Lies About Migrants

Immigration Policy in a Time of “Post-Truth” Politics

In a June 6, 2019 seminar, DAAD/AICGS Research Fellow Beverly Crawford Ames argued that misinformation, exaggeration, distortion of facts, and fabricated content—all bolstering false narratives about migrants—are important factors explaining the rise of the extreme right and, more generally, the politics surrounding immigration policy. Many authoritative opinion polls in both the U.S. and Europe show a grossly misinformed public on the issue of immigration. Numerous studies demonstrate that anti-immigrant voter attitudes and economic and security concerns about immigration are not based on personal experience and are not driven by facts. Crawford Ames examined the origins of this misinformation, the conditions under which it spreads, and why a sizable percentage of the population in both countries believes it. She concluded by looking at what can be done in both Germany and the U.S. to counter false narratives about migrants and bring back reasoned debate about immigration from its descent into “culture war outrage.”

  • Anti-immigration rhetoric has come to be the defining message of the far right.
  • There are two key problems with formulating migration policy: the problem that migrants lack human rights, and the problem of rival national identities.
  • Migrants face an absence of human rights.
    • There exists a clash between the human rights of migrants, and the right to protect national borders.
    • Citizenship is crucial to guarantee human rights. Without citizenship, migrants enter a realm of “rightlessness.”
    • Migrants are further dehumanized through exclusion. This can be deportation, detention within the destination, or detention outside the country of destination. (e.g., Mexico or North Africa).
  • Who belongs to a nation?
    • Borders are a necessary component of a nation. Nations that are coterminous with all of mankind do not exist.
    • Those in a nation cling to commonalities such as flags, songs, common values, traditions, etc.
    • Americans typically rely on common rights, common values, and a common sense of justice to define the nation.
    • Germans rely on sharing a common language, common rights.
  • Rival principles of national interest in both Germany and the United States
    • Both the United States and Germany can be divided into liberals, conservatives, and extreme nativists.
    • Liberals believe the nation should emphasize universal values of liberty and equality.
    • Conservative identity focuses on common traditions, and liberty and equality for citizens. They are concerned with the dilution or distortion of those values by foreigners.
    • The extreme nativists share the common belief that culture is the result of one race and identity, and there should exist one common language and ethnicity.
  • In both Germany and the United States, the extreme nativists evoke fear and hatred through signs, text, photos, and advertisements, often filled with false information and doctored images.
  • The nativist far right in both Germany and the United States has thus created a new narrative that consists of a fear and hatred of immigration. This new narrative has begun to bleed into policy and has gained following from the political elite. This far right immigration narrative very much dominates the discourse.
  • False beliefs
    • According to polls, people in the United States, as well as many other nations, often hold false beliefs about the number of immigrants in their country, the number receiving government assistance, and immigrant crime and employment rates.
      • These false beliefs have various sources: nativist “tribalism,” a general disregard for facts, confirmation bias, etc.
    • Among the remedies to false information and narratives is to create and maintain contact with migrants.

Discussion

  • Can we reach a cohesive and successful immigration policy?
    • Currently, a good immigration policy does not exist. More overlap between moderate liberals and conservatives in the United States currently exists, which is promising. However, it is still important for an immigration policy to continue to protect borders.
  • The idea of a nation was mentioned, yet not the state. Policy is made by the state, not the nation. What is its role?
    • The state is important as extreme nativist rhetoric is now being pushed up to the policy and state level, and now has a role in politics.
  • The far right and extreme nativists are not as non-factual as some may believe. They are not ignoring facts.
    • The facts that are chosen begin to be very important
  • Paradox that the less contact we have with migrants, the more we fear them, and vice-versa.
    • A stable image of an enemy, such as with immigrants, makes us feel secure.
    • The extreme nativists should be provided with another narrative. They need another way to feel valued.
    • In the end the immigration issue is an issue of identity.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) alone. They do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

Ben Friedman

Ben Friedman was a research intern at AICGS for the summer of 2019. He conducts research for current projects and for resident fellows, helps organize and document events, manages the database, and operates the front desk at AICGS.

Mr. Friedman is a junior at the University of Colorado Boulder, where he is pursuing a double major in German and International Affairs. His research and academic interests include security and defense issues, Russia, populism, and political extremism in Europe and the United States.

Previously, Mr. Friedman has interned as an assistant German teacher at the high school level. He is preparing to study abroad for a full academic year at the University of Regensburg in Germany.