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Germany

Making Them German

One of the keys to Germany's immigration debate is how to integrate the new and existing foreigners into German society. It's something the government has never been good at.

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Bringing them into the fold

Germany's immigration issue has never been hotter than right now.

The country needs workers after all, though not too many of them. The number of Germans unemployed is near 4 million.

They need children, but not too many of them either. The conservative Christian Democratic Union managed to reduce the age with which children can follow their parents into the country from a proposed 18 to 12 years old.

Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, there’s the matter of integrating those immigrants once they arrive here - something Germany has never been very good at.

The reason is rooted in history.

Immigration never defined

From the time the very first Turkish "guest workers" arrived in the 1950s to help rebuild a war-ravaged country, until the last massive load of refugees from the Bosnian war in the early 1990s, German governments tried unsuccessfully to deal with the country’s new residents.

Much of the problem had to do with the fact that neither the German government nor the guest workers themselves thought they would stay long. But as the advantages of life in the new country began to outweigh the charms of home, the Turks, Africans and southeastern Europeans who had made the long trip decided to stay.

Germany let them stay on, but failed to legally define them or begin thinking about their future as German residents. The absent-mindedness produced an entire generation who couldn't speak German and penned themselves inside small ghettoes within Germany's cities.

Slight improvements

In 1990, Chancellor Helmut Kohl’s government improved the situation somewhat, giving the immigrants more rights. In 2000, by which time the number of immigrants in Germany had topped 7 million, the German government eased citizenship laws slightly, making it easier for long-time residents to get German citizenship.

The debate each time was heated. Left of center politicians argued that Germany, with a low birthrate among the lowest in all of Europe, badly needed immigrants. Conservative politicians said more needed to be done to integrate the foreigners already here.

A murky answer

An answer to the integration question worked it’s way into last week’s bill, but has still not been properly ironed out.

Depending on who you believe it will cost between 279 million euro and 500 million euro per year to provide foreigners residing and newly arrived in Germany enough language, culture and legal education to enable them to properly function in society.

The German government has said it is willing to pay two-thirds of the costs, but is asking Germany's 16 states to pick up the rest of the bill.

Germany’s cash-strapped states have little left over for such an undertaking and have demanded the federal government pay more.

The deadlock is one of many currently holding the future of Germany's first immigration law in question. But it is the one that most needs to be broken.

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