By Tracy Dingmann
“Expel” isn’t a word we hear often in these United States.
It’s a harsh, ugly word that literally means “to force out.”
For people like me who love words and appreciate their every connotation, “expel” brings to mind vermin or trash – something so vile that it must be hurled violently away.
But I was forced think about that unpleasant word the other day when I came across this story, headlined “France To Seek Support For Roma Expulsion.”
A Drive To Expel
The story, from the British paper The Telegraph, detailed France’s effort to get other Western European countries to agree with their call to automatically expel Roma people from EU member states and into Eastern Europe if they cannot sustain themselves financially. Roma, or Romani, is the umbrella term for what is sometimes called “Gypsies,” an ethnic group that is believed to have originated from India and Eastern and Central Europe and whose members are now dispersed across Europe and the world. Though rich in culture, historically, Roma people have been subject to financial hardship and increased levels of discrimination wherever they have lived.
France has already sent more than 200 Roma back to Romania this month. In 2008, Italy declared a state of emergency and expelled thousands of Roma. This year, Germany evicted some 12,000 Roma, including 6,000 children, to Kosovo.
France’s drive to expel Roma and convince other Western European nations to do the same is encountering pushback from some French leaders, who call it a cynical populist ploy by French President Nicholas Sarkozy.
“This is a shameful policy. It’s an electoral strategy. This will contribute nothing to the security of French people,” said Dominique de Villepin, a former prime minister who recently split from the ruling UMP party.
The Catholic Church has also weighed in, cautioning against the “indiscriminate expulsions of Roma.”
As for the Roma – a spokesman for the Budapest-based European Roma Rights Centre told The Telegraph that “any discussion related to Roma migration needs to take into account the root causes of that migration, namely discrimination and structural poverty.”
View From America
From my (American) perspective, France’s drive to convince fellow European nations to join its effort to expel Roma people and drive them to places they may or may not have even come from sounds nightmarish. The idea of European nations banding together to shun an entire ethnic class of people, deny them rights and move them around wholesale sounds chillingly familiar.
In the U.S., the people who are yelling the loudest about immigration don’t use the word “expel” to describe what they want to do to undocumented immigrants or the other people they don’t want here – yet.
But is it coming? Are we headed down that path?
A Professor Weighs In
I asked Gabriel R. Sanchez, an assistant professor in the political science department at the University of New Mexico to comment on the notion that the U.S. is just one step behind France in how they regard undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Latin America – and in what they’d like to do with them. Sanchez’s area of study is in racial and ethnic politics, with a specific focus on Latino political behavior and minority representation in Congress.
Sanchez said he sees a number of parallels between Europe and the U.S., including a couple that stand out more prominently to him than others.
“The global economic climate is impacting policy decisions across multiple nations regarding immigration,” he said. “Given that many nations are facing large deficits, they are using immigration policies as a tool to exclude resources to groups with little political power or influence. This is obviously happening in the US-see the exclusion of non-citizens from Obama health care, Arizona’s immigration laws, and the like.”
In addition to being influenced by economic factors, the immigration issue is also a ripe political tool, Sanchez said.
“The immigration issue is being used as political capital by political candidates similarly across nations in this political climate,” he said.”Long story short here is that the public in many countries is open to using immigrants as a scapegoat given that the economy is motivating more conservative and hostile attitudes toward newcomers who are perceived to be a drain on resources and suppressor of wages.”
“It is clear that candidates are attempting to capitalize on this climate by winning political points with voters who are supportive of policies aimed at tougher border enforcement and restriction of services. Again, see public opinion data, which shows majority of the U.S. population agrees with the Arizona law.”
In other words, what’s happening in Europe – and perhaps soon, in the U.S. – isn’t right, but it sure is popular!
Please, please, please – let’s not go down that path.