In the United States, we tend to focus on immigration issues in this country. The system – if it can be called a “system” in any sense – is functioning in a way that almost no one would recognize as sensible.
Increased immigration is not unique to the United States. There are many more immigrants in European countries than just 15 years ago. It is fairly common to see people of Asian origin speaking Italian or Spanish on the subways in those countries.
Illegal immigration is not unique either. In fact, it is a massive problem in Europe right now similar in some ways to migration from Cuba to the United States. In the mid-1990s, as the Congressional Research Service summarizes, many Cubans died in small boats escaping to the United States and this was widely reported in the press. It is little reported, but about 25,000 Cubans travel in small boats to the United States each year even now. (I am not sure how many are returned to Cuba by the U.S. government due to an almost incredibly horrible policy.)
Europe has a similar problem today. Thousands of people are fleeing the violence in North Africa. The simplest way is to sail in a boat across the Mediterranean. European countries are confronted by some of the same problems as the United States was then.
The first point of entry for many of these refugees is Greece. Greece hardly is in a position to help the refugees much. Permanent employment for an immigrant is a fantasy in a country with an unemployment rate of about 25 percent for the last seven years. So they move on from Greece.
Because of the open borders in the European Union, people can travel from Greece to many more attractive countries. Many of these other countries are concerned about the implications of many refugees ill equipped to live outside their native lands.
An opinion piece in the Greek newspaper Kathimerini suggested “To solve, Europe’s migrant crisis, give them a place of their own.” This sounds interesting for an instant, but not longer than that. In fact, it is a ridiculous proposal. The proposal is
The United Nations should … identify large areas where migrants could both live and work while retaining their nationality. Granted an indefinite stay, these migrants would also have the possibility of attaining citizenship. These areas would, by definition, be empty and probably inhospitable; the UN’s aim would be to make them comfortably habitable.
A short version of this: Let them live in the Sahara desert. But wait, that’s in the neighborhood of where they’re leaving. In Europe, I know of no such even relatively “empty and … inhospitable” area. Moreover, it would have to be owned by a government I guess or the owners would have to be expropriated.
The U.S. version of this would be: Let them live in Death Valley. What would keep them there when the bright lights of Los Angeles and Phoenix are where they can find gainful employment? “Empty and inhospitable areas” are not a great place to try to make a go of it.
What is the solution, or even a good solution? I don’t know. Arguably, free migration with private charity and no guaranteed benefits from the government would work reasonably well in many ways. The current world is so far from this. There are big arguments about immigration, of course.
There are two arguments that appeal to me. One argument: with current welfare in place, free migration would be a massive drain on taxpayers in the United States. Another argument: two wrongs don’t make a right. The existence of welfare should not stop a commitment to free migration of people. I incline to the former argument: free migration of people from Mexico and Central America given current institutions in the United States is a recipe for a big new burden on taxpayers in the United States.
Actually, under current arrangements, sponsored migration of refugees arranged by private groups seems to work reasonably well when it is feasible. I don’t know of such efforts underway now, although it seems that would be the ideal resolution for these refugees in the United States. It might work reasonably well in Europe. It also would deal with a complaint in the United States right now, that the U.S. government is not doing nearly enough to help Christians being raped and killed by ISIS.