In a broad alliance between all major centrist parties on the right and the left, Denmark’s parliament Folketinget has passed a law described as a “paradigm shift” in immigration and integration law. The new legislation implements major restrictions and makes it easier to send refugees back home.
The aspect of the law that has received the most attention in Denmark is the change in status of refugees to temporary residence indefinitely. The wording of the legislation now states that refugees should be sent out of the country as fast as international law permits. This means that as soon as it is safe to return, residency will be revoked, and the refugees sent back home.
The paradigm shift also sets an upper ceiling on the number of family reunions that will be permitted. Foreigner and Integration Minister Inger Støjberg of the liberal Left party will have the power and responsibility to determine the upper ceiling, which will be updated on a monthly basis.
Currently, a foreigner who is expelled from the country and illegally returns today receives jail time of between ten days and two months on first occurrence. Under the new law, this will be increased to a minimum of one year but can be as much as three years upon repeat offense.
Expelled foreigners who, due to international law, cannot be returned to their home country will be required to report in person at government return centers three times per week. Upon failure to comply the punishment will be increased.
Currently, refugees receive a generous monthly “integration support” upon arrival. The name of this support will now be changed to “sustenance and return support” and reduced by 2,000 Danish Kroner, around $300.
Finally, it will be harder for refugees to vote in local elections. The number of years of residence before electoral participation is allowed has been raised from three to four years. As before, it will not be possible for refugees to vote in national or EU-parliament elections unless they have become Danish citizens, which from now on will be much harder.
Although the bill has been controversial, the consensus among centrist parties is far more noteworthy. In the United States and many European countries, there is a trend toward polarization and a collapsing center. Not so in Denmark or its neighbor country Norway.
Here the center has been strengthened as it has absorbed and internalized the trauma of the 2015 migrant crisis. Rather than being vocal about a stricter immigration law, Denmark has followed the Scandinavian tradition of gathering in silence in the center to correct an embarrassing mistake.
The fact that the law received bipartisan support shows that the Danes now have realized that their open-border policies have not been a good idea and need to be reversed.
The United States is not yet at the stage where a reasonable immigration policy compromise between the Republicans and the Democrats can be achieved, but there are lessons to be learned from Denmark. It has opted for a centrist solution and so, too, can the United States.