With all the hubbub lately about supposed insiders writing and speaking about the Trump administration’s supposed dangerous dysfunction, the upcoming U.S. midterm elections, Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court, the ongoing American pro football national anthem controversy, Big Tech’s growing power over our lives and politics, and approaching hurricanes, it’s hard to remember that the nation still has a major unsolved illegal immigration problem – and that the longstanding, often emotional debate about how to fix it (including its migrants and refugees dimensions) could re-erupt at any time.
When it does, all participants would do well to consider some important points contained in some recent research and writing about Europe’s struggles with borders-related issues. Here are a few that stick out especially prominently in my mind.
Two stunners come from a recent post by leading French economist Daniel Gros. First, he contends:
“The rate at which migrants are arriving has diminished considerably almost everywhere in Europe since the huge inflows seen in 2015….It is largely the result of EU [European Union} efforts, such as the agreement with Turkey to prevent Syrians from crossing into Greece, its cooperation with Libyan militias, and the massive pressure it has placed on the Sahara transit states to close their borders. Thanks to these measures, Europe has become a de facto fortress against migration.”
Yes, the migrants situations facing the United States and Europe differ considerably. But could you come up with any more convincing evidence that tough and smart border enforcement measures can work even when the underlying political and social “sending” pressures remain intact?
It seems that once European leaders mustered the political will – mainly to keep themselves in office – intractable problems got a lot more tractable. And P.S.: I’d argue that Europe’s immigration and refugee challenges are far more difficult than America’s, as it’s located near or relatively near both the economically failed states of North and Sub-Saharan Africa, and conflict-ridden Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Add Libya to that second list, too.
Gros also notes that “In the last three years, men – many of whom are aged 18-35 – comprised more than two-thirds of all people seeking protection in Germany.” Moreover, this lopsided gender ratio seems to hold throughout Europe. Such figures make it awfully difficult to claim that migrants flows are triggered mainly by humanitarian catastrophes befalling so many developing countries. If these worries were the case, wouldn’t women and children be much more prominently represented? Even if picking up stakes while single (or individually) is much easier to do than making these journeys as families? Instead, the disproportionate representation of men, and especially younger men, among migrants signals that economics is a major motivator as well – which is a much less compelling justification for liberal admissions policies.
Some other key insights have been provided by a recent Century Foundation study of Germany’s efforts to assimilate the enormous populations of migrants it’s let in from the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. According to author Lily Hindy, her research on “what a determined government can accomplish if it commits to a policy of welcoming a massive influx of refugees” found that
“While Germany’s experience so far is checkered, on the most important counts, it has been a success. Fears that refugees would spur an increase in terrorism proved unwarranted. So did worries that the refugee influx would derail Germany’s economy. Despite the tensions and setbacks detailed in this report, Germany has managed to reap national benefits from a welcoming policy, implemented despite major political, economic, and social risks.”
All the same, many of those “checkers” look pretty sobering. For example, Hindy reports that the German government pegs the refugee unemployment rate as roughly 40 percent and estimate that, by 2020, only “half of the refugee population that arrived in 2015 would be working.” And this in a country with a world-renowned system of vocational training.
Further, however welcoming it’s been, Germany’s government doesn’t seem big on promoting multi-culturalism. Since 2005, the country has legally required “all immigrants from non-European Union countries to participate” in cost-free (at least to the refugees) “integration courses” that “include 600 hours of German language instruction and a sixty-hour ‘orientation course’ including information on German law, history, culture, and values.”
What if refugee vocational students don’t show up? If they miss these integration classes without valid excuses, or who simply rack up too many absences, they face curtailed government benefits, including in their monthly educational subsidies and food vouchers. And it’s clear from Hindy’s report that many Syrian newcomers in Germany aren’t entirely happy with these assimilationist efforts, charging that they require too much surrendering of their culture and their religion – including keeping women in clearly subordinate positions.
Perhaps most important to keep in mind: Germany has engaged in this massive effort at integration, and achieved what Hindy calls “impressive” successes, at a time when its economy has performed strongly. And even so, in response to political protests, Germany has dramatically reduced refugee admissions over the last two years.
Hindy is surely correct in writing that “barring a reopening of large-scale conflict in Syria, there should be some less chaotic years ahead in which the communities will more easily be able to settle” in Germany. But I wonder how many open and closet, diversity-happy Open Borders enthusiasts in the United States – who tend to pillory calls for any restrictions, or concerns about national identity, as racist and xenophobic – will recognize the loud “proceed with caution” message inherent in her observation.