Illegal immigration has long been a staple of US politics, but economic uncertainty and growing fears of potential national security risks fuel a renewed push to deal with illegal immigration. Between the Syria Refugee Crisis and the Brexit, Europeans are just as focused on the issue of immigration. Despite liberal European attitudes on immigration and residency, European leaders are finding open border policies no longer palatable. Recalling situations like the Rohingya and Bangladeshi Refugee Crisis of 2015, it is clear that much of the world’s population sees immigration as a major public policy issue.
Immigration policies are strongly influenced by economic and national security issues. This is why the United States was forced to eventually adopt restrictions on immigration. Ever since then, it has struggled with an increasing illegal immigration problem. The post-Cold War Era was, however, a time of peace and prosperity, which allowed liberal views that favor open borders and immigration to become popular enough to be embraced across much of Europe. As the role of the European Union and international governance expanded, many started to assume freedom of movement across borders was accepted as a human right by all.
Unfortunately, Americans and Europeans face a global economy where increasing economic disparity means they are struggling with more and more poverty. For that reason, the freedom of movement within one’s own nation may be an inalienable human right, but the world is questioning the assumption that people have the right to enter the lands of others. When it comes to immigrants fleeing violence and other threatening situations, the cold truth is that a deeply entrenched sense of insecurity overrides the desperate pleas of those in need of sanctuary and opportunity.
Traditionally, the US has turned a blind eye to the problem in order to reap the benefits of cheap labor, but the threat of terrorism and a weak economy have turned the issue foreign policy issues into a major political issue. It is understandable that Westerners fear increased competition for jobs. Westerners have been so traumatized by the Great Recession and other events that they have learned to embrace disengagement, instead of problem solving when faced with serious policy issues. The strain of accepting and assimilating massive waves of immigrants into one’s nation is seen as an overwhelming strain on national economies and debt-burdened governments.
On the other hand, Ellis Island alone welcomed more than 5,000 to 10,000 immigrants into the United States a day between 1900 and 1914. From the perspective of illegal immigrants, modern Americans and Europeans are denying those living in dire poverty real opportunity. Quite frankly, the vast majority of immigrants are just trying to protect themselves and build better lives for their families, which is what Americans and Europeans would do if in the same position. Immigrates of today want the same opportunities afforded to the ancestors of those who enjoy the benefits of immigration.
Furthermore, the economic benefits of illegal immigration have clearly overwhelmed the threat of deportation, or even death, for those willing to illegally enter the US and Europe. The increasing threat of violence seen throughout the world creates an even stronger incentive. Given that it is not in the nature of Americans and modern Europeans to bluntly embrace cruel and inhumane policies, the West can never apply enough punitive measures to counterbalance the incentives that exist for violating immigration laws.
Consequently, there are no viable solutions on the table to address illegal immigration. Quite frankly, it has become ever more apparent that deportations and amnesty cannot solve the illegal immigration problem, especially when factoring in national security concerns. For those who favor the liberalization of the borders and economies of the world, the best solution is to abandon immigration control. There are, however, consequences that can be understood by looking at the damage done by free trade, i.e. the liberalization of the global economy.
In the 1980 and 1990's, the push for accelerated economic globalization forced workers in wealthy western countries to directly compete against those working in under-regulated, under-taxed, far poorer nations. NAFTA, for example, was sold to the American People as an opportunity to gain access to new markets and cheaper goods. What NAFTA did was further deleverage workers in the US, Canada, and Mexico. Mexico’s economy has benefited from NAFTA, but the lack of leverage undermines the ability of the Mexican People to seek a fair share of these benefits.
It is the fear of this writer that policymakers and researchers cannot foresee an economy capable of supporting a decent Middle Class lifestyle for the bulk of the human population. In other words, they are settling for an economy that will enrich a handful of individuals in each country, thus engineering a sustainable economy for the few that will be composed of the superrich and a global Middle Class. In turn, the majority of the world’s population will be neglected by the rich and powerful.
The wealthy of many Central American countries, for example, already barricade themselves in their lavish homes and hire private security to protect their families from the desperate and opportunistic. Clearly, there is an issue with essential civil services, such as the police, when those who can afford it hire their own private police force instead of paying higher taxes and improving public policies to guarantee public security and safety.
This type of self-imposed isolation by the wealthy only further divides the haves and have-nots, which, in turn, drives the failure of the power elites to properly address national interests over personal interests. Relying on open borders and unrestricted immigration to solve the underlying issues behind illegal immigration only makes it easier for self-interested elites to avoid solving their national problems and seek the displacement of populations that threaten their interests.
Despite all the political capital and time spent on immigration, little has been accomplished. The perpetual stalemate between those who want to open borders to unrestricted immigration and those who want to crackdown on illegal immigration is not going to solve the underlying reasons why there is so much illegal immigration. Consequently, world leaders need to focus on the issues driving mass immigration instead of the symptom.
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