Lies about Migrants: Comparing U.S. and German Migration Politics in a Post-Truth Environment

Lecture | March 22 | 12-1 p.m. | 201 Moses Hall

 Beverly Crawford Ames, Center for German and European Studies, UC Berkeley

 Institute of European Studies, GHI West - Pacific Regional Office of the German Historical Institute Washington DC

The ascendance of the far right has jolted both American and European politics, weakened the European Union, and undermined liberal democracy on both sides of the Atlantic. This ascendance - whose myriad causes continue to puzzle scholars - depends heavily upon the right’s virulent opposition to immigration. Conflating refugees and asylum seekers with economic migrants, the extreme right fans the flames of fear of "the other" with vitriolic anti-immigrant rhetoric as its central political message. The anti-immigrant right has both tightened its grip on power and bled into the politics of traditional political parties in both countries. Throughout the West, migration has become the battlefield in a culture war between an open conception of society in which aliens can gain status and opportunities and a closed society in which aliens are locked out.

Until quite recently, a large majority of both the German and American public held positive views of immigrants. But currently, around 20-35% of both Americans and Germans say that they feel “unsympathetic” toward immigrants. Both the equivalence and the rapid shift in the intensity of anti-immigrant sentiment and its impact on policy in both countries is surprising. Crawford Ames will argue that misinformation, exaggeration, distortion of facts, and fabricated content - all bolstering false narratives about migrants - are important factors explaining this shift. 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 will examine 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 concludes 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.”

Beverly Crawford Ames is Professor emerita of Political Science and Political Economy at the University of California Berkeley and the former Director and current Honorary Chair of Berkeley’s Center for German and European Studies. She also served as the Co-Director of the UC European Union Center of Excellence and Associate Director of the Institute of European Studies. She was named a Fellow of the Turkish National Science Foundation (2015) and Senior Fellow of the Hertie School of Governance (2016). She is currently working on a monograph with the working title: "No Risk, No Life:" The Four Precarious Lives of an Asylum Seeker. It is a comparative study of asylum seekers’ experience as they make their way to refuge and confront the challenges of integration in Germany and the United States. Her previous books include Power and German Foreign Policy: Embedded Hegemony in Europe, (Palgrave Macmillan 2007), and Economic Vulnerability in International Relations, (Columbia University Press, 1993).