Monday, July 15, 2019

Torturing Immigrant Children in Jail is Only Making Trump More Popular

Cruelty Is The Point

Recently, Trump enjoyed a small uptick in his approval ratings. Pundits tell me this is because of “the economy,” but personally I believe it’s because Trump is now really shoving it to all those immigrant children that Trump voters hate so much. Mexico is sending its national guard to its southern border to do god only knows what (do you even want to think about it?). Pointless cruelty is now the official policy of CBP, ICE and DHS. Are any of these policies working? It doesn’t matter. Pussies are getting grabbed. That’s what matters in Trump land.
As Adam Serwer wrote in The Atlantic last year, “The Cruelty is the Point.”It’s how Trump voters bond and it’s why Trump got elected. It’s what E. Jean meant when she wrote that, “I run the risk of making him more popular by revealing what he did.” Trump voters wanted to shame and humiliate Hillary Clinton, and Trump did. They wanted to hurt the “libs” and stick it to Obama and black voters, and Trump did. They wanted to “win,” which in Trump world means putting your expensive Italian loafer (pun intended) on the neck of everyone else, and Trump did that, too.
It doesn’t matter that Trump has done nothing for their health insurance or bank accounts. The Mueller report doesn’t matter; they all know Trump is a criminal sociopath who would sell out his country for his name on a candy bar. They don’t care. Just like how Brexit voters are willing to hurt themselves and risk breaking up the UK, restarting the Irish civil war and crashing the economy, as long as foreigners are hurting worse.
Many people were shocked to see what conditions are like in immigration detention, but they shouldn’t be. Mistreatment is the point of detention. Detention is the government’s way of reminding people it can do whatever it wants to them. Brown children in detention is what Trump voters voted for. It’s what they want.
I am not saying that Congress shouldn’t investigate detention centers, or push to have them shut down, or give money to improve conditions. I’m not saying the media shouldn’t investigate and publish stories and photos. I’m just saying that these stories and photos are showing Trump voters that Trump is doing what they hired him to do. They help mitigate Trump’s various failures: his failure to put Hillary Clinton in jail. His failure to make China beg for forgiveness. His failure to force Mexico to pay for a wall. His failure to deport Obama. But as long as brown children and the feminazis are suffering, that’s enough for many Trump voters. Just like how Italian voters don’t care Salvini took money from the Russians, he’s sticking it to that uppity ship captain and her boat full of immigrants, and that’s what they’ve all been waiting for…for years.
Unfortunately, this creates a viscous feedback loop whereby Trump and other far right politicians are pushed into ever more grandiose and obscene orgies of cruelty, like the Roman emperors of old, in order to keep their base sated. I believe a Democrat can win in 2020, but first we need to let go of the illusion that Trump voters are somehow going to abandon Trump because of his cruelty. The cruelty is the point. And he’s going to need a lot of it to win in 2020.

What is “Country of First Asylum” and Why is Trump Trying it On Now?

The Trump administration’s plans for shutting down asylum change so fast and include so many different strategies, it can be hard to keep track. According to the NY Times, now that Mexico and Guatemala have pulled out of Safe Third Country talks, the plan is to try a policy called “Country of First Asylum.” Someone in Trump-land’s been searching on Refworld! (Is this what Steve Bannon does all day in his castle in Italy? Search obscure EU and UN refugee policy papers for ideas?)
Once again, like so many news agencies, the Times has included a helpful quote from Bill Barr on asylum law. “This rule is a lawful exercise of authority provided by Congress to restrict eligibility for asylum…” he says.But if you’re not quite ready to take Bill Barr’s word on something, here is a brief run down on what it means.
From the article, it sounds like the Trump Administration will refuse asylum to anyone crossing the southern border who has not already applied for, and were rejected from, asylum in at least one country they traveled through, including Mexico. As a matter of logic, this policy makes no sense. If Mexico rejected an asylum-seeker, why should the US accept them? Is the US government saying Mexico’s asylum process can’t be trusted? But if the US is saying Mexico’s asylum system can’t be trusted, how can Mexico be a Safe Third Country?
But let’s set aside common sense for a moment and consider the law in isolation. What this law essentially says is: “Mexico can’t do asylum right, so if you’ve applied there and been rejected, you can apply here and we’ll take a second look. But you have to apply there first.” This is not First Country of Asylum. Rather, First Country of Asylum, a concept that has been much invoked (with little success) in Europe, says that if you are safe from deportation and sufficiently protected in country A, you can’t go apply for asylum in Country B. The best known application of this principle has been in the EU under the Dublin regulations. The principle rests on the assumption that all EU member states are safe places able to offer protection to refugees.
Is Mexico a safe country able to offer protection to refugees and a pathway to asylum? Is Mexico going to allow people to apply for asylum or simply deport them back over the border? If it sounds like we’re back to arguing over whether or not Mexico is a Safe Third Country, that’s because we are.
Of course, the onslaught of changes to the asylum procedures, if not the laws, have brought Trump some temporary relief. In particular, the 9th circuit has allowed Remain in Mexico to stand while they decide if its legal, an ominous sign. One wonders sometimes if judges can read, since it is totally illegal under both US and international law to send an asylum-seeker back to any country where their life or freedom may be threatened, even next door neighbors that share a border with the US.
Beyond this obvious and glaring problem, it’s pretty clear that the clause in the immigration code that the Trump Administration is relying on, the one about “contiguous countries,” doesn’t mean what they say it does. They are trying to ram through a major new asylum policy on the basis of vague wording in an obscure clause in the immigration law.
What Trump really needs is a Safe Third Country agreement with Mexico, not cliff notes asylum law written by Steve Bannon.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Trump Is Getting Ready to Re-Colonize Guatemala

Flags over Agadez, Niger

De-colonization and Global Migration

In the early 1960s, European colonization collapsed all over the world, falling in on itself like a series of dominoes and leading millions into freedom after one of the darkest chapters of world history. Many complex forces led to political independence, but perhaps none was more important than World War II, which left European countries wreaked and impoverished, shrinking in on themselves. Unfortunately, this reprieve was short-lived for many former French colonies, who today struggle in a grey zone between true independence and quasi-French rule. The reprieve was also short lived for many Central American countries, which have struggled with invasive US policy for decades, as the United States adopted a proto-colonial role in the region.
Meanwhile, the post-independence period, with rising wages, increased education and access to technology, has led to an increased interest in migration on the part of many people living in post-colonial states. While many are forced to flee due to conflict and persecution, many more are on the move in search of a better life and, most critically, in search of something few post-colonial states can offer in large enough quantities: political stability and good paying jobs.
The enormous rise of the global middle class has led to an increase in reverse migration. By far the vast majority of migration continues to occur between neighboring states, but where once, millions of Europeans spread all over the world in search of opportunity, now, the flows have now somewhat reversed, with some working and middle class people now making the return journey.
If we adopt the logic of current politics, KEEPING PEOPLE OUT is a vital goal for the United States and Europe. Instead of being supported by extensive government policies designed to encourage migration in the face of enormous physical hardships, as was the case for Europeans in the 19th century, people who migrate outside of their home regions today are beset by a patchwork of policies deliberately designed to make migration as difficult as possible. But some of these policies have been working better than others.

Re-Colonization as Part of Managed Migration

Keeping People Out is Now the Only Goal that Matters

In the 2010s, it became increasingly apparent that former French colonies in northern Africa were not going to do their former colonial rulers any favors by stopping migration to Europe. Post-conflict Libya in particular became a funnel for migration as international cartels moved thousands through an increasingly formal network across the Mediterranean and into Europe.
In response, Europe essentially recolonized Niger in a bid to stop the flow from ECOWAS member states. ECOWAS freedom of movement ends at the Niger-Libya border and it is there that the EU is making its stand to KEEP PEOPLE OUT. Today, the EU pays millions to beef up Niger border security and has stationed EU member state troops at the border. Niger has passed new laws making “people smuggling” a serious crime. In return for all of this, Niger may be receiving as much as 1 billion Euros in aid. If we try to occupy the morals-free headspace of EU migration policy makers, where KEEPING PEOPLE OUT is the most important goal in human history and all values must be tossed to the wayside to accomplish it, the Niger program has had some success is decreasing migration to Europe through North Africa and is therefore “working.”

Can Re-Colonization Work for Trump in Central America?

Can the Niger “solution” Work Here?

Trump hasn’t been able to build a wall with Mexico. But KEEPING PEOPLE OUT was the raison d’etre of his political campaign, so the Trump Administration is desperate for a solution. Adopting the logic of Trump’s voters, where KEEPING PEOPLE OUT is more important than any other government goal, are any of Trump’s policies likely to work? Right now, the administration has created a humanitarian emergency by enforcing the letter of the immigration law, while also failing entirely to KEEP PEOPLE OUT. But changing the laws in today’s political climate is next to impossible. So the only solutions that will KEEP PEOPLE OUT must happen outside the US, in the realm of foreign policy, where Trump has more of a free hand.
Someone seems to have finally sat down and read the US immigration code and realized that they desperately need a Safe Third Country agreement with Mexico. The administration has been trying to bully Mexico into signing this agreement for months, but so far, all they’ve gotten is vague promises to deploy troops to the border. Likewise, attempts to violate US law with the illegal “Remain in Mexico” policy likely to fail in the courts (though this is now less certain given the rightward swing of the 9th circuit, under whom all asylum claims are automatically fraudulent and, therefore, all asylum seekers are automatically subject to eventual deportation under 8 U.S.C. § 1225(b)(2)(C ).
More on the use of this obscure and vague statutory provision can be found here, but it’s clear that Congress did not mean to circumvent the entire asylum process and create a bizarre and unprecidented jurisdictional bubble in Mexico simply by adding a single clause to the immigration law. The purpose of this clause was clearly to allow failed asylum-seekers to be deported to Mexico while the await final deportation to their country of origin. Even this interpretation is problematic for asylum-seekers who do not have a valid visa for Mexico.) Even if “Remain in Mexico” survives, it’s not clear that creating a border crisis in Mexico is going to help anything.
So the administration has apparently turned its attention to Guatemala, where Trump claims he is close to success. Of course, signing the agreement is only the beginning, as transforming Guatemala into an actual safe third country will take a massive US investment in their immigration, asylum and border control system and, quite likely, the deployment of US troops and personnel. (Also, such an agreement would not apply to asylum-seekers from Guatemala itself.) It will take the sort of investment and takeover the EU are trying in Niger. It’s not clear the administration has the attention span or organization capacity to make this work. So far, their attempts to negotiate have begun with threats by cutting existing aid, which implies that they are unwilling to invest the kinds of money it would really take to get Guatemala to sign on.
This brings us back to the ultimate aims of US immigration policy. Right now, we have a system increasingly designed to KEEP PEOPLE OUT. It costs billions of dollars and often results in unspeakable cruelty for which we, Republicans and Democrats, are responsible. After all, it was the Clinton administration who first criminalized immigration and the Obama administration who increased deportations.
One of the few things everyone in this country can agree on is that our immigration system isn’t working. It’s not working for the US and it’s not working for other countries in the region. And it’s definitely not working for immigrants. The questions all US citizens must now ask themselves are “How important is it to me, personally, to KEEP PEOPLE OUT? What am I willing to do, or have done for me, in order to KEEP PEOPLE OUT?”
Until we can all answer those two questions, our government will continue to lurch around, passing and then breaking its own laws.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Today is World Refugee Day, But the Google Doodle is All About Soccer

This Image Says Everything You Need to Know About What’s Wrong in the World

Happy World Refugee Day, everyone! Oh, didn’t you know?
I bet the bros at Google thought they were being really woke when they made the Google doodle today about the women’s world cup. I get it. Google doesn’t exactly have a great image right now on gender stuff. But still, it was crushingly disappointing to open Google today and see that World Refugee Day didn’t rate a mention.
Over the years, the Google Doodle has emerged as a particular window into elite American psychosis, simultaneously banal and highly significant. The doodle captures what Silicon Valley, one of the most exclusive clubs of all time, wants other people to think it cares about. Right now, the Doodle tells me that Google really, really wants me to think it cares about women’s soccer, even though I know this isn’t true, and Google knows I know it’s not true. Essentially, the Doodle is watching me, watching Google, watching me back— a stream of privileged, American, white male anxiety and suppressed rage reflected down an endless hall of mirrors, back and forth like a ping pong ball, until it is safely repackaged and rendered into a harmless, cutesy, PC, animated image.
What today’s Google Doodle tells me is that Google is probably totally unaware that World Refugee Day exists.
Last week, UNHCR released its latest statistics on refugees and there are now a whopping 70 million displaced people in the world, 2.3 million more than last year. And, as UNHCR themselves admit, this is likely an under-counting. At this rate, there will be as many refugees as US citizens in 200 years. Yet to the world’s 1%, refugees exist in a corporeal plane that is entirely separate from their lives and experiences, and certainly far away from the air conditioned offices and pleasant coffee shops where Google employees spend most of their time. Do any refugees or former refugees work at Google? An interesting question. I googled it, and got no answer.
For years, UNHCR has been trying to promote World Refugee Day. In many countries in Africa, the day now receives major attention, with large events planned across countries. But in the US, it remains so obscure that even with increased public awareness of refugees during the Trump administration, there are only relatively low-profile events planned here in NY and most Americans are probably totally unaware. (Here’s one event, if you have time.) A Google Doodle could have helped change that.
The internet promised to bring us closer together, but with the creation of silos and information bubbles, it doesn’t seem to be doing its job. I can now stay in touch with my friends and colleges across oceans, but am often unaware of what is happening to my neighbors. I am not saying things were better before — when I started working with refugees, most of my friends and family considered it to be an obscure job, as though I had announced I was working with barn owls, or something. Today, most Americans are at least aware that there’s a huge problem going on, somewhere else.
Seeing the Google Doodle today made me feel sad. But only for a moment. Google doesn’t run the world (yet) and everyone is equal, even if it sometimes feels like some people are more equal than others.
So here’s hoping that next year, the women soccer players get paid the same as the men, and there are fewer refugees in 2020 than in 2019. In the meantime, today is the day when we, the world, collectively celebrate the courage, the tenacity, the skills and the contributions of the world’s refugees. So break out that Einstein teeshirt and, please, tell all your friends.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

To Protect Millions of “Climate Change Refugees,” All We Need is One Judge to Think Outside the International Law Box

Small Island States: the Maldives
If drastic action is not taken soon, many small island states may not be around in the next 50 years. The governments of Small Island States have been sounding the alarm for decades, but no progress has been made on cutting global emissions. The government of the Maldives even held a cabinet meeting underwater to galvanize international attention, but to no avail. The truth is, small island states are, well, small and have little clout in the international arena.
Maldives cabinet meeting
What can be done to put pressure on rich countries? One thing you will frequently read in magazines and newspaper articles is that those displaced by climate change are not “refugees” because they haven’t been persecuted. Because the victims of climate change are not refugees, they have no right to seek protection abroad, but must remain inside their own countries and make do as best they can.
This approach is pushed ad nauseam by UNHCR and many international organizations. Because of the relentless dogma on the topic of climate change refugees, to date, no judge has ruled that those displaced only by climate change, and not as a result of war or some compounding factor, are eligible for asylum. Some countries have created ad hoc approaches,granting limited visas or asylum under narrow humanitarian circumstances,but a blanket approach that would cover everyone who needs help?…not so much. As a result, the victims of climate change have no legal recourse. If they receive help, it is as charity, not by right.

Granting Refugee Status to the Victims of Climate Change Would Put a Lot of Pressure on Rich Countries

What we need is for a court following the common law system in a big, wealthy country to find in favor of a blanket application of the 1951 Refugee Convention to persons fleeing climate change. This would set a precedent, allowing other courts to do the same. Currently, there is no incentive for rich countries to do anything about climate change because most rich countries assume they can weather the coming storm, if you’ll pardon the pun.
If you’re hearing more about climate change these days, it’s because people in rich countries are finally getting the message that they may not be able to buy their way out of this one. Granting the automatic right to apply for asylum to the worst-hit victims of climate change in poor countries might also help to drive home the message that rich countries can’t insulate themselves from the effects of climate change. Or it might bring the whole asylum system crashing down. We won’t know unless we try.
But I Thought Climate Change Wasn’t Persecution?
But as a practical matter, there appears to be an enormous legal barrier to “climate change refugees”: the requirement that refugees provepersecution. The refugee regime was created in the wake of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War. It was very much focused on political, racial and religious persecution, the idea that your government had ceased to protect you, but was, instead, out to get you. Climate change, like poverty, is caused by humans, but not, in most cases, with the express purpose of getting you, personally. It’s more of an accidental byproduct of greed, stupidity and ignorance. But this lack of intent on the part of governments doesn’t make climate change any less deadly — far from it.
But as I explain in an academic paper, the requirement of persecution was only included in the 1951 Refugee Convention, the central legal document defining refugee status, for people with a nationality. For those left stateless by World War II or the Cold War, without any country of their own, perhaps because their country had ceased to exist as a political entity, persecution is not necessary. All that is necessary for stateless people to qualify as refugees is to show that you are unable to return to your country.
Take the example of Mr. A, who used to live in Country X. While living abroad for his job in Country Y, Country X goes through a civil war and divides into two new countries, Country L and Country M. But there is no embassy for Country X where Mr. A is working. He is unable to convert his Country X passport into a Country L or Country M passport. Instead, he is stuck with his now useless Country X passport. When Mr. A’s job comes to an end, he looses his visa and is required to return home. But he cannot, because he doesn’t have a valid passport. He goes to the newly opened consulates of Country L and Country M, but neither will issue him with a passport. The police of Country Y arrest Mr. A for overstaying his visa and try to deport him, but to where? No country will accept Mr. A.
Most refugee lawyers would read the above story and tell you that, sadly, there is no hope for Mr. A. He does not qualify for refugee status and, unless he can somehow apply for a special exception for his case in Country Y or figure out a way to be deported, he is stuck in stateless limbo, possibly for the rest of his life. What I am saying in my paper is that this interpretation of refugee law is wrong and that Mr. A is a refugee. And one of the nice things about refugee law is that reasonable fear of future bad events can also be grounds for asylum, even if those bad events have not yet come to pass.
But Most Climate Change Refugees Aren’t Stateless, Are They?
True! Today, most of the people fleeing climate change to another country will not be stateless. Their country will continue to exist and in most cases, the best solution for them will likely be assistance inside their own country. But this will certainly not be true in the case of Small Island States. If a country entirely disappears, its former citizens will be stateless. While not all experts agree on this conclusion, and many governments of small island states resist it, I think most ordinary people would agree that it’s pretty logical. And if the former citizens of small island states are stateless, they don’t have to show persecution to automatically qualify as refugees in, say, Australia, all they have to do is show that they can’t return to their homes, because the land mass on which they used to live is either underwater, or uninhabitable due to a lack of fresh water, or subject to frequent, debilitating storms. Or these threats could be in the future — as asylum law has always been based on reasonable forward-looking fears, the fear that one’s state is likely to be uninhabitable in 10–30 years would be perfectly consistent with the law.
I leave it to the judges to work out the nuances — that’s their job under the common law system. Right now, all we need is one judge to lead the charge and say that a citizen of a small island state that may not exist in 10–20 years is at high risk of being stateless and unable to return to their country. Perhaps in the future, the precedent could be extended to the inhabitants of states threatened by desertification or deforestation? One court case would set a precedent that other judges in other countries could follow, potentially bringing a cascade of cases, and some real changes to the way we all think about risk and responsibility during a global catastrophe.

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.