees should have access to the labor market after 3 months without limits on minimum wage, and should have access to decentralized social housing rather than mass shelters. Die LINKE would abolish the Residenzpflicht policy that restricts freedom of movement for people seeking asylum within a region or municipality. Those who have been in a precarious status for at most five years should receive a residence permit.

Die LINKE would also provide additional grounds to prevent deportation, such as gender-based grounds, allowance for people who were victims of right wing violence, and right to stay for people who would otherwise be forced into homelessness, medical emergency or discrimination in their home country. (This seems to be an explicit nod to Roma and Sinti from the Balkans, who have been subject to deportation in the past.) Die LINKE also supports establishing an ombudsman for refugee issues.

Die LINKE wants to abolish the current residence law and provide a path to legal residence and naturalization for all. People without legal residence would be granted residence and work permits, and people who have been legally residing in Germany for three years would be entitled to naturalization. In addition, all children born in Germany would be entitled to citizenship (and multiple citizenships), a model known as “birthright citizenship” (the US has such a policy.) This liberalization would also stretch to voting rights: Die LINKE supports voting rights for permanent residents at all levels of elections.

Another change they propose is to move the responsibility for migration and integration out of the Ministry of Interior and into a new federal agency. Under their plan, the federal government would also shoulder all costs associated with housing, healthcare and integration of refugees and migrants, to take financial pressure off of municipalities.

In addition, to ensure equal education for all, they would support an emergency training program for teachers, social workers, and language teachers.


AfD: (Some) Refugees Not Welcome

Alternative for Germany (Alternative für Deutschland)

AfD Bundesparteitag 23. April 2017 in Köln

Alice Weidel and Alexander Gauland (image: Olaf Kosinsky / kosinsky.eu)

Main Proposals:

  • Make it easier to deport people who have committed even minor crimes, and harder to get citizenship
  • Secure German borders and enable migration only of qualified people as required, guard borders with “safety systems” including fences
  • Only offer asylum to those who can prove their identity
  • Ban family reunification and any special privileges for people from Turkey, ban dual citizenship
  • Restrict religious freedom for Muslims

In their election manifesto, the AfD prioritizes two key themes regarding immigration and asylum: first, the prevention of crimes and terrorism by non-Germans, and second, the necessity of maintaining a “recognizable” Germany by preventing migration of Africans and “Arab Muslims”.

“The goal of the AfD is self-preservation, not self-destruction of our country and people.”

In terms of crime, they are of the opinion that non-Germans are disproportionately responsible for crime and terror in Germany. They, therefore, propose new regulations making it easier to deport people for even minor crimes. In addition, they want to prevent people who have ever committed crimes from becoming German citizens by abolishing the right to citizenship. They also propose removing citizenship from those people who commit crimes within ten years of being naturalized. They would also denationalize German citizens with connection to “criminal clans”, even if this would leave the person stateless, in violation of the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, which Germany has been a party to since 1977. (We discussed a similar proposal that Marine Le Pen made here).

The AfD frames their migration policy as an attempt to prevent a demographic inevitability. Noting that the populations of Africa and “Arab Muslims” are increasing while Europe suffers an aging population and declining birth rate, the platform suggests that the larger, poorer population of the Global South must inevitably migrate to the richer, more sparsely populated European countries, causing migration that will destabilize Germany and leave it “unrecognizable.” Thus, it is necessary to change migration policy as a means of “self-preservation.”

What they have in mind for this change is an array of restrictive or harsh policies towards immigration that at times contradict one another. For instance, they would secure the borders to be guarded by “safety systems” including fences but allow for migration of qualified workers as needed. Asylum would still be offered to those who can prove their identity using certain “legal and technical prerequisites” that they do not elaborate on. They propose that individuals seeking asylum are not brought to Europe in the first place but transferred to third countries “after the Australian model.” They also suggest a return to the 1949 German-law version of asylum (which ironically, other parties laud as liberal.)

Under migration, AfD also has the policy that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and calls for several policies which would restrict religious freedom, for instance, banning Islamic studies programs in German universities and banning burqas. However, these policies would apply to Germans and non-Germans alike, so it is unclear why they frame this as a migration issue.


Bündnis 90/ Die Grünen: Refugees and talented immigrants welcome

Union 90/ The Greens (BÜNDNIS 90/DIE GRÜNEN)

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Katrin Göring-Eckardt und Cem Özdemir, Image via gruenenrw on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2vChjA5 (CC BY SA-2.0)

Main Proposals:

  • Protect an absolute right to asylum and no returns to unsafe countries
  • Increase aid funding for foreign development and conflict prevention
  • Develop safe, legal routes for people seeking asylum to prevent deaths at sea
  • Acquisition of birthright citizenship for children born to at least one parent with a residence permit
  • Enable easier, less bureaucratic family reunification
  • Develop a “talent card” that enables qualified individuals to spend a year in Germany in order to look for employment

Although the Green party generally focuses on environmental and social justice issues, they appear to have spent a lot of time developing their proposals on migration and asylum and offer- whether or not you agree with them- one of the most completed plans for both.

The Green Refugee plan consists of four points. First, they aspire to address the root causes of migration and aim to increase development aid. Second, in order to prevent people risking their lives to flee, the Greens back solutions that will prevent people from taking dangerous routes to Europe, for example, a refugee resettlement program with cooperation from UNHCR, meaning individuals would have to obtain refugee status in their country of origin or third country prior to arriving in Germany. Another possible solution would be a humanitarian visa (like FDP suggested) to make it possible for people to legally travel to Europe to seek asylum. 

Third, fair and legal decisions on asylum applications must be made as quickly as possible. They say Germany’s administrative and municipal structure was not adequately prepared for the “humanitarian challenge” of 2015- yet they do not pose concrete ways to improve the situation.

And fourth, anyone who is able to stay must receive support in learning German, finding a job and an apartment- starting from day 1. In the case of those who cannot stay, the Greens support voluntary returns over deportations and absolutely oppose returning people to unsafe countries such as Afghanistan.

“The aging society and the skilled labor force show that Germany is dependent on immigration in the long term. However, the current law is too complicated and makes immigration more difficult.”

The Greens wants to update the immigration law via “The Green Immigration Act” to meet the demands of a country of immigration. They would introduce a “Talent card” (Talentkarte) which allows qualified professionals one year to search for work in Germany. A commission would determine how many cards are allocated, and which qualifications entitle one to a card, including German language skills, possession of insurance and other skills. They would also expand the number of student visas and make it easier to formally recognize foreign degrees and qualifications.

Finally, they would make family reunification easier and less bureaucratic, as they argue that a key to integration is feeling embedded in one’s family.


Sources and Further Reading
Bundestagwahl: Half of voters are undecided, Zeit Online, Aug. 23, 2017 [German]
All the 2017 party platforms in one place
For a Germany that is good to live in: Election Program for the CDU and CSU 2017, CDU [Deutsch, English summary, video version available]
It’s time for more justice: Election Program for the SPD 2017, SPD [Deutsch, video available]
A new way of thinking. FDP Election Program 2017, FDP [Deutsch, English summary available]
Humanitarian Visas, Swiss Refugee Council
Social. Just. Peace. For all. Die Linke Election Program 2017, Die Linke, [Deutsch,  summaries in English +12 other languages, video, GSL, Audio, Braille available.]
Program for Germany: AFD Election Program 2017, AFD, [Deutsch, Audio version available]
UN Convention on Reduction of Statelessness, OHCHR, 1961
The future is made of courage: Green Election Program 2017, Die Grüne, [Deutsch, Audio, GSL available]
Featured Image: German Bundestag by Lars Steffens on Flickr, (CC BY-SA 2.0) http://bit.ly/2x4AsLf