Thursday, 6 October 2011

The Impact of 9/11 on European Immigration Policy

Dr Patricia Hogwood, Reader in European Politics, Department of Politics and International relations

9/11 sparked a fear of immigrants as a security threat
In Europe, fear of foreigners is nothing new.  Back in the 1980s, Europe’s media portrayed immigrants as an economic threat, taking jobs from locals and overloading welfare state provision of social housing, health and education services.  Public sympathy for the plight of asylum seekers evaporated under a growing suspicion that ‘false’ asylum seekers were coming here not because they faced any real danger in their home countries,
but to take advantage of the benefits and opportunities of our growth economies.  Right-wing opinion ramped up these fears, accusing immigrants of undermining the social fabric and traditions of their European host countries.  As policy experiments in multiculturalism failed to counter the ghettoisation of immigrant communities and rising inter-cultural conflicts, anti-foreigner sentiment spread.  With the current Eurozone crisis and the prospect of deepening recession, these fears are not going to go away.  In fact, since the early 2000s, the Europeans’ fear of foreigners has taken a disturbing new turn.  Immigrants are now often portrayed as potential criminals, as ‘terrorists in disguise’ (Guiraudon, 2004).  This new fear of immigrants as a security threat entered public discourse in the wake of the Al Qaida attacks on US and European targets.   A ‘discourse of exclusion’ has taken hold in relation to foreigners.  Beyond discourse, the impacts of 9/11 show in European government policy and legislation.  Immigration policy is no longer framed simply according to traditional issues linked with immigrants and their needs.  New policy initiatives and proposed laws have prioritised security concerns over civil liberties.   It’s no exaggeration to say that, in the ten years since 9/11,  immigration policy has become a tool of internal security policy. 

National responses to 9/11 and the  ‘Europeanisation’ of immigration control
National leaders in Europe made a swift response to each wave of Al Qaida terrorist attacks.  New or strengthened anti-terrorist laws brought in at this time have been described as, ‘panicked, ineffective, exaggerated, authoritarian and in breach of civil rights conventions’ (Haubrich, 2003:7).   Some of these anti-terrorism laws made explicit links with immigrants: all have profound implications for immigrants.  After the attacks on Madrid and London, powers to detain and deport illegal immigrants were expanded.  In Germany and the UK, high-profile radical Islamists were arrested and deported.  National and EU laws imposing strict new controls on foreign incomers were justified explicitly by the need to protect the security of European citizens.  Within its policy area of Freedom, Security and Justice, the EU has driven a post-9/11 internal security agenda linking issues of immigration control, international terrorism and international crime.   Since 2002, Europol has officially prioritised illegal immigration networks and human trafficking.   Across the European Union, new databases have been set up that enable member states to track, hold and share information on asylum-seekers and other foreign incomers.   The EU’s external land border is now patrolled by armed guards with dogs, heat-detecting technology  and unmanned aerial vehicles to defend against illegal entry.  Patrols are being built up along the most vulnerable points of its maritime border.  But how appropriate are these measures to meet a notional security threat from immigrants?  What we know about the perpetrators of 9/11-inspired strikes suggests that these are most likely to be ‘home-grown’: to be disenchanted and radicalised second- or third-generation immigrants who have grown up in European host states.  Such people are not going to be intercepted through stricter controls on entry to EU territory or additional surveillance at the EU’s external border.  Some of the measures introduced are certainly appropriate for the prevention of terrorism or other forms of crime relating to immigrants.  Overall, though, they have had a much greater impact on the lives of innocent foreign incomers and foreign residents than they have on foreigners intent on committing criminal acts.   One possibility is that European state authorities had wanted to impose greater powers of surveillance and control over the movements of asylum-seekers and immigrants for some time.  The terrorist attacks gave them the excuse they’d been waiting for to push forward restrictive measures without these being vetoed by liberal opponents in parliament.  This ties in well with the ‘post-liberal’ characteristics associated with the ‘surveillance state’.  Developed countries in Europe and elsewhere are using new technologies to collect and store data on peoples’ movements and activities.  With this they are intruding more and more in what used to be understood as the private domain of the individual. 

Winners and losers
Who wins from the securitisation of European immigration policy?  Those who gain the most are the policymakers based in EU member states’ home ministries and the high-ranking police officials responsible for strategic developments in crime prevention.  These actors’ policy preferences are defined by security needs, therefore they benefit from the shift in public discourse and policy controls on immigrants.  The rapid development of EU policy competences over international crime linked with immigration (international terrorism, international fraud, people smuggling and trafficking) allows decisions to be made behind closed doors and without direct interference from opponents in different ministries or in opposition parties representing more humanitarian concerns about immigration.  And the losers?  Foreigners already resident in European countries face a new form of discrimination as they come under special surveillance compared with indigenous (home) ethnic communities.  The ‘discourse of exclusion’ implies a pre-emptive criminalisation of those foreigners who live in Europe or try to enter its territory.  The greatest losers are the most vulnerable foreigners, both those at the borders and in marginal employment in their host states.   With the current preoccupation with security, relatively little attention is being paid to humanitarian aspects of European immigration policy.