Happy New Year!

This year 2015 will mark the 70th year since the end of World War 2 and the Nazi regime in Germany.

In the nearly three quarters of a century since that time, Germany has changed from an extreme example of racial intolerance, as exemplified by the Holocaust, to one of Europe's most tolerant and immigrant friendly countries. But there are now signs that openness toward immigration and acceptance of diversity in Germany are now coming under strain.

Not only is the anti-Muslim Pegida movement growing to the point where, according to news reports, one out of every eight Germans would be willing to participate, but hostility toward immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe as well as the growing number of refugees from Syria and Iraq is on the rise.

The Financial Times reports the following from Duisburg, up to now one of Germany's most immigrant-friendly cities:

"So far, this multi-ethnic city on the banks of the Rhine has seen very few of the anti-immigrant protests that have convulsed other German cities. In the eastern city of Dresden, for example, tens of thousands marched to protest immigration policies last month under the banner of a new populist movement, the Patriotic Europeans against the Islamization of the west, or Pegida.

Yet there are signs that Duisburg's tolerance could be changing amid a wider shift in popular sentiment against migration in a country that has been relatively hospitable toward foreigners in recent decades."

See, Tolerance strains surface in Germany's migration hub, January 1.

The Financial Times quotes a local anti-immigrant activist, a 25-year-old law student by the name of Tony Fiedler, as stating that while he welcomes "highly qualified" newcomers, he was afraid that large numbers of immigrant children in local schools could hold back educational standards. He also stated that immigrants caused higher levels of "vandalism and criminality" in Duisberg.

The Financial Times also quotes a local businessman as saying:

"When you walk around the streets, you encounter people who look as if they are not from here...One has a strange feeling, without any sense that it's risky, that it's another country."

Growing anti-immigrant sentiment has also become a concern to the German chancellor, Angela Merkel.
The above Financial Times article reports:

"In a New Year's speech broadcast Wednesday evening. Ms. Merkel used unusually strong language to warn Germans against following Pegida. 'Don't follow those who call on you to join in. All too often, there is prejudice, there is iciness - yes, even hatred in their hearts", she said.

The same article also quotes Ms. Merkel as saying about the anti-immigrant demonstrators:

"What they actually mean is - you don't belong, because of the colour of your skin or because of your religion."

Does the rise of anti-immigrant prejudice in what has been a relatively tolerant country up to now contain any lesson for the United States? For one thing, unlike the US, the German protests are entirely against legal immigration.

The Financial Times reports that in the first 11 months of 2014, Germany received 155,000 initial applications for asylum, a 55 per cent increase from 2013. In Duisberg itself, about a third of the city has immigrant roots, compared to about a fifth of Germany as a whole. It states:

"The city's mingled heritage is evident in the Indian fashion boutiques and Anatolian pastry shops on the high street."

The FT concludes its report by quoting a local priest:

"' No one here is indigenous,' says Oliver Potschein, the priest at a Catholic church in Duisberg that provides accommodation for refugees and a health clinic for the uninsured. 'Everyone who lives here migrated here two, three or four generations ago.'"

A strong argument can be made that the controversy over immigration reform in the US has the same roots as does the argument over immigration in Germany, and that the focus on illegal immigration in this country is merely a diversion from the central issue of tolerance vs. intolerance.

As has been pointed out by other writers who have commented on the recent lawsuits filed by Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, on the one hand, and the Attorneys General of 24 states, on the other, the complaints in both cases were short on legal arguments against President Obama's use of broad executive power over immigration, something that the Supreme Court has upheld for over 120 years, and long on inflammatory appeals to anti-immigrant prejudice - in their warnings that America will be inundated by "waves" of immigration and, especially in Arpaio's lawsuit's suggestion that immigrants tend to commit crimes.

But the current battle over legal immigration now taking place in Germany shows that anti-immigrant sentiment is not due to the immigration status of the targets - or lack of it - but that arguments over legal status are often nothing more than a pretext for underlying intolerance.

If there is a lesson for America in Germany's ongoing experience with immigration today, this is it.