Integration or Assimilation?
Many countries have in place policies that actively impede integration, such as the Dutch system of pillarisation. Britain and a number of other European countries provide public funding for Muslim schools, just as they support Christian and Jewish schools. To some extent this simply reflects the geographical concentration of immigrant communities and was done in the name of equal treatment.
If assimilation is the goal, however, this whole structure should be replaced by a system of common schools teaching a standardised curriculum. As in the Netherlands, it is a reach to think that this would be politically feasible, yet that is the kind of approach that would be needed were countries to take integration seriously.
In France, the problem is somewhat different. The French concept of republican citizenship, like its American counterpart, is creedal, built around the ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity coming out of the French Revolution. The 1905 law on laïcité formally separates church and state and makes impossible the kinds of publicly funded religious schools operating in Britain or the Netherlands.
The French problem is threefold.
- First, whatever French law says, a lot of discrimination in French society remains, which holds back opportunities from immigrants.
- Second, the French economy has been under-performing for years, leading to overall unemployment rates that are twice those of neighbouring Germany. For France’s immigrant youth, the numbers are reaching 35 percent, compared to 25 for French youth as a whole.One important thing that France needs to do to integrate immigrants is to get them jobs and increase their hope for a better future, for instance by liberalising the labour market, as Emmanuel Macron has sought to do.
- Finally, the very idea of French national identity and French culture has been under attack as Islamophobic; assimilation itself is not politically acceptable to many on the left. Defence of republican ideals of universal citizenship should not be left to parties like the National Front.
In the United States, an assimilation agenda begins with public education. The teaching of basic civics has been in long-term decline in the United States, not just for immigrants but for native-born Americans, and this needs to be reversed.
Like Europe, the United States too has policies that impede assimilation, such as the thirteen or so different languages taught in the New York City public school system. Bi- and multilingual programmes have been marketed as ways of speeding the acquisition of the English language by non-native speakers. But it has developed a constituency of its own, with the educational bureaucracy defending its prerogatives regardless of actual outcomes for English acquisition.
Assimilation of immigrants may require even more active measures. In recent decades, courts in the United States and other developed democracies have gradually eroded the distinction between citizen and noncitizen. Non-citizens enjoy many legal rights, such as the right to due legal process, freedom of speech, association and religion, and the right to use public services such as education.
Like Europe, the United States too has policies that impede assimilation […].
Noncitizens also share duties with citizens: they are expected to obey the law and must pay taxes, though only citizens are liable for jury duty in the United States.
The distinction between noncitizens who are documented and those who are not is sharper, since the latter are liable to deportation, but even the undocumented possess due process rights. The only major right that is conveyed solely by citizenship the right to vote; in addition, citizens can enter and exit the country freely and can expect support from their government when travelling abroad. Small as they are, it is important to hold on to these distinctions.