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Salvini, Trump: Like two peas in a pod

How the U.S. president and the Italian minister have made immigration their defining issue.

Leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, addresses the

Leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, addresses the media after meeting with Italian Premier-designate Giuseppe Conte for a round of consultations to form the Cabinet ministers, at the Lower Chamber, in Rome on May 24, 2018.  Photo Credit: AP/Ettore Ferrari

He’s an egotistical politician whose mission is to keep immigrants out of his country. He wants to put his fellow citizens first. He’s controversial, sports expensive suits and a smug expression, and is always ready to put up a fight.

President Donald Trump, correct? Well, yes and no. I’m alluding to Matteo Salvini, the deputy prime minister and interior minister of Italy who leads Lega Nord, Italy’s far-right anti-immigrant party.

Salvini, 46, has been called racist and cruel because of his response to Italy’s migration challenges. On Tuesday, he denied entry to 49 asylum-seekers rescued from the Mediterranean Sea. “They can be treated, dressed and fed,” Salvini told Italian news channel SkyTG24, according to The Washington Post. “We can give them any kind of comfort, but they will not set foot in Italy with my permission.”

His solution is clear: Close the ports; Italians come first.

Doesn’t his plan sound familiar? Build a Wall. America first.

Salvini’s political strategy probably wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for Trump’s high-profile public positions on U.S. immigration. The U.S. president has, in many ways, made it easier for other politicians to follow suit and be even more true to themselves.

Say it like it is, no matter the consequences, right? They don’t care how they come off. They don’t care whether they are liked, or not. From Germany and England to France and Hungary, right-leaning political leaders have made up their minds and are sticking to their guns.

For almost three years, I’ve watched from my new home, Italy, as the United States has gone through Trump’s presidency. The highs, the lows, the works. I’ve watched the circus unfold as an American and newly minted Italian citizen, sometimes feeling sad and helpless at what my country has gone through. It’s ironic now that Italy is going through similar issues.

Let me be clear. I left New York City well before Trump ran for office. Escaping the politics was just a welcome coincidence. Little did I suspect then that I would relocate to a country that now has a similar situation.

The biggest common denominator between Trump and Salvini is their immigration stance. Roughly 500,000 undocumented immigrants have landed in Italy since 2015. Many refugees came to Italy strictly because of access via the Mediterranean. Salvini has repeatedly said “regular” immigration is welcome. His concern is with so-called “irregular” immigration, which he says sometimes brings crime and social conflict. “Irregular” is his code for “illegal.”

There are immigrants who worked hard to make better lives for themselves and gain legal citizenship to the United States or Italy. After all, America is a country built by immigrants. But some of our politicians, understandably so, want to put an end to the “easy way out.” If you want access, you will have to earn it.

My family is an example. My maternal great-grandfather arrived in the United States from Italy. My father’s paternal grandfather came to the United States from Austria. Had they never done so, I would not have had the privilege of being born in the United States, much less now have the opportunity to live in Italy as both an American and — gained through “jure sanguinis” or law of the bloodline — Italian citizen.

Clearly the United States and Italy — and Europe in general — are going through a difficult time. Have we perhaps taken nationalism too far? There is wanting the best for your country, and then there is wanting the best for your country at the expense of others. How will all of this play out?

This I know for certain: I’m both a proud American and a proud Italian. I want only what’s best for both countries. Whether that will happen we shall see.

Caroline Chirichella is a former New Yorker now living and working in Italy as a chef and freelance writer.

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