Americans, Europeans Share Immigration Worries

By Pamela Constable
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Americans and Europeans share deep concerns about immigration, with a large percentage worrying that it can bring crime and displace workers, even though a majority agree that it does not increase the risk of terrorism, according to an opinion survey sponsored by the German Marshall Fund.

People on both sides of the Atlantic express sharply negative views of illegal immigration, and roughly half of respondents said they think immigration in general is "more of a problem" than an opportunity for their societies. The European nations surveyed were the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany, Poland and the Netherlands.

"Real anxiety about legal immigration exists, but it is dwarfed by concerns about illegal immigration," the fund said in a statement yesterday. At least 80 percent of respondents in all surveyed countries called for stronger border controls, and more than 73 percent in all the countries called for tougher sanctions on those who hire illegal immigrants.

But there was a wide variety of opinion as to whether illegal immigrants who are already in a country should be sent home or offered a path to legalization. Americans slightly favored legalization over deportation, while in Europe an average of 38 percent supported legalization programs. In all countries, only a small percentage supported temporary immigrant work programs.

The report describes Americans' views of immigrants, who make up 13 percent of the U.S. population, as a "paradox." It notes that although more than half of Americans say that immigrants take away jobs from U.S. citizens, 86 percent view them as hardworking and many also believe they create jobs by opening businesses and investing.

Asked what criteria are most important for allowing foreigners to immigrate, more than 90 percent of both Europeans and Americans said they must respect their new country's laws and institutions, and a strong majority also said they should speak their new country's national language. Most also said immigrants should arrive with a job offer and a high level of education.

Although more than two-thirds of both Americans and Europeans said legal immigrants should have full access to social benefits, including health care, nearly one-quarter of Americans and people in the United Kingdom said they "strongly oppose" granting them such benefits.

On the question of religion, 42 percent of Americans said immigrants should come from a Christian country, while less than one-third of Europeans agreed. Asked specifically about Muslims, 61 percent of Americans said Muslim immigrants have much to offer culturally, yet only 54 percent said Western and Muslim ways of life are reconcilable. In Europe, even fewer people -- 47 percent -- said the two cultures could be compatible.

Another notable difference was that most Americans want their government to manage immigration on its own, while most Europeans want their governments to cooperate with poor countries where migrants are coming from and send them more aid.

In snapshots of some European nations, the survey found Italy to be most worried about illegal immigration but among the most welcoming to legal immigrants. The Netherlands strongly favored allowing noncitizen immigrants to participate in local elections. The United Kingdom was by far the most keen to deport its illegal immigrants.

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