Barack Obama, Immigration

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Boat_People_at_Sicily_in_the_Mediterranean_SeaImmigration is now clearly at the very centre of political debate in the west. But, in the past couple of weeks, the European and US debates have branched off in different directions.

Two weeks ago Mr Obama announced plans to shield millions of illegal immigrants from potential deportation. For all the bitter divisions his proposals stirred up, the likelihood is that they will ultimately help to push the American debate in a more liberal direction.

In Europe, by contrast, the rise of populist anti-immigration parties, such as Britain’s UK Independence party and France’s National Front, is still driving the debate to the right.

Mr Cameron (British prime minister) announced plans to restrict welfare benefits for legal migrants from the rest of the EU and to force those who fail to find a job to leave the country. Across the Channel, meanwhile, Nicolas Sarkozy, the former (and possibly future) president of France, has called for the repeal of the Schengen rules that have dismantled frontier controls within the EU.

Despite the differences in rhetoric, the immigration numbers across the rich world are strikingly similar. Estimates by the OECD of the foreign-born population in its member states in 2011 was 11-13 per cent for the US, the UK, Germany and France. Switzerland, with a foreign-born population of 27.3 per cent, is a real outlier – which might account for the special vehemence of the debate there.

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Where do YOU stand on the immigration issue?  Do you, like Obama, believe that, in the era of globalisation, rich nations are just going to have to get used to the notion that they will continue to be a magnet for migrants from poorer parts of the world. Do you see the alternative as  having to turn your country into a fortress or a police state? Do you have a peaceful suggestion?

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