“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)

 

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A radical departure? Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Party on Migration and Asylum

With mere days until the first round of the French presidential election, the polls have evened out to the extent that it looks a four-way race (within the margin of error), with centrist Emmanuel Macron taking a narrow lead and closely followed by far-right Marine Le Pen, center-right Francois Fillon, and far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon. Sunday’s vote will most likely narrow down the race to two candidates, who will face off in a runoff election two weeks later.

There is an upside to the fact that the election is so wide open: practically the entire range of possible views on migration are represented! This is unusual, especially in comparison to the more common scene: candidates who say the same thing on migration policy in different ways, while heavily favoring the status quo.

We’ve already summarized where the major candidates stand on migration and asylum, and examined Le Pen more closely, as she has campaigned continuously and heavily on the theme of restricting immigration. But far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon deserves a closer look as well. He and his brand-new party, Unsubmissive France, have been steadily gaining in the run-up to the election, and his proposals on immigration would present as much of a departure from current French policy as Le Pen’s.

The Business of Xenophobia

In Unsubmissive France’s in-depth explanation of their migration policy, (not written by Mélenchon himself, we should note) the authors offer an anti-capitalist critique of the European migration crisis. The European Union, by creating a migration policy based on borders and security have incentivized both the exploitation of migrants and the fear of them, they write.

“…[S]ecurity policies lead to the development of a “business” of fear and xenophobia by giving the transnationals of the security industry the opportunity to benefit from a new financial windfall at European level. These policies keep migrants in a state of permanent insecurity, in particular encouraging them to put their available work force of employers who want to benefit from exploitable labor, and place them at an inability to meet their most basic rights.”

Given this diagnosis of the problem, the party proposes numerous EU-wide policies that would solve it: work for peace and avoid military deployments, end the imposition of unfair trade deals that destabilize other countries and regions, work on adequate development and climate change policy that will make home countries more livable, and people less ready to leave them for Europe.

These policies have the advantage of being unique among French candidates and speaking to larger global and economic issues. A major downside is that they are not policies that can be implemented by Mélenchon if elected. He can work to promote these views at the European level, but as one member state, even an influential one, he cannot meaningfully promise voters the ability to enact an entirely new EU security or trade policy (and cannot accomplish these by threatening to leave.) In that sense, these proposals are unrealistic, but give an idea of the general worldview of the party: anti-capitalist, pacifist, labor-oriented.

Unraveling migration laws and trade agreements

The party goes on to elaborate a plan that would fundamentally alter the legal situation of migrants in France, from acquisition of citizenship to family reunification to asylum. Many of the proposals aim to erase restrictions now existing, while others propose new laws or policies.

For instance, the party calls for France to:

  • Decriminalize illegal residence and end detention of immigrants, especially children
  • Break with European directives and repeal the successive laws that aimed to restrict the right of asylum in France,
  • End free trade agreements and replace with protectionist solidarity

In effect, Melenchon is calling for “amnesty” for undocumented migrants and for authorities to stop enforcing immigration laws. This could, theoretically, be achieved but would require the dismantling of an entire system created to apprehend, detain, and deport undocumented migrants, which employs many people and is connected to numerous criminal and civil code provisions. It would no doubt create some upheaval and be difficult to get past the legislature.

As for the idea to break with European directives, this could be less tricky, depending on how it is operated. Many European directives applying to asylum regulate “minimum standards” for the asylum process in member states. In other words, they regulate the least the state can do in certain situation but do not prevent that they do more. In fact, they deliberately allow for this possibility. For instance, the 2013 EU Asylum Directive in article 5 states “Member States may introduce or retain more favourable standards on procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection, insofar as those standards are compatible with this Directive.” So if Melenchon “breaks” with EU directives in a way that offer more protection to asylum seekers, it will probably not be a legal problem at the European level.

Ending free trade agreements unilaterally, on the other hand, will. The EU generally negotiates as a block on trade agreements and is currently implementing deals with numerous countries and regions, such as one with West Africa, East Africa, and Canada. Could France withdraw from these and replace them with “solidarity” or development schemes?

The answer is probably no, unless they withdraw from the EU as Britain plans to do. Trade policy is an area that is firmly within the scope of exclusive EU competences- meaning only the European Commission can negotiate trade deals with other countries or regions, and individual member states can’t alter these or exit them. This also applies to foreign direct investment. So without withdrawing from the EU customs union more generally, which as Brexit has shown is no small undertaking, France will probably not easily extricate itself from EU trade policy.

Granting More Rights

Unsubmissive France has more in their program than just repealing laws and treaties. They also have some positive legal proposals with ranging levels of realism:

  • Restore jus soli citizenship rights for people born in France
  • Allow asylum seekers to work while they wait for their cases to be reviewed
  • Allow for “flexible” return scenarious, with fluidity between France and other countries and ability to return elsewhere without losing residence rights

“Our collective mission is to respect the human dignity of migrants and their fundamental right to family life,” Unsubmissive France writes, and their policy proposals support this migrant-centered mission and present new ideas that make France more welcoming both to new immigrants and for people already living in France who are not citizens. 

The introduction of jus soli citizenship would make France the first country in Europe to have an US-style citizenship law, wherein being born in France entitles a child to automatic citizenship. This idea, in combination with decriminalization of undocumented migrants, would mean that multi-generation families without residence rights would be a thing of the past. This proposal would represent an extension of the form of jus soli citizenship already in place under the French civil code, which was detailed in our article on Le Pen (who, in contrast, wishes to eradicate Jus soli citizenship.)

The priority of workers rights and the value that UF places on work is visible from policies granting work permission to asylum seekers and people who wish to return to other countries for temporary periods to work. These promises are a little vague, and one can’t help but wonder whether proposals like these would encounter resistance from powerful French labor unions. But as with many of these proposals: its usually easier under the law to give new rights than to take them away.

Radical, and Sometimes Unrealistic

Overall,  Melenchon’s party proposes radical changes to the status of migrant under the French system that could be difficult to get through the legislature, but overall comport with their own constitution and international commitments. They propose ideas that would be a major change from how things are done now, but do not necessarily break with French values as embodied in the constitution- in many cases they just extend them further. 

Where UF’s plans are weakest are when they refer to EU-wide activities, like trade. Its not impossible for France to follow Britain out of the EU in order not to be bound by EU-wide trade agreements and other commitments, but this would make it far more difficult too simultaneously influence EU policy on distribution of asylum seekers or military engagements in other countries. And organizing a “Frexit” referendum would require Melenchon to spend valuable political capital that could otherwise be used to reorganize immigration law in the way he proposes.

For pro-immigrant voters, Melenchon’s policies have lots of appeal. But voters will have to weigh this against the overwhelming ambitiousness of UF’s plans, to consider whether one candidate can really achieve so many massive changes at the same time without setting priorities.

Sources and Further Reading
Respect Migrants, Regulate the Causes of Migration. L’Avenir en Commun, Migration Program of Unsubmissive France (in French.)
How France’s Presidential Election could break- or make- the EU. The Guardian. (April 2017)
DIRECTIVE 2013/32/EU (Common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection). Official Journal of the European Union. (2013)
The EU’s Bilateral Trade and Investment Agreements- Where are we? European Commission (2013).
Trade- overview. European Commission website.
What is Trade Policy? European Commission website.
Le Pen’s Promises on Immigration and Asylum: A Closer Look. Migration Voter (April 2017)
Cover image via Pierre-Selim on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2pYjgzr. (CC by-SA 2.0)

Holocaust revisionist ‘gaffes’ hide policies that target both Jews and Muslims

US White House press secretary Sean Spicer has been the target of a media firestorm since his unfortunate remarks at a press briefing last week comparing Assad to Hitler, with Hitler coming out favorably. 

“We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War Two. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons”…. “I think when you come to sarin gas, he was not using the gas on his own people the same way that Assad is doing.”

(He later apologized.)

The remarks were clearly inaccurate, given that Hitler indeed used chemical weapons and deployed them against his own people. But whether or not Spicer was aware of that and simply misspoke, or is poorly informed on the history surrounding World War II, it provoked us at Migration Voter to reflect on recent similar “gaffes” from far-right politicians regarding the Holocaust.

For instance, Front National’s Le Pen said during an event with Le Figaro in April:

I think France isn’t responsible for the Vel d’Hiv…. I think that, in general, if there are people responsible, it is those who were in power at the time. It is not France.”

Vel d’Hiv is the shorthand for an event that occurred during the Holocaust when 13,152 French Jews were rounded up by French police at the direction of the Nazis and sent to Auschwitz, where they were murdered. France has taken responsibility for the atrocity in the past, but Le Pen implied this was hurting French pride, saying “France has been mired in people’s minds for years.”

And Germany’s far-right Euroskeptic party Alternative für Deutschland attracted a great deal of negative press following a speech in January by state leader of Thuringia Björn Höcke in which he discussed Germany’s dealing with their role in the Holocaust, referring to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews in central Berlin as “a monument of shame.”

“We Germans… are the only people in the world who have planted a monument of shame in the heart of their capital city.” “We do not need any more dead rites in this country. … We no longer need hollow phrases in this country, we need a living culture of remembrance, which brings us first and foremost into contact with the great achievements of our ancestors.”

One of the reasons why the press has seized on these comments is because they supposedly give the lie to the strong stances these parties have each taken against anti-Semitism. These promises of being pro-Jewish and against forms of anti-Semitism have been coupled with a focus on casting Muslims, especially Muslim immigrants, as a threat both to Jews and to the nations in general.

  • Marine Le Pen of the Front National has promised numerous actions to target what she calls “Islamic fundamentalism”, proposing policies targeting mosques and Muslims (such as banning the hijab.) On the other hand, she has made conscious efforts to reach out to the Jewish community, banning anti-Semitic members of her party and sending FN party secretary Nicolas Bay on a goodwill trip to Israel. While there, Bay was interviewed by Haaretz (article behind paywall, but see Breitbart), where he made FN’s position clear: “[French Jews] understand that we’re the only ones who are clearly pointing to the source of the anti-Semitic attacks – the Islamists. Marine Le Pen has already said that the National Front is French Jewish citizens’ shield against these attacks.”
  • AfD takes a similarly strong stance against Muslims and immigrants from Muslim majority countries, stating in their program that “Islam does not belong to Germany” and introducing numerous policies against Muslim religious dress and immigration to Germany, while stating “ The AfD does not concur with the view which regards the criticism of Islam as islamophobic or being derogatory.” They have also spoken out often against anti-Semitism, however. For instance, in a press release in 2016 their Federal Councilor wrote, “The thought of what many of the Muslim immigrants bring along is characterized by anti-Semitism and the rejection of Western values…. Anti-Semitism must have no place in Germany. Many Muslims are still unaware of this and represent a danger to our values and our community.”

In short, despite statements that could be construed as Holocaust revisionism, the officials of the Front National and AfD have consistently been outspoken against anti-Semitism, claiming that their policies, by excluding Muslims and fighting “Islamism”, will be the best safeguard for Jews in their countries.

The complication with this argument, that the press has so far failed to discuss as far as we know, is that a large number of the policies aimed at excluding Muslim religious practices and Muslim immigrants would inevitably also target Jews, as well as other religious minority groups. 

Policies Targeting the Muslim Community that would affect the Jewish Community

Front National

Le Pen, for instance, promises to abolish dual citizenship (see presidential commitment number 27) for non-European holders of two passports. While this would no doubt affect a large population of French people with dual citizenship from Muslim-majority countries, she has stated that it would apply to Israelis as well. (Note, however, that we doubt this policy can go through as worded.)

In another example, Le Pen promises under the banner “Eradicate Terror and Break Up Islamic Fundamentalist Networks” that she will “ban foreign funding of places of worship and their personnel.” Although she explicitly mentions Islam in the title, her language clearly indicates (“places of worship”) this would apply to synagogues and Jewish religious activities (as well as other religious groups, presumably.)

Even more obviously, in her plan “to defend French unity and the national identity” Le Pen proposes constitutional and policy changes that would certainly apply to Jews, Muslims, and any other minority group.

Capture

It is difficult to parse what consequences these changes might have for religious minorities, but it would seem to change their constitutional status and ability to retain their own culture, if it differs from the majority culture. Commitment number 97 is particularly interesting, given Le Pen’s comments on France’s role in the Holocaust.

Additionally, Le Pen and FN have advocated for the elimination of any special religious dietary options in French public schools. In a 2014 interview, Le Pen outlined her position on the issue.

“We will accept no religious requirements in the school lunch menus,” Mrs. Le Pen told RTL radio. “There is no reason for religion [dietary options] to enter into the public sphere.”

This would eliminate any halal but also any kosher options. Therefore, if something banned by both Islam and Judaism – such as pork – was on the menu for that day, then pork is what Muslim and Jewish students would also be served. 

Alternative für Deutschland

In zeroing in on policies they hope will fortify and promote German “high culture” (Leitkultur) and move away from multiculturalism, AfD also promotes ideas that would harm German Jews as collateral damage in their fight against Muslims. For instance, in their platform (pg. 46), they state that German culture is composed of three main sources: Christianity, “scientific and humanistic culture” and Roman law, and that multiculturalism poses “a serious threat to social peace and the survival of the nation-state as a cultural unit”. Judaism clearly lies outside of their three main pillars of German society- does it also form a threat that must be protected against?

Capture

Under the section “End foreign financing of mosques” there are some additional provisions that would be problematic for the Jewish community. AfD calls for a ban on foreign financing of mosques, the banning of any language other than German spoke during religious services, and for imams to get government permission before preaching in Germany. It is difficult to see how these laws could comport with the German constitution generally, but if they would they would necessarily have to apply to all religious groups. This would disproportionately impact Jewish communities as it would ban foreign (such as Israeli or American) donations to synagogues, ban speaking Hebrew, and require visiting rabbis to get permission. German Christian congregations are primarily German-funded, speak primarily German, and are led primarily by German priests, necessarily making the impact of such policies far stricter on religious minorities and immigrant groups.

Again, its worth noting that many of these policies, as stated in their party program, are completely in contradiction with German domestic law and European Union law. However, whether or not they can be achieved, they allow insight into the stated aims and goals of the party.

Why analyze “gaffes” when the policies are clear?

Like with Sean Spicer’s remarks, the Holocaust revisionist statements by Le Pen and Höcke sparked minor scandals and caused many people to ask: were these accidental gaffes, or intentional anti-Semitic messages to voters?

In the case of the FN and AfD, it isn’t necessary to get at the innermost hearts and minds of the party elite via their speeches, because we have access to their direct, stated goals and programs.

If voters are worried about anti-Semitism in populist parties out of concern for its implications for the Jewish community if these parties were to come to power, it is very clearly worth understanding that many of the policies that are meant to target Muslims will harshly affect Jews as well as other minority religious groups, especially those with numerous co-religionists in other countries. Laws restricting the ability to dress a certain way, eat a certain diet or connect with (and fundraise from) people in other countries will evenly impact any person of faith connected to a minority religious group.

Voters who are concerned about anti-Semitism because of the historical context of what happens when a minority religious group is demonized and cast as a threat to the people and their national identity do not need to look too far to see that these parties already do precisely this with Muslims. For some people, that’s part of their appeal. For others, it may be a good reason to weigh their vote carefully.

 

Sources and Further Reading
Sean Spicer apologizes for gaffe” The Guardian, April 2017
Le Pen reopens old wounds” Reuters, April 2017
For Le Pen, France is not responsible for Vel’d’Hiv” Le Figaro, April 2017 (in French)
Vel’d’Hiv Roundup, Wikipedia.org
Chirac admits to France’s Atrocities During WW2 (video), Associated Press (1995)
Transcript of Höcke’s Speech in Dresden, Der Taggespiegel, (Jan. 2017) (in German)
144 Presidential Commitments (PDF), Front National 2017
‘We Just Want to Preserve Our Identity – Like Israel and Trump,’ Le Pen Party Official Tells Haaretz.” Haaretz (Jan. 2017)
French populists visit Israel to build relations“. Breitbart (Jan. 2017)
Manifesto for Germany- AFD party program (PDF), AFD 2017
Pazderski: Many immigrants bring along their anti-Semitic worldview. AFD Press Release (June 2016)
Le Pen Calls to Ban Special Dietary Restrictions, The Telegraph, (April 2014)
Cover image: Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe in Berlin. Via Olly Coffey on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2nY8ahi (CC by-NC 2.0)

Is the “Trump era” of immigration policy starting to take shape?

Someone who voted for US President Donald Trump on the basis of his promises to get tough on immigrants and refugees could be forgiven for being a bit disappointed some 80 days into his administration. Mexico does not seem any closer to paying for a wall, the “Muslim ban” failed to pass legal muster (as MigrationVoter predicted), and Trump seems to have abandoned, at least for the moment, promises to crack down on funding for sanctuary cities and overturn DACA. (This last one is a real tough one to swallow for anti-immigration advocates. As Mark Krikorian of Center for Immigration Studies writes on his blog, he expected to be disappointed, but not “for Trump to break an explicit promise regarding his headline issue on the administration’s first business day in office.”)

Past disappointments aside, yesterday gave some signs to advocates against immigration that Trump has not abandoned all of his anti-immigrant promises.

First, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, himself a well-known advocate of restrictive immigration policies during his senate years, delivered a speech to border enforcement in Arizona intended to outline coming changes to the immigration and border enforcement system.

For those that continue to seek improper and illegal entry into this country, be forewarned: This is a new era. This is the Trump era. The lawlessness, the abdication of the duty to enforce our immigration laws and the catch and release practices of old are over.

Sessions announced two types of changes: 1) new recommendations to federal prosecutors mandating prioritization of certain types of crimes, 2) reforms to immigration courts.

New Recommendations to Federal Prosecutors

The new recommendations will require federal prosecutors to consider filing additional criminal charges against undocumented immigrants they capture, including: transportation or harboring of immigrants, fraud and aggravated identity theft (if they uncover forged identity documents) assault on a federal officer, and felony re-entry.

⇒ So what does this really mean? Sessions is essentially instructing federal prosecutors to stack charges against undocumented immigrants as high as possible. If any felony charges stick, that person will be labeled a criminal illegal alien, which as we know, is the group this administration has promised to target for deportation. By pushing for more felony convictions, they widen the number of people who can be considered “criminal aliens” and can make it more difficult or impossible for these people to ever return to the US.

Since these are recommendations, it is obviously at the discretion of prosecutors to push for multiple counts against undocumented migrants in their jurisdiction (and each count takes time and evidence to back up and litigate.) So to ensure that no prosecutors are tempted to ignore these guidelines out of disinterest or convenience, the DOJ has thrown in an additional component: all 94 district attorney’s offices (not just those from border areas) must now appoint a Border Security Coordinator – to headline the efforts against undocumented immigrants. If this is someone’s entire job, they are certainly more likely to prioritize the DOJ’s recommendations and try to convict undocumented immigrants of as any crimes as possible.

Changes to Immigration Court

Sessions announced a new streamlined procedure to appoint more federal judges to immigration benches, with the goal of hiring 50 this year and 75 next year to help reduce the backlog of immigration cases. In addition, all immigrants apprehended at the border will now automatically be sent to detention centers, where judges will directly come to them to decide their fates. For this, he promises to hire 25 new judges. (Note: This backs up an earlier memorandum from Department of Homeland Security calling for detention for all apprehended immigrants and more judges and officers, but it still isn’t clear whether this changes Trump’s federal hiring freeze for other kinds of supporting employees judges may need.)

⇒ So what does this really mean? People on both sides of the immigration debate agree that there is a need for a higher number of qualified immigration judges to ensure that people in immigration detention and awaiting decisions on asylum claims can have their claims adjudicated more efficiently. A “streamlined” procedure for hiring raises eyebrows, in that some may question whether it will be possible to get the best-qualified candidates to judge incredibly complex immigration cases in an abbreviated procedure. Given that under the existing system judges have faced criticism in the past, who knows whether or not this will be a downgrade. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.

The potentially more interesting aspect is the 25 new detention center judges. Unlike criminal charges, immigration offenses do not typically entitle the accused to a lawyer. Having adjudication take place directly at the detention center decreases the likelihood of an individual being aware of their rights, such as the possibility of seeking asylum or applying for temporary protection or a special visa (like Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.)

It also raises concerns about the circumstances of detention. Automatic detention for everyone would presumably include children, and there is some question to the legality of this under international law (see, for instance, here and here.)

Newcomers to DHS from the Anti-Immigrant Community

Aside from Sessions’ very clear statements yesterday in Arizona, we received another hint this week at the Trump administration’s intentions to get tough on immigration. The Department of Homeland Security hired two high-profile advisors linked to the group FAIR and think tank Center for Immigration Studies. Both organizations were founded by the far-right anti-immigration activist John Tanton, and support policies like an end to birthright citizenship and heavily reduced legal immigration, as well as much stricter enforcement of existing laws.

According to the DHS spokesman, as reported by CNN Jon Feere, formerly of CIS, has been hired as an advisor to the director of ICE. Over at Customs and Border Protection, Julie Kirchner, the former executive director of FAIR, has been hired as an advisor to the commissioner. We’ll take a deeper look at the implications of these choices later in the week, but for now its worth noting that Trump’s once stalled plans on immigration seem to be moving along once more, and their direction is quite clear.

Sources and Further Reading
Injunction against Travel Ban- Granted (Hawaii et al v. Trump) US District Court of Hawaii, March 2017
Foreign Minister said Mexico not paying for wall- Mark Rubio on ABC NEWS, April 2017
Sanctuary City list on hold – Washington Times, April 2017
Declined Detainer Outcome Report- Suspended, Immigration and Customs Enforcement
Will Trump go forward with a Muslim Ban, and if so, how?” MV, Jan 2017
Is Trump going to cancel DACA or not? Mark Krikorian, CIS, Jan 2017
Sessions on immigration– OntheIssues.org
Full remarks of Attorney General Sessions, US Dept. of Justice, April 2017
DHS Memo on Implementing Border and Enforcement Policies, DHS, Feb. 2017
Presidential Memorandum Regarding Hiring Freeze, White House, Jan. 2017
Hard-line anti-illegal immigration advocates hired at 2 federal agencies, CNN, April 2017
(Image via Gage Skidmore on Flickr, http://bit.ly/2oXE0e8, (CC by SA 2.0)

Dutch Election Results: Mixed Signals on Migration

The day after the parliamentary elections in the Netherlands the global press is still firmly focused on PVV candidate Geert Wilders. His far right party had a solid evening but failed to beat incumbent VVD or receive enough seats to make a coalition without him impossible, meaning that he will likely remain in the opposition despite being the second largest party in the Netherlands. (For more on why this is, see our Dutch Election explainer or our previous analysis of Wilders’ coalition conundrum). Many are hailing this as a defeat for populism and a victory for Europe/ centrists /the progressive left. But of course, we are interested in digging into what the implications of the results are for immigration and asylum policy in the Netherlands.

Pro-Refugee parties won big…

The parties with the most liberal views on refugees made significant gains. GroenLinks, whose campaign focused on diversity and opposition to racism and xenophobia, while endorsing rights for refugees and rejected asylum seekers, more than tripled the number of seats they gained in comparison to 2012, going from 4 t0 14 seats, while D66, perhaps the second most pro-refugee party (at least on paper) gained 10 seats to tie for third biggest party. Meanwhile, brand new party DENK gained 3 seats, with a message of tolerance for people with migration background to the Netherlands, backing such positions as diversity quotas for government positions and the introduction of policies that de-stigmatize foreigners and counter racism.

In one of the biggest shockers of the evening, workers party PvdA lost a staggering 29 seats. That they did so poorly while other liberal parties made gains is interesting, but from our perspective its worth noting that this was the only party who was Left on social issues but took a somewhat harsher tone on refugees and especially economic migrants, and they were decimated.

…But Anti-Refugee parties won big too

Geert Wilders’ PPV, who took by far the harshest stance of any of the parties against all forms of refugees, immigrants and foreigners, gained 5 seats, becoming the second largest party in the Tweede Kamer. Less hyped but equally important, the CDA surged to tie for third place, picking up 7 seats. The CDA‘s position is similar to the VVD (who remains biggest party despite losing 10 seats) that refugees should stay in their own region, and those who do come to the Netherlands should only receive support to the extent that they can be well set up to return. Additionally, they support tightening up rules on family reunification. SGP and CU both did solidly with a similarly strict stance on refugees (while making provisions for especially vulnerable groups, such as children.)

Meanwhile, the far-right Forum voor Demokratie (FVD) made it into the parliament for the first time, gaining two seats running on a platform that centered on direct democracy, restricting immigration and leaving the EU. Party leader Thierry Baudet presents himself as a younger and more intellectual Wilders-type, with connections to the US alt-right scene.

The resulting government seems unlikely to make big shifts in asylum policy

It always takes some time to form a government in the Netherlands, and given that all major parties have vowed to exclude PPV, the second most popular party, any likely coalition will probably be a combination of VVD, CDA, D66 and one or more others. Rutte will likely remain PM, and parties that are basically opposed to the Netherlands accepting more refugees in one way or another will hold at least 72 out of 150 seats in parliament and will dominate the ruling coalition. Its thus safe to say we can expect more of the same: subsistence level support for asylum seekers, lots of rejections, and suport for development cooperation in regional sending zones.

Depending on whether Groenlinks or SP also join the ruling coalition they may seek to liberalize immigration policy, but will face an uphill battle.

Questions going forward:

Is high voter turnout far-right kryptonite? As the evening unfolded the media was surprised by the extremely high voter turnout – 82% overall. High turnout doesn’t necessarily benefit the left or the right, but as state broadcaster NOS reported, younger people favored more liberal parties, and high voter turnout usually means increased youth participation.

Does flirting with the far-right work equally well for the center right and the left? As many have pointed out, the VVD and CDA both took a page (or at least a line) out of Wilders’ book in the way they talked about refugees and immigrants, most notably when Rutte said immigrants should act normal or “piss off” in a tv interview. Talking tough on refugees and immigrants, but not using what Rutte called “the wrong kind of populism” managed to keep these parties in the lead. Not so for PvdA, who campaigned on protecting Dutch identity and patriotic values while backing restrictive measures for refugees and asylum like VVD and CDA, but lost terribly for it. Left/liberal parties who didn’t emulate this type of rhetoric, however, did well, especially among young people.

What does this mean for the French election? That may be the most important question, but the answer is far from apparent.

 

Where do the Dutch parties stand on refugees?

One of the unusual features of the Dutch electoral system is the large number of parties and multiple possibilities for coalitions. When it comes to refugee politics, a very hot issue in the upcoming race, the parties are all over the map and range from very strict on refugees- saying the Netherlands should not take a single one- to very welcoming, saying refugees should be welcomed without a limit and entitled to the same rights as Dutch citizens. To make it a little easier to navigate we’ve divided the top parties by their stances, using their own positions from their own platforms. Remember: multiple of these parties will have to find enough common ground to govern together, so we are likely to see big compromises.

PVV- Zero refugees, close the borders, exit the European Union and ban Islam

The Partij voor de Vrijheid, PVV, is the far right party of Geert Wilders and takes the strongest stance against refugees and people seeking asylum, particularly if they are Muslim. Their platform is that the Netherlands should accept zero refugees, close all asylum centers, withdraw residence permits that have already been granted, and use the money that is currently given to people in the asylum process to support the “ordinary Dutchman.” In addition, immigration from Muslim countries will be banned, and people who hold dual citizenship and have a criminal record will be de-nationalized. Finally, a vote on leaving the European Union will be posed by referendum (the so-called “Nexit”), and the Koran would be banned (this would likely also require a referendum to change the constitution to allow for discrimination against religious groups.)

VVD- Netherlands is obligated to accept refugees, not economic migrants

The Die Volkspartij voor Vrijheid en Democratie (VVD) is the party of current PM Mark Rutte. Although they arrive at the conclusion in a different way, their position on refugees is nearly as hardline as PVV’s. While refugees are entitled to a safe haven, that should be granted in their own region and not in Europe. In the current situation, they say it is no longer possible to distinguish between refugees and economic migrants, so efforts should be given to stabilizing the region refugees originate from and preventing them from endangering themselves and making problems in the Netherlands. The majority who come to the Netherlands cannot possibly be refugees, VVD argues, as they traveled all the way there, passing through safe regions, so they should not be given false hope and resettled in municipalities. Those who do make it should be processed as quickly as possible and deported as quickly as possible. Anyone who remains must integrate as quickly as possible and pay their own way through language courses, and is entitled to the minimum of public assistance- container houses, healthcare, and food. People who fail to integrate should lose residence rights.

CDA- Refugees must be set up to be able to return

The Christen-Democratisch Appèl or CDA is the once dominant Christian union party that has a center-right viewpoint. On the issue of refugees and asylum, they partially echo the VVD in granting that refugees are entitled to protection, but this protection can be better granted in their own region. This way, they are also better enabled to return when a conflict has ceased. Thus, they support the creation of regional “safe havens” and financial support for governments hosting refugees. Refugees already in Europe should be distributed according to a quota system, with countries who don’t participate losing EU funds. Refugees already within the Netherlands should receive training so that they can be well-prepared to return to their countries as soon as possible- and those countries who will not accept their citizens back should be ineligible for trade or development cooperation. Anyone who will eventually receive Dutch citizenship must give up their previous citizenship, take an integration test and learn Dutch.

SGP – Allow refugees, but combat abuse of the asylum system

The Staatkundig Gereformeerde Parti or SGP is the Dutch Calvinist party, a socially conservative center- right party that received some international attention when it was sued for refusing to allow women into its ranks.  The SGP believes that the Netherlands should continue to accept refugees, especially those who have been persecuted because of their faith, but that as a small and densely populated country, the number of disadvantaged/ economic migrants must be limited and there should be stricter requirements for family reunification. Only those who agree, in writing, that they want to contribute to Dutch society should receive funds for integration courses, and public funding for refugees should be limited to the basics.

CU- Certain groups of asylum seekers are at a higher risk

The ChristenUnie or CU is a socially conservative Christian party, which nevertheless is somewhat liberal on issues such as the environment and immigration. Their position on refugees is that the Netherlands should continue to accept refugees while supporting assistance for them in their origin region and supporting a more equal distribution of refugees throughout Europe. Refugees should be distributed throughout the Netherlands, but in good communication with local municipalities and lots of opportunities for integration and volunteer activities in the home. The asylum process should be sped up so people know what their prospects for staying are as soon as possible and can start to integrate. They are especially concerned about the safety of LGBT and Christian refugees in asylum homes and favor more support for these groups. They also want more attention and special assistance for victims of trafficking, FGM and child marriage, and support a more liberal policy for child refugees. They also advocate basic support (food, shelter) for rejected asylum seekers.

PvDA – We accept refugees but our capacity isn’t limitless

The Partij van de Arbeid or PvdA is the left-leaning worker’s party that focuses on employment and social welfare. In their plan they embrace a European response to the refugee crises with a distribution system, and specifically cite the Geneva Refugee Convention as being the decider of who may stay. But the Netherland’s capacity to help is limited and the country has been put under pressure by accepting refugees- thus they take a strict stance against economic migrants, and encourage more say for municipalities in choosing how many refugees they will accept. A fair asylum policy must make special provisions for the vulnerable, especially children.

SP- Provide ample assistance here and in sending countries

The Socialistische Partij is a leftist social democrat party that takes a Euroskeptic stance on issues like the euro and freedom of movement, hoping to restrict EU policies and migration that suppresses wages. Nevertheless, in their platform they propose a European solution to asylum, namely, that reception centers are placed at international borders and then people found legally able tEo stay are distributed throughout Europe, incuding throughout the Netherlands. Like other parties, they support regional assistance to prevent people from leaving in the first place, and development cooperation in Africa but not with a “post-colonial process.” Refugees within the Netherlands should be equally distributed (“not just in poor neighborhoods”) and should receive ample assistance including mental health care. ‘No one should have to sleep on the streets”, they say, and people in asylum shelter that are at additional risk of violence should receive extra attention.

D66- Smaller numbers mean better opportunities

The Politieke Partij Democraten 66 or D66 is a progressive, pro-democracy and pro-European party founded in 1966. While “not everyone can come to the Netherlands,” they point out that the majority of Syrian refugees are sheltered by neighboring countries. They support strengthening European borders and capacities and accepting genuine refugees (but not economic migrants.) A smaller number of refugees will make opportunities for them to integrate stronger. In the meantime, they deserve assistance and the same rights to housing and healthcare as Dutch people have.

GL- Be realistic and humane towards refugees

The GroenLinks party advocated for a “confident and relaxed” Netherlands and is explicitly in favor of multiculturalism and against racism and discrimination. Their platform on asylum calls out as unrealistic proposals like closing the borders and instead proposes a workable and humane solution. While international development is in order, in the mean time international humanitarian obligations should be followed. They are in favor of European distribution but also believe the applicant’s choice should carry weight – especially in the case of minors who might want to live with relatives.Asylum seekers in the Netherlands should be able to work from day 1 and should have a decision within a reasonable amount of time. Rejected asylum seekers are also entitled to minimal assistance so they don’t end up on the streets.

With these positions in mind, we should be in a good position to speculate where parties have common grounds or irreconcilable differences once we have coalition options come election day (in less than a week!)

Interested in testing out which party suits you best? Stemmen Tracker lets you take a survey and matches your answers to a party.

(Image via Flickr, (CC BY-NC 2.0) http://bit.ly/2m7mezk)