- News about immigration in the US has focused on the border, not on what happens to people we let cross it.
- A New York Times piece proves that Denmark is the perfect example of what not to do to people we welcome into our country.
In the past few news cycles, the discussion about immigration has been focused on the border and on whether we should let people into this country or criminalise their entry and imprison them. But there’s a question that comes after who we let in and when, and that’s how we treat them when they get here.
A lesson in what to absolutely avoid at all costs can be found in Denmark. On Monday, The New York Times reported on the immigrants who live in what the Danish are calling “ghettos.” The disturbing article highlights the new laws that the Danish government is in the process of rolling out. These laws curtail the freedoms of the immigrants who have come to Denmark and clearly demarcate them as anything but regular members of society.
Per the Times:
“Starting at the age of 1, ‘ghetto children’ must be separated from their families for at least 25 hours a week, not including nap time, for mandatory instruction in ‘Danish values,’ including the traditions of Christmas and Easter, and Danish language. Noncompliance could result in a stoppage of welfare payments.”
It’s not wrong of the Danish to try to change certain aspects of the culture of people who come into their country. If asylum seekers come from places where “women” are forced to marry when they are still girls, or from places where female genital mutilation is a common occurrence, it’s not wrong for a host country to make clear that those kind of immoral actions are not welcome in the Western world.
But there are lines. There is nothing OK about forcing Muslims to teach their children about Christian holidays. If “Danish values” include the idea that covering up is not modest but oppressive, that is not for the government to say – it is for parents to decide for their own children, and children, when they become adults, to decide for themselves.
What we’re seeing in Denmark goes beyond a Trumpian desire to halt the flow of immigration. Trump seeks a world with law and order. We have an immigration system, and the people who cross illegally operate outside that system. He wants citizens who can contribute – whether they are in need of our help seems to him beside the point. There are obviously many moral issues with his immigration practices, and Republicans and Democrats need to come together to vastly change the current system to one in which we make it easier for many more people to come in.
But what’s happening in Denmark is a specifically non-American kind of problem. As a country of immigrants, we are a nation that is radically diverse. “American values” enshrine our freedoms to be different and to have our rights protected regardless of who we are and what we look like. Integration is a noble goal; assimilation, especially when it is thrust upon those who would be assimilating, is an unethical one. The US has always sought to integrate its immigrants into our broader culture. But assimilation shouldn’t be on the docket, and it isn’t.
There’s a lot we need to do to fix the issues at the border. But what’s going on in Denmark is a good reminder that entering this country is only one step. We need to make sure we’re treating people like human beings – and like Americans – once they get here.
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