BERLIN — Among the West’s leading anti-immigration politicians, there’s an exclusive club of individuals who have something in common: they’ve all employed migrants illegally, either directly or through their companies.
The latest member to join that group is President Trump, whose New Jersey golf course has employed an undocumented immigrant as a housekeeper since 2013, according to a New York Times report on Thursday. Before him, there was former British immigration minister Mark Harper, who signed off on an immigration-skeptical “Go home” ad campaign shortly before being forced to resign over his very own home scandal four years ago. While Harper pushed for vans that read “In the UK illegally? Go home or face arrest,” the politician was caught — accidentally, as he emphasized — employing a cleaner who was not authorized to work in Britain.
“Although I complied with the law at all times, I consider that as immigration minister, who is taking legislation through Parliament which will toughen up our immigration laws, I should hold myself to a higher standard than expected of others,” Harper said, and resigned.
Instead of holding themselves to higher standards, other European politicians have been accused of holding outright double standards. The leaders of Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party would be one such case. Last month, German prosecutors said they were investigating AfD politician Alice Weidel over possible campaign finance violations, adding to a growing list of legal troubles. Last year, German weekly Die Zeit reported that Weidel had illegally employed a young Christian Syrian refugee as a maid at her home in Switzerland, while at the same time being a key figure behind the AfD’s increasingly migrant-hostile rhetoric in neighboring Germany.
Weidel denied those allegations, writing on Facebook that the Syrian refugee — whom she called a friend of hers — was never “employed, and never worked for me or was paid a salary.” (German newspaper Die Zeit has stood by its report.)
“Yes, for a year we’ve now been friends with a Syrian refugee family,” Weidel acknowledged in the same statement, before mockingly citing media reports that lashed out at her “double standards.”
“It’s hilarious when do-gooders can’t come up with something else, anymore,” she wrote last year. But since then, it appears that her double life as a far-right leader in Germany and as a friend of refugees in Switzerland has, indeed, posed challenges. In the Swiss city of Biel, her political statements and very different private life have been increasingly perceived as hypocritical. In November, she announced that she would leave the city and fully move to Germany, where her housekeeper allegations rarely come up these days.
Other leading officials have sat out similar accusations, too. For instance, former conservative French secretary of state for foreign trade Pierre Lellouche — who was accused of exaggerating migration concerns while in office — reportedly employed an undocumented Mauritian maid at the same time. The 2012 report by France’s Liberation newspaper doesn’t appear to have tarnished his political reputation too much, however. He remained a member of Parliament until last year.
In the United States, less severe accusations were already sufficient to derail careers in the past. President Bill Clinton in 1993 reversed his choice to nominate Kimba Wood for attorney general after it was revealed that she had employed an undocumented migrant, even though no wrongdoing on her side was proved. It was Clinton’s second choice for the job that was derailed by allegations of illegal employment; the first candidate, Zoe Baird, dropped out for the same reason.
At the time, Europeans observed the U.S. debate as a political showdown and as an apparent example for the hypocrisy of immigration debates. More than two decades on, it’s a theme that sounds familiar in Berlin, Paris or London, too.
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