Feel-good immigration policies in the U.S. and Europe

Cartoon by GIS
While both the U.S. and Europe need immigrants, those that try to gain entry illegitimately burden the system (source: GIS)

A steep increase in the number of migrants from Central America appearing at the United States-Mexico border is making headlines and poses a big challenge for the new administration of President Joe Biden in Washington. The continuing illegal immigration across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe has become a regular occurrence. Because it is now nearly business as usual and the media is laser-focused on Covid-19, press coverage is minimal. 

Both Europe and the U.S. attract migrants. Some of them are refugees, forced by war or political persecution to leave their homes. Others want a chance to make a living doing useful work. Unfortunately, many others come prepared to abuse generous welfare systems or engage in illegal activity, emboldened by the host countries’ mild penalties for doing so.

It is natural to expect that immigrants should respect the norms and laws of the host country

I am very much in favor of offering shelter to real refugees. However, it is a natural prerequisite that they respect the norms and laws of the host country (as it must be a better system in refugees’ view anyway) and they try to contribute by work.

It is also true that the U.S. and Europe need immigration, as long as it occurs in an orderly manner and allows in people who respect the rules.

Creating high expectations

Europe has had difficulty dealing with the influx. Social legislation and a misinterpretation of humanitarianism have prevented the continent from coming to terms with the problem and discouraging illegal, unjustified immigration. Strict labor laws and excessively high minimum wages dissuade businesses from employing less-skilled people, hindering integration. High social costs and difficult bureaucratic procedures are other hurdles. Moreover, migrants know that there are many ways to prevent repatriation.

The promises of social benefits create exorbitant expectations. This is why, as the great economist Milton Friedman explained, open borders and the welfare state are incompatible.

Typically, migrants should have this attitude:

“I am forced to find another home because my own country oppresses me or makes it difficult to work for a living. My host country has a much better system, gives me freedom and allows me to make a living. This however requires acceptance of and respect for the host country’s system and culture.”

The host country should be entitled to insist on this acceptance and respect. Therefore, it should also be allowed to ask potential immigrants the following questions: Who are you? Where are you from? Why do you want to come to this country? What do you expect and what can the country expect from you?

Unfortunately, some in Europe consider these questions unethical out of an exaggerated sense of political correctness. They worry that such questions – though fully legitimate – might be discriminatory. Not being able to ask them, however, makes the orderly control of access difficult. These questions are much less intrusive than the information European countries request from their own citizens – worth mentioning is the spurious retention of telecommunications data.

Immigrants frequently strain credibility by claiming they have lost their documents

Another problem is documentation. Immigrants frequently strain credibility by claiming that they have lost their identity documents. While human trafficking practices can require migrants to give up their papers, it often becomes clear that the failure to present identification is an attempt to game the system.

‘Willkommenskultur’ overwhelmed

The European approach encourages illegitimate immigration and has helped make human trafficking a more widespread phenomenon. When in 2015 hundreds of thousands of refugees from Afghanistan and Syria were knocking at Europe’s door, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Wir schaffen das” (“We will manage”). The statement was understood to mean that Germany’s doors were open and marked the rise of something called Willkommenskultur, or “welcome culture.”

The dam broke with Chancellor Merkel’s declaration. A few weeks later, Germany could no longer handle the inundation of people anymore and started to limit entry at its borders with Austria. The result was that several countries, especially Hungary, were stuck with thousands of people who wanted to go to Germany. Finally, Turkey saved Europe by generously accommodating more than 3 million refugees.

But the Pandora’s box has been opened, and the flood of migrants continues. In typical fashion, several European countries (among them Germany and France), foisted the problem onto the European Union, pushing for a quota system to distribute immigrants across the bloc.

Countries that disagree with the policy have unjustly been accused of not supporting European solidarity

That proposal is no solution, but the countries that disagree with the policy have been defamed, unjustly accused of not supporting European solidarity. Yet European principles, rightly understood, mean that members ought to have the right to decide for themselves on such a crucial issue.

Whether it is considered politically correct or not, stricter rules on immigration, adherence to law and respect for European traditions are required if immigrants are to integrate properly. Further, quicker repatriation should be applied and enforced for immigrants breaking the law. Such changes could form the basis for a better-controlled immigration system.

Biden’s immigration dilemma

The matter remains unresolved. Unless European countries and Brussels apply a more appropriate and more justified approach, the problem will continue to haunt the continent. It could challenge EU cohesion and again become a political lightning rod in Germany, which will hold elections this fall.

In the U.S., the swell of immigration from the south is a permanent feature. The administration of former President Donald Trump took a strict approach. One of his campaign promises, the erection of a wall on the Mexican border, could not wholly be met during his term.

Mr. Trump’s tough policy was harshly criticized by Democrats like current President Joe Biden, whose White House has been vocal in doing away with some of the previous administration’s harsher measures to contain illegal immigration. The move raised hopes among potential immigrants and the flow of people to the U.S.’s southern border increased dramatically. The situation now appears out of control.

President Biden’s dilemma is similar to the one Germany created for Europe with its Willkommenskultur. Washington will have to strengthen border security, an uphill battle now that potential immigrants believe they will have an easier chance of settling in the U.S. The ironic conclusion may be that the Biden administration will find itself forced to fulfill President Trump’s promise – building a wall of concrete, fencing and heavy surveillance along the border, and implementing more stringent immigration procedures.

 

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