Donald Trump may have accelerated the idea of immigration as a political flash point. But any understanding of the area requires what systems analysts call “functional decomposition”. The issue plays out differently with immigrants from various parts of the world, with varying needs and skills.
The world locations creating the biggest controversies are mainly Syria and Iraq, and Central America and Mexico. Some immigrants have technical skills in short supply, causing tech companies like Facebook to argue for more liberal visa policies. Others take jobs that Americans don’t want, like picking fruit, and are abused, much as an Bolshevik would say. Some have children in the US, who become US citizens as “anchor babies”, entitled to all normal services like public school education (requiring teachers with ESOL skills, in short supply). So many diverse and criss-crossing policy problems arise.
But there is also a question of moral responsibilities of more fortunate Americans. And it’s well to work this question inside-out.
So let’s start with the Syrian refugee issue. Most are Caucasian, and most are Muslim, but a few are Christian or other faiths. Yes, European countries took many times more than the US, and are now resisting it. The biggest roadblock seems to be security, the fear that a “Trojan horse” terrorist could immigrate (this has happened in Europe, and the Tsarnaev brothers, from Russia had immigrated legitimately. Statistically, the risk is very low, but the potential consequences to those affected are very great. The US says it cannot easily vet most refugees from the chaos of a civil war zone. There may be a better chance of clearing a family or person with refugees already in the US.
So, then, look at the Canadian program. Robin Shulman has a big story in the Washington Post May 5, “While other countries are turning Syrian refugees away, Canadians are taking them home”. Yes, individual Canadians are getting involved, very personally. Nonprofits and “faith-based” groups (a term that would please George W. Bush) are doing all the leg work of finding housing and jobs, and other services. Sometimes individuals are families are indeed housed in “spare bedrooms” of those willing to extend such “radical hospitality”, but most often the groups find landlords or smaller apartment building owners willing to help (often church members). Newsy has a detailed story about how one specific Syrian family is being helped in Ontario.
The Post says that the United States “does not permit private sponsorship” the way Canada does. It actually has in the past a few times, as with Soviet Jews and with the Mirabel Boat Lift from Cuba in 1980. Usually when it does there is a political undertone (anti-Communism, for example), and “Documented” (2014) by former Washington Post reporter Jose Antonio Vargas.
The Niskanen Center in Washington DC recently published a white paper “Private Refugee Resettlement in the U.S., History”, link, by Dave Bier and Matthew La Corte. (See endnote below.)
Yet, it’s fair to ask, how would this idea work with Central American refugees (mostly speaking Spanish or Mayan and often Roman Catholic). And if a private sponsorship model is to work, why not imagine a program for domestic homeless that is much more personally engaging than what we do now? Thought experiments abound: one could imagine nudging seniors living alone but with means (like me) to take them in. Somewhat ironically, a GOP-controlled Congress is not likely to be interested in these ideas (let alone Donald Trump).
Another major group sometimes needing assistance would be gays and lesbians (and transgender sometimes) seeking political asylum, which is somewhat a different concept legally. The anti-gay laws in some countries (notably Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, and some others, subsuming, of course, the Middle East and the Islamic world) has create a need for asylum. Gay newspapers like the Washington Blade have reported on a few cases. There has been some effort to organize more support from private people in a few cities, especially Chicago. For the most part, gay asylum is a very difficult process. There has not been a lot of public pressure to look for more sponsors so far in most of the country. Serious other problems in all of these countries (like Boko Haram in Nigeria or the Ukraine issue in Russia) have tended to divert mainstream, journalists from covering the gay issue in enough detail. Authoritarian leaders (like Vladimir Putin) have been all too willing to use the LGBT populations as convenient diversions or even scapegoats from their other economic, sectarian and security problems.
The situation was different in 1980, when the gay communities in southern states, beleaguered by social hostility, were often asked to help house Cuban refugees, many of whom were gay. I give a lot of details about my personal connection to this here as I was living in Dallas at the time.
It’s important to note that LGBT people experienced a long history of other discrimination, as I have already summarized here.
The Cato Institute held a forum on “The Economics of Immigration” on Jan. 6, 2016, with my writeup here covering some of this same ground. In that posting, there is an embed where Dave Bier discusses immigration and private sponsorship of refugees with libertarian journalist John Stossel.
An important recent book is “The Economics of Immigration” edited by Benjamin Powell, Oxford University Press.
Some relevant films include “The Good Lie” (2014, directed by Phillippe Falradeau, based on “The Lost Boys of Sudan”), “The Golden Dream” (2015, by Diego Qiuemada-Diez), about Central American escapees, and “Documented” (2014) by Jose Antonio Vargas.
I think that you also have to contemplate immigration in connection with other foreign and military policy issues. For example, the U.S. and western powers could decide to help provide “safe zones” in the Middle East (as there are already a huge number of refugees in Lebanon and Jordan and, of course, Turkey). That would involve the sensitive issue of committing many more US troops again, but quantitatively, this could help many more refugees. It’s fair to ask, why haven’t wealthy Muslim countries like UAE done more? Similar issues could arise providing help to Mexico and Central American countries controlling drug cartels in some areas.
A retrograde issue concerns the inclination and ability of US non-profits and especially faith groups to send volunteers to unstable or challenged countries. This comes to mind since churches with which I am familiar have sent young adult (college and older teen) groups, engineering graduates, and other assistance to countries like Belize, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, and even countries in Africa including Kenya and Sudan. But it would be very difficult for some people (like LGBT people) to serve in many of these countries on humanitarian missions.
Another more distantly related issue is whether charities should encourage Americans or others in western countries to “sponsor” individual children in poor countries (especially in Africa). Save the Children did that in the 1970s, when I started contributing, and I agreed to that, getting a different “child” about once a year, and getting letters. I had no idea how to respond to this personally, and I wonder if this is a good idea ethically and psychologically, unless the sponsor intends to visit the country and adopt the child. Some faith-based charities promote this concept aggressively today in social media, such as BaNgaAfayo.
Visitors will want to look at the history of the proposed (unpassed) Dream Act. A recent discussion (by Robert Barnes) of President Obama’s plan to shield many undocumented workers from deportation in the Washington Post (the effect in Los Angeles) is here.
On Facebook, a friend has linked a disturbing and belligerent story from a French site, translating into something like, “Open your borders or die,” here. And the New York Times has a column May 17, p. A21, “Refugees aren’t bargaining chips” by Ben Rawlence (“Kenya is using 400,000 Somali refugees to blackmail Europe”).
(Published: Tuesday, May 17, 2016 at 9 PM EDT)
On Thursday, May 19, the Niskanen Center published a letter it had sent to the US State Department encouraging making private foundation support for refugees legal and even aggressively pursuing philanthropy and the setting up of services somewhat following the Canadian system. Note the “four models”, including personal service, in Section VIII of the letter.
Update: Thursday, 23, 2016
The Supreme Court let stand in a 4-4 tie a lower-court ruling denying President Obama the ability to allow undocumented immigrants to apply to stay in the US legally; CNN report by Ariane de Vogue and Takl Kolpan; Washington Post story by Robert Barnes and William Branigin. It’s important to note that undocumented spouses of legal residents might be subject to deportation without Obama’s action, although not natural born children; so the GOP is being depicted here as a “family buster” in opposing Obama in court on this matter.
Update: Thursday, June 30, 2016
Michael Weiss (CNN journalist) tweeted this PRI story about a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany housing a (Muslim) Syrian refugee in a “spare bedroom” in the family home, could not happen in the US now.
WJLA-7 in Washington has a disturbing story involving teen kids of gang members from Central America, which would seem to support some of Donald Trump’s “be tough” attitudes, here.