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Crossing Sub-Nationalist and Regionalist Lines: The Mainstreaming of Arguments in (Regional) Parliamentary Debates on Immigrant Integration

Federalism
Nationalism
Parliaments
Regionalism
Immigration
Qualitative Comparative Analysis
Catherine Xhardez
Concordia University
Catherine Xhardez
Concordia University

Abstract

As subnational entities have become increasingly involved in designing policies related to immigration matters, the sub-state territorial level is crucial in understanding immigrant integration policymaking, especially in federal and multinational states. Indeed, multinational societies exhibit a complex setting for immigrant integration policies, as they are implemented in a political system already facing contestation over linguistic or cultural diversity or nationhood. For subnational communities, the arrival of newcomers represents both opportunities and challenges. On the one hand, immigrant integration might enhance the subnational community’s demographic, linguistic or political strength. On the other hand, it might also weaken its cultural or linguistic cohesion. As a consequence, political elites face a “dilemma” or “legitimation paradox”. Whereas political theorists have been concerned with the normative arguments in favor or against subnational immigration policies, this paper aims at empirically highlighting political actors’ motivations and concerns surrounding this dilemma. As such, it concentrates on two subnational communities, which have expressed themselves as nations and organized below the central state: Quebec in Canada and Flanders in Belgium. Focusing on the 1999-2014 timeframe and using discursive institutionalism, I identify the members of regional parliaments’ positions and their rhetoric on three dimensions of immigrant integration: demographic, linguistic, and cultural. By studying the political elites’ arguments, I explore the ideas and the arguments that lead to the adoption of integration policies. Contrary to other researches that have focused on anti-immigration parties’ and on sub-nationalist and regionalist parties’ positions (SNRP), my focus on all political elites’ political discourse allows me to show how ideas circulate and evolve through legislatures. My results run contrary to some expectations from immigration studies and federalism theory. I show that key arguments are mainly shared between political elites when it comes to the linguistic, demographic and cultural dimensions of immigrant integration.