Monday, June 17, 2019

Jared’s Immigration Reform Proposal Might Open the Door to a Real Negotiation


A few days ago, the Migration Policy Institute released a summary analysis of Jared’s proposed immigration reform. While the plan itself has not yet been released, and may never be, it sounds like Jared is pushing for a shift from a family-based system to a point-based system used by many other rich countries like Canada and Australia. The employment-focused system would neither reduce the overall numbers of immigrants nor threaten vulnerable union jobs in rust-belt states.
The plan has some pretty obvious negatives. The focus on “high-skill” workers would favor wealthy immigrants over poor ones. By prioritizing college graduates, it would probably worsen the brain-drain from poor countries to rich countries. And it would eliminate the visa lottery, which brings in a diversity of people from countries who usually don’t immigrate to the US. Otherwise, the proposal is actually pretty…modest and reasonable.
It’s important to avoid a knee-jerk reaction to the switch from a family points-based system to a points-based system. There is no morally defensible reason, outside of humanitarian concerns, why one immigrant should be granted a visa while another is denied a visa. Unfortunately, governments will always limit visas, creating a system by which some people get a visa at the expense of others. Immigration systems are, by their very nature, arbitrary and unfair. As long as their are borders between rich countries and poor countries, between stable countries and war-torn ones, every immigration system will always be centered on injustice.
If this is a serious proposal at immigration reform, Democrats and pro-immigrant groups should at least consider it. The plan could be the grounds for a genuine deal, particularly if it added protections for Dreamers and TPS holders, increased the refugee resettlement quota, gave more money for immigration judges, restructured ICE, closed private detention facilities and the decriminalized border crossings. These are a few of the things I would bargain for.
The chance at genuine, bipartisan immigration reform that can pass Congress only comes once every ten years or so. The most likely outcome of this plan is that it will end up on in the dustbin of history, where so many attempts at immigration reform have ended. Currently, the US government is unable to pass an infrastructure bill, something that almost every single person in the US wants. But just because something seems impossible doesn’t mean that it actually is impossible. As Donald Rumsfeld once said, you reform immigration with the government you have, not the government you might want or wish to have at a later time. And it’s important not to let dislike of Trump stand in the way of a chance to actually get something done for immigrants.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Unfortunately for Trump, Regional Organizations Like the EU are Best at Deterring Migration


A refugee camp near the Turkish border
Last week, the Trump administration supposedly signed a “deal” with Mexico to stem migration from central American countries to the United States. Many commentators have noted that Trump prefers bilateral deals to regional cooperation. But, unfortunately for Trump, experience has shown that regional organizations, including the hated EU and, dare I say it, the UN, are best at managing and limiting migration.
First, I should say that as a human being on planet Earth, I reject utterly that immigration to the United States is anything but good for the country as a whole, thought like all changes, it can produce ill effects if not managed properly. This post, however, will accept as a given that many American voters are unhappy with current levels of immigration and would like to see them reduced. The question then becomes, how can this be done?
Wait…You Want Me To Do My Job???
Idea #1: Congress
US law has developed over the years to be quite friendly towards immigration, recognizing it as a strength for the economy. Though the GOP is now pretending otherwise, it has been fairly immigration-friendly in the past as long as immigration is controlled, while Democrats, and particularly unions, have often been more moderate than they now appear, particularly when it comes to immigration schemes that encourage low-wage and temporary workers. As a result, we have a system of laws that everyone agrees is Byzantine and nonsensical, but is actually quite moderate, with a heavy focus on border control, family unity, workers, and a pathway to citizenship. I say the law is pro-immigration, however, not pro-immigrant, as it is designed mainly to boost the overall US economy and provide businesses with workers, not to uphold human rights. The law treats immigrants as cogs in the economic machine, not as people, but that said, it allows for a pretty significant inflow of immigrants each year, though much lower than at many points in the past. As a result, much could be done to make the laws more restrictive if voters are willing to pay the economic costs.
The most obvious way for Trump to limit immigration to the US is to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill that limits either the categories and overall number of green cards and visas to the US. Limiting temporary visas, like student visas, would also do much to reduce visa-overstays, a major source of undocumented immigrant to the US. The Heritage Foundation has actually outlined many of these changes in a recent report. Some of them might even receive bi-partisan support, like eliminating the visa lottery and country quotas while increasing other visa categories. Large reductions in immigration could be accomplished via immigration reform without running afoul of the US Constitution. The fact that Trump did not immediately push for this after his election when Republicans controlled both houses of Congress is perhaps the greatest tragedy of his presidency from the perspective of many Trump voters. Instead, he allowed the GOP to focus on their main priority, a tax cut for rich people.
Idea #2: Diplomacy
Since we now have a divided Congress, Comprehensive Immigration Reform is once again out of reach. What else can Trump do to stem immigration that doesn’t require changing the law? This brings us to the second way to reduce migration: diplomacy. International diplomacy is one area where Trump has a pretty free hand. One big thing he could do is sign a Safe Third Country Agreement with more countries, particularly Mexico. This would allow the US to return asylum-seekers without having to adjudicate their claims. There has been a significant amount of media coverage of Trump’s quest to get this agreement signed, but at the end of the day, there is only so much that Mexico will likely be willing to do on its own. And if you don’t believe me, take a look at how things are going for Germany with the implementation of the 2016 Turkey-EU agreement to decrease migration. Closing off the pathway through Turkey has decreased the number of people entering Europe, but it has also led to the creation of massive and likely unsustainable camps along the border and the rerouting of migration via the Mediterranean. Diplomacy has also been an important part of getting sending countries to identify and accept back their nationals.
The laser focus on Mexico and a Safe Third Country Agreement obscures the regional, and increasingly global, nature of immigration and the rapidity by which the system will simply circumvent barriers and find a new way to bring people into the US. Part of this is down to the increased globalization and efficiency of the gangs who run people smuggling. Today, immigration is not run by individual smugglers and coyotes, but by massive, international mafia organizations. Human trafficking and people smuggling are big business, increasingly run by professional criminal networks and bringing in a low estimate of at least $32 billion. The Trump administration has paid little attention to cracking down on these networks, focusing instead on the victims, the immigrants, which is akin to targeting Bubbles while ignoring Walter White. While the administration has made some stabs towards combating human trafficking as an isolated issue, it’s not clear how much real effect these initiatives will have, given that human trafficking is a trans-national problem that requires a trans-national response and part of the larger problem of supply and demand in the world of international migration.
But there are other tools in Trump’s toolbox that he is simply ignoring, possibly because he actually has no interest in “solving” the migration “crisis,” but maybe because he doesn’t want to hear that the solution requires creating and supporting regional and international organizationsthings Trump hates. Unfortunately, Trump’s approach to international and regional organizations has created a huge missed opportunity to develop an effective border control strategy. If you didn’t hear much about Nielsen’s “regional compact” on migration, it’s because not only was it not clear how the compact would work, but Nielsen was fired right after she signed it. Something that has had some success in other parts of the world would be to create a regional border protection agency along the lines of FRONTEX in the EU. In particular, a regional border monitoring agency could off-shore a lot of the US’s border patrol functions, as FRONTEX has done in Africa, working closely with international organizations, like the International Organization for Migration and with governments likeNiger. Note that I am not writing these sentences from the perspective of a human rights lawyer, I am simply pointing out that regional measures to crack down on migration are working, somewhat. There is emerging evidence, however, that the unholy alliance between Niger and the EU is starting to produce unintended and potentially catastrophic affects on the local economy. In the future, the EU’s experiment of outsourcing border control in Niger may look more like a disaster in the making if it ends up destabilizing yet another Sahel country. And this brings us to the only true solution to the “problem” of immigration: ending inequality, instability and climate change.
The biggest driver of migration in the future? Climate Change
Idea #3: End Inequality, Instability and Climate Change
Many people think that migration is caused by extreme poverty. This is actually not true, as extremely poor people lack the means to travel and are trapped in place by their poverty. In fact, migration usually occurs because better off people are looking for jobs and stability. Once people have accumulated some resources and education, they have the means and the tools they need to better their lives. The explosion of the global middle classhas led to a sharp increase in the number of people who can afford to migrate. And for many people who have accumulated some wealth and education, but lack opportunities in their home countries, the natural response is to look for a better future elsewhere. Much attention is focused on income inequality within countries, but the real driver of immigration is income inequality between countries. The standard of living is simply much, much higher for the average American than it is for middle-class people in most other countries, but the cost of living for the urban middle-class in many parts of the world has sharply increased. But perhaps most importantly, middle class people everywhere want and need political stability in order to thrive: stable educational and social services, cheap transportation, plentiful work opportunities, land and home ownership and peaceful elections. A country that can’t or won’t provide these things will see its middle class start to leave.
Increasingly, climate change is causing exactly the type of instability and loss of livable land that fuels migration. We can look to climate change to drive people to migrate not only within countries, but between them. Already, Vancouver rates highly for immigrants due to its climate and the promise of long-term political stability that perhaps only the Canadian government can provide.
Unfortunately, it will not be easy for Trump or any other American president to solve these entrenched problems without signing on to the very types of humanitarian, peace-building, environmental and economic policies his administration seems to hate the most. In a world where problems are increasingly global, nationalist policies simply won’t cut it anymore.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Stop Calling People “Migrants”


Get Out of the Road!
The term “migrant” is inherently dehumanizing and journalists should stop using it.
Pedestrians. Everyone hates them. They stride out into the road, not looking where they’re going because they’re too busy looking at their phones. Pedestrians are always crossing the street. It’s like their entire reason d’etre or something. And they get hit by cars so often, you’d think getting hit by a car was their job. God, they’re annoying.
Thing is, there is no such thing as a “pedestrian.” In fact, there are only people, some of whom happen to be crossing the street at this particular moment. We have all entered that transitory state of “being a pedestrian” at some point in our lives.
These days, it’s become very common to read countless stories about “migrants,” who are usually presented to us by the media as a sort of sub-human category of creatures constantly engaged in the act of coming from where they live to where we, the readers, live. Even well-meaning storiesuse the term “migrant” almost exclusively. It’s quite common to read an entire article about “migrants” without once reading them referred to as “a person.”
According to most media stories, migrants are never people, they are always migrants, always the other. The use of the term “migrant” in place of the term “person” forever separates the reader from the subject of the story. Like polar bears or bees, migrants are placed outside of our frame of empathy, creatures whose lives are undoubtedly sad and about whom we should feel guilty, but not people with whom we should empathize.
It is this exercise in dehumanizing semantics that allows most people from rich countries to believe that it is their God-given right to visit any country the want, while simultaneously believing that “migrants” do not have the right, ever, to set foot in another country. And most people from rich countries would never, ever use the term “migrant” to describe themselves. When rich people move abroad, they are ex-pats, not migrants. To be an ex-pat is to be desirable and special, to bless the county receiving you with your wisdom and knowledge.
I am not the first person to note the difference between the use of the term “ex-pat” and “migrant.” Other terms used for people from rich countries might be backpacker, traveler or even “global nomad.” All of these terms have slightly different meanings, but they all have one important thing in common — they are not “migrants.”
Likewise, many Americans are “descended from immigrants.” Immigrants are associated with being scrappy boot-strappers who came to America a long time ago and helped make it great. “Immigrants” are family members and ancestors. They are part of our common heritage. Even the hated term “tourist” is one which we have all embraced at some point in our lives, even as we insist that we are not “that kind of tourist.” The idea that there should be limits on tourism, that not everyone who wants to should be allowed to climb Machu Picchu, is often received with horror. How dare you tell me I don’t have the right to climb Machu Picchu! I am a human being!
For this reason, the term “migrant” is not like the term “pedestrian,” “expat,” “tourist,” or even “immigrant.” Though these terms may have pejorative overtones or uses, they are not intrinsically dehumanizing, because we all spend time as pedestrians or tourists, or know people who have been expats, or have ancestors who were immigrants. Expats, immigrants, tourists and pedestrians are part of the human family. Just like teenagers, who may be annoying, but who are nevertheless only human like the rest of us.
But the term “migrant” is different. Migrants are always the other. No person from a rich country would ever describe themselves as a migrant, nor would they ever be described as such. Once, at a party, while living in Australia (and taking a job away from an Australian, by the way,) I described myself as a “migrant.” The person I was speaking to looked extremely confused. After all, how could I be a migrant when I was clearly an American?
The term “migrant” is inherently dehumanizing. So journalists should stop using it. The word “migrant” constructs a wall between the reader of the article and the subject of the article. It transforms a transitory state of being, that of moving from one country to another, into a permanent state of being, that of being the other. And if you’re wondering what word to use instead, try “person.” Nothing is more humanizing that being called a person.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Journalists Can Change the Narrative on Asylum



Today I opened the Washington Post to see an article by Nick Miroff where he repeats Trump calling the asylum process a "scam." Reporters regularly include charming little Trump quotes like this in their reporting. I get it; these are the official statements of the US President. These are the justifications for sweeping changes to our asylum process. What are reporters supposed to do, not quote him?

Yes.

The rules of press engagement under Trump have been endlessly debated at this point, but usually this argument has centered around to what extent reporters should call out Trump's lies. Less attention has been paid to the negativity created by Trump's trolling, even when his statements are then carefully debunked. Just repeating the words "scam" and "criminal" over and over again in reference to asylum-seekers and migrants make it hard to think of anything else. Trump knows this; it's why he does it.

So far, most newspapers like WaPo have limited themselves to publishing Trump's statements and then publishing fact checks debunking these statements. This isn't working because (1) Trump is the President so his words carry more weight than anyone else's and (2) most people read the nasty Trump headline but not the careful fact check.  As a result, the toxic lie resonates while the truth gets buried.

If journalists want to keep quoting Trump because it drives story-clicks, adding context about Trump's motives and veracity might help. This a high level of cognitive dissonance in newspapers these days, where headlines quoting Trump calling other people criminals without any evidence often sit side by side with articles detailing 400 page reports on Trump's own criminal behavior. It would be nice if newspapers could combine some of this reported, such as by saying, "President Trump, who has been accused by the former FBI director of criminal obstruction of justice, calls asylum system a 'scam'."

I know this breaks with current journalism practice, but what is the point of a system that is no longer helping ordinary readers obtain the information they need?

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

“Superhero” Immigrants Bring Hope to Small Town America. But Can They Save This Dying Town? By DoBetterNews



Robust Immigration Ensures American Prosperity for Years to Come, but Will It Work Everywhere?

Pete Buttigieg was worried. His construction business in Skinkton, Illinois needed to hire a couple of welders for a big new job. A tech bro from Chicago had recently bought the old Dairy Queen. The tech bro, who grew up in Skinkton and came home to visit about twice a year, wanted to transform the Dairy Queen into a rock climbing gym for his visits. Buttigeig won the contract to build the gym, but he needed to find additional workers, stat.
“I was starting to panic,” Buttigieg told DoBetterNews. “Skinkton is a small town and getting smaller. There just aren’t enough welders to be had.”
Then Buttigieg heard that the government was helping a few hundred immigrant families relocate to Skinkton from the border as part of the government’s “Superheros For America” program. Turns out, a couple of the new arrivals had welding experience. One had even worked for a major construction company in Honduras, before gang violence had forced him to flee.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Buttigieg said. “It was like the answer to my prayers. I called Mayor Bernie immediately to get their contact info. I want to give them a call as soon as they arrive. I don’t want to miss my chance.”
Buttigieg wasn’t the only one thrilled by the news that new families were moving to Skinkton.
“As far as I see it, their loss is our gain,” said Elizabeth Warren, the manager of the Dilly Dolly Diner off Route 231, speaking of Central American countries. “If they don’t want workers, we’ll take ’em. My worry is social security. How are my kids going to get their checks if their ain’t enough people paying into the system? I figure the immigrants are the solution.”
I asked Warren if she was afraid that the immigrants would take jobs away from locals.
“I ain’t never heard of anyone being fired so their boss could hire a newcomer who don’t even speak English. Besides, I don’t even serve tacos, so if they want to open a restaurant, I say, why not? It’s not like they’re going to outdo my meatloaf. No way, no how.”
“Besides,” she went on, taking an apple pie out of the oven behind her and placing it to cool on the windowsill, “they gotta eat, right? I figure once they taste my meatloaf, they’ll be regulars here. Say, do you know how to say ‘meatloaf’ in Spanish?”
Across the town, the reaction is pretty much the same. Since the typewriter plant closed down ten years ago, many young people had chosen to move away, traveling to Chicago, or even further, to find better paying jobs. Many of the storefronts on Main Street were now boarded up and there was the sense that the town was destined to die out if some new people didn’t move in soon.
But what American family would choose to relocate to Skinkton? Enter the “Superheros for America” program, which offered immigrant families financial assistance to relocate to small, American towns. But the “Superhero” program has not been without controversy. After the bidding system allowed big cities like Chicago to scoop up all the families, the government began a nation-wide fraud investigation that led to 20 convictions of city mayors nation-wide.
“Them city folks already got so many people,” Warren says, anger in her voice, “why they gotta take our immigrants too?”
The fairness of the “Superhero” program is proving to be a major re-election issue for the President, who ran on a platform of “Small Towns First.” Now, the government is piloting a new lottery system to make sure even small towns like Skinkton get a shot at hosting a few families. But the government can only do so much. After the families arrive, it’s up to Skinkton to make it worth their while to stay.
Mayor Bernie Sanders sees the “Superheros” program as his last resort. It follows a long series of failed attempts to get American families to move to Skinkton. A few years ago, the Mayor had offered non-resident families $10,000 if they would relocate to Skinkton and put the money towards Bitcoin mining. A few families have taken him up on the offer, but since the collapse of the value of Bitcoin, the Mayor figured it would only be a matter of time before they left again.
“Thing is, there’s really nothing unique about Skinkton, except maybe for the smell. But most folks don’t see that as a positive. I don’t know, maybe the rock climbing place will make a difference?”
I asked him about the new “Superhero” families who would be moving in.
“I couldn’t be more thrilled, frankly. I just hope they’ll decide to stay here. This might be the break we need, but I don’t want to get hopes up too much around town. We’ve been let down so many times before…the Ladies Gardening Society is planning a parade and everything. I just hope it works out.”
He pulled thoughtfully at the end of his long, grey beard, which spilled down his chest, partially covering his grey, Harley Davidson tee shirt. I got the impression that Bernie was exhausted by the effort to keep Skinkton going, when he’d clearly rather be on the open road on his famous Harley, riding without a care in the world. Instead, he was in Skinkton’s tiny Mayor’s office behind the shuttered Walmart, pondering the first ray of hope to come to Skinkton in years.
“Do you think they’ll open one of those burrito joints?” he went on, thoughtfully. “Between that and the rock climbing place, Skinkton might almost feel like San Francisco. Maybe that will attract some more people.”
After my meeting with Mayor Benrie, I took a walk down Main Street. It was a beautiful spring afternoon and a group of women were hanging streamers from lamp posts, getting ready for the parade for the arriving families. By breathing through my mouth to avoid the smell, and by ignoring the boarded up Bargain Shopper Discount Store to my left, I could almost picture a bright future for Skinkton. If only they can convince the immigrant families to stay.


Downtown Skinkton

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hoda Muthana, Shamima Begum, Said Imasi, and You

"Because it claims she is a dual citizen of Bangladesh. Britain’s Home Secretary (or interior minister) Sajid Javid says he was legally entitled to strip Begum of her British citizenship because she already has Bangladeshi citizenship via her Bangladeshi-born mother. However, Bangladesh’s ministry of foreign affairs insists she is not a citizen, and that there is “no question” of her being allowed into the country. She has never lived in Bangladesh."

Quick, can you list all the countries to which you have an "effective link?" Where were you born? Where do you reside? Where were your parents born? What about your grandparents? Where were you educated? Have you ever served in the military? What's your religion?

Ok, so maybe you have links to 3 different countries. Or maybe 5. Or maybe just 2. Now, answer this question: Which of these links are "genuine"? Sure, maybe you've been living in Canada for the last 10 years, but do you really feel like you have a genuine link to Canada? Do you even like maple syrup? Have you ever even watched a hockey game? Do you feel like you are more closely connected to Canadians than with any other people?

Maybe you were born in Gabon, but you left as a little baby. How genuine is your link to Gabon? Do you even know how to make baton de manioc? Have you ever even eaten manioc? Maybe your parents were born in the United States, but you've never been there. Are you American? You could very well be! Are you entirely sure that you're NOT American?

What is nationality? The International Court of Justice says it's a social fact of attachment. A genuine connection of existence. So that clears THAT up.

The UK passed a law saying that "terrorists" can be stripped of their citizenship. Who is a terrorist? Whomever the UK says is a terrorist. And so, through this circular logic, the UK has decided it can take citizenship away from anyone at any time.

But doesn't international law prohibit creating statelessness by taking citizenship away from someone who doesn't have another citizenship? Sure, but who's to say someone is stateless? The UK says that Shamima Begum is a citizen of Bangladesh, but this seems to be news to Bangladesh. Both countries are now pointing fingers at each other with no solution in sight. The Statelessness Conventions define stateless persons as those "not considered to be a national" by any country "under the operation of its law." But there's no final arbitrator of statelessness, so the UK is free to declare someone is not stateless after all.

Many stateless people find themselves in immigration detention for years, waiting to be deported because the country detaining them will not admit that they are stateless. Just ask Said Imasi, detained in Australia for 8 years. He is not sure where he was born, but he thinks his mother comes from Western Sahara. That country refuses to accept him. The logical conclusion is that Said Imasi is stateless, but the Australian government will not agree. Instead, they recently tried to determine where Imasi is from by recording his voice and sending it to an expert on accents. It may take forever, but the Australian government is going to deport him, somewhere.

These cases highlight perhaps the biggest challenge facing efforts to resolve statelessness. There is no international mechanism for establishing someone's nationality. If you are stateless, there is no international forum where you can establish that. If your country decides you are not a national, there is literally nothing you can do, yet at the same time, your country can continue to deny that it has made you stateless. Yesterday, Mike Pompeo stated that a woman with an Alabama birth certificate was not born in Alabama. How he arrived at this conclusion is not clear, but before other Americans decide to leave the country, maybe they should ask themselves how well they've been getting along with Mike Pompeo. Because you're country can pretty much decide you're not a citizens whenever it wants to, and who is to stop it? Sure, Mike Pompeo may get schooled on this case by the US Supreme Court. There is a pretty strong precedent against denaturalization in Trop v. Dulles. But are you sure you want to take that risk?

Not only can your country wake up one day and decide that you are not a national, other countries may refuse to offer you protection because they may refuse to accept that you are, indeed, stateless. Determinations of statelessness often require one state, such as the UK, to interpret the nationality laws of another state, such as Bangladesh. Good luck with that! Of COURSE other states will be happy to accept any person deported by the UK, particularly so that the UK can score a political win. Of course.

The international laws of nationality and statelessness are like an endless hall of mirrors, each reflecting back a door that can never be opened, because it's not really a door, it's just a mirror. We all deserve better, but in a system of sovereign nation states, what authority is going to tell the UK, the US and Australia no? Who is going to force them to take back their citizens, or to resolve a case of statelessness created by other countries?

So next time you're planning a trip abroad, make sure you're in good with Mike Pompeo.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Trump May Be About to Trigger the Largest Border Crisis in US History



Image result for us border

***Update: The US government is now claiming the current number of persons seeking asylum at the border is so high it is "overwhelming"" the immigration detention system, with over 70,000 people detained in February. (It is worth noting that there is no need to keep migrant families in jail. The entire detention crisis could be solved by detaining fewer people, but I digress.) Meanwhile, UNHCR reports there are now over 400,000 Venezuelan asylum seekers world wide, the majority in neighboring countries. The math should give everyone pause.

*** Update from Refugees Deeply on the situation in Venezuela.

A few years ago, US citizens watched Middle Eastern countries like Lebanon buckle under the weight of the humanitarian catastrophe in Syria as millions of people crossed the borders between a collapsing Syria and its neighbors. While Lebanon and other countries in the region opened its borders and offered asylum to millions of Syrians, many refugees found themselves unable to work in their countries of refuge with little to celebrate and few options for the future. After several years of waiting, many, many, many of them decided to move on...to Europe. What happened next was the biggest humanitarian crisis Europe has faced arguably since the end of WWII.

Today, there are over 1 million Venezuelan refugees in Colombia and two million more in other countries in the region, but that number may only be the beginning. The United States is weighing a military intervention, awash with the dream of a pro-American government in Venezuela at long last. Meanwhile, the current government clings to power, sparking fears of a civil war. A war would trigger a massive refugee crisis that will make the current situation seem small by comparison. Venezuela currently has a population of over 30 million and I am willing to bet that most of them have at least thought about leaving. Violence and open warfare would likely convince many people that staying in Venezuela is not an option.

The US didn't experience much in the way of consequences for its invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.  Likewise, turmoil in the Middle East has not led to a huge refugee influx into the United States. One benefit to "over there" is that an ocean separates us from our current wars. But a war in Venezuela would be different. Very, very different. It would not take long for the consequences to be felt immediately and enormously on our border. A massive influx of refugees could trigger renewed violence in Colombia and worsen the regional security situation. Right now, there has been an enormous amount of solidarity in Colombia for Venezuelan refugees, but that feeling cannot last forever.

The Bush administration made foreign invasion and regime change seem easy and cost free. After all, here we all are, more than 15 years into the Forever Wars, and little of the turmoil we created in foreign countries has touched our peaceful shores. The number of Iraqi refugees in the US is so small that, statistically, most non-Iraqi US citizens will go their entire lives without meeting one. Most immigrants come to the United States in response to the push and pull of the global economy, much as US citizens continue to move abroad for work or family reasons. But humanitarian refugee flows are very different. They are sudden and desperate. When people need to flee, they will flee, period.

A war of intervention in Venezuela, or a civil war brought about by failed international diplomacy, would cause a serious refugee crises in the United States far beyond the pretend border crisis Trump railed about in the State of the Union the other night. (I say "pretend crisis" because of the percentage of new arrivals as a function of the total US population. I'm not very good at math, but the current US population is well over 300 million. We could easily absorb all of these refugees, so this is very much a crisis of our own making.)

A quick look at the asylum statistics from February shows that the number of Venezuelans claiming asylum already dwarfs claims from all other countries, though the number, a little over 2,000, remains so low that its effect on the life average, non-Venezuelan US citizen is probably close to zero. The total number of asylum screenings for 2016 were fewer than 100,000 for the entire country. While this was a huge increase since 2008, it represents a tiny fraction of total immigration to the United States and a drop in the massive bucket of US citizens currently existing on Earth.

Most US citizens alive today have never experiences an actual humanitarian crisis. Unless you are an immigrant, an aid workers, a soldier or a journalist, you have probably never been to a refugee camp or seen a mass border crossing. But we may be about to. Let's hope our government is ready for the challenge. Somehow I'm not filled with confidence that it is.