11/20/2014 09:55 am ET Updated Jan 17, 2015

Switzerland Highights Europe's Huge Immigration Problem

Not too long ago, the Swiss voted in a referendum to limit immigration and make it easier to expel foreign-born residents. The specifics of the vote matter less than the sentiment it reflects, in Switzerland and Europe generally, feelings exemplified in an otherwise insignificant incident in the small Swiss city of Nyon. There, shortly after the vote, an elderly woman, waiting on an orderly, typically Swiss line for a bus, stepped out of her place for no other reason than to berate an immigrant beggar. "We voted yes," she shouted, referring to the referendum, "Now go home!" As a new book on this subject reveals, such an outburst could have happened anywhere from Scandinavia to Sicily.

Though Europe's elite, for understandable reasons, would like to down play such intense anti-immigrant feelings, the truth is they make those in the United States look mild by comparison. German officials have gone on record saying that their country is "not an immigrant nation." Across the continent in Ireland, one official not too long ago flatly stated that additional immigrant flows would cause "one million and one" problems. Surveys in the United Kingdom indicate that three-quarters of the population want to send unemployed foreigners home forcibly, while similar polls on the continent suggest that negative feelings there are, if anything, more intense. Anti-immigrant political parties have gained ground in Belgium, Denmark, the Netherlands, and, of course, Switzerland, while Italy has passed laws to make it easier to expel foreign residents, including even other European Union (EU) citizens. France's Ministry of Identity and Immigration has proposed strict quotas and has gone so far as to insist on DNA testing for immigrant family unification claims.

Perhaps even more damaging, vigilantism has increased. Italy has seen incidents where neo-Nazi groups have attacked foreign shopkeepers, shouting "get out bastard foreigners," even in Rome's trendy Rigneto district. Anti-Muslim websites have proliferated, one of which, Gates of Vienna, sells a cap with the motto in the language of one's choice, "Islamophobe and Proud of It." A prominent German feminist, Alice Schwarzer, has concluded that immigrant Islamic influences "probably and unfortunately can no longer be stopped with only democratic means."

The tension may have already reached the point where it is driving people out, middle class people, less anti-immigrant themselves than simply eager to avoid the bad feelings and the growing potential for violence. Some 52 percent of German university students report a desire to leave the country. The Netherlands tracks a net outflow of the educated, some of which have explained their decision in terms of a "Trojan Horse of Islamism." Belgium, and Sweden report annual rates of emigration picking up by 15 percent and 18 percent respectively. Should this flight of largely educated people in their prime working years become more general, it would compound Europe's already severe difficulties of dealing with an increasingly large overhang of elderly pensioners. Meanwhile, the destination countries - the United States, Canada, Australia, and South Africa - benefit from a flow of talented new entrants.