Not too long ago, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi received obituaries about his political career. Thanks to a tax fraud case and several salacious discoveries about his sexual relations with prostitutes (including some who may have been under the legal age of consent), many thought that Berlusconi would never again achieve political office. However, the man that Italians call "Il Cavaliere" (the Knight) has formed a new political coalition that looks poised to unseat the country's center-left Democratic Party.

Last Sunday, regional elections in Sicily returned a victory for Berlusconi and his right-wing coalition made up of his own Forza Italia party, the Brothers of Italy, and the Northern League. Following this victory, the ebullient 81-year-old politician, who recently recovered from heart surgery, said: "Sicily, just as I asked, has chosen the path of real, serious, constructive change, based on honesty, competence, and experience."

Although Sicily is traditionally a stronghold of center-right parties, the anti-immigrant stance of Berlusconi's coalition helped to propel the party to victory.

Although the Democrat Party has made overtures to stop the migration routes between Italy and North Africa, and even though the Italian Army will soon be deployed to Niger in order to deal with human smuggling, many Italian voters still believe that the government could do more to stop thousands of mostly African immigrants from seeking asylum in the country.

'Social bomb'

Berlusconi's tough stance on immigration comes after approximately 600,000 immigrants have entered Italy over the last four years. Many of these immigrants relocate to Italy's impoverished south, where various criminal organizations like the Camorra and 'Ngrangheta exploit the growing black market economy of African prostitutes, drug dealers, and labor slaves. Berlusconi and his party have used this situation to hammer the Democratic Party and their allies for engineering social chaos in the country.

"Today, there are 650,000 migrants in Italy, of whom only five percent have the right to stay because they are refugees, while the others represent a social bomb ready to explode, they live on expediency and crime," Berlusconi said in a television interview. Berlusconi has since said that if elected on March 4th, his government would oversee mass deportations of immigrants throughout the country.

In Italy, Mr. Berlusconi's remarks have created a firestorm of controversy. A writer for Fox News compared Berlusconi's words to Donald Trump's 2015 remarks about illegal immigrants from Mexico bring crime, drugs, and rape across the border. Like President Trump, Mr. Berlusconi has long touted his business acumen as one of his defining characteristics as a political leader. From 2001 to 2006, and again from 2008 until 2011, Prime Minister Berlusconi pursued pro-market policies in order to stimulate Italy's chronically sluggish economy. As Prime Minister, Berlusconi was also one of the more powerful voices in Europe speaking out against the European Union and its ostensible leader, German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Rising tensions

Berlusconi's "social bomb" comments come at a particularly dangerous time in Italian politics.

Anxiety about unchecked immigration from Africa is not only about the widespread fear of ISIS-style terror attacks but is also partially the result of the failure of the native Italian population to breed at replacement levels. Another worry is that since so many immigrants wind up using social services, increasing immigration to Italy would only bankrupt the country due to lost revenue and declining wages.

On a more visceral level, violence has seeped into the immigration discussion. This week, Italian police arrested Innocent Oseghale, a Nigerian immigrant accused of murdering and dismembering Pamela Mastropietro, a native-born Italian woman. Investigators believe that the 29-year-old immigrant dumped the remains of his victim, which were stored in two suitcases, outside the city of Pollenza. It has also been reported by the Italian press that Oseghale came to Italy as an asylum seeker, but remained in the country after the government in Rome denied his asylum request.

On Saturday, The Guardian reported that 28-year-old Luca Traini was arrested for attempting to kill African immigrants in the city of Macerata. All told, six people were shot in drive-by style attacks. Police officials have stated that Traini's attacks were racially-motivated. Traini once stood for a local election as a member of the Northern League, one of the right-wing parties in Mr. Berlusconi's coalition.