“Desperate times at our southern border call for desperate measures on the other side:” That was the very loud message from right-wing leaders in the United States and Europe this week.
Their desperate measures shocked the world. The Trump administration’s policy requiring thousands of infants and children to be seized from their parents and held in detention left leaders and citizens aghast (and its most inhumane elements remain in place). On the other side of the Atlantic, we watched the new Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini order boatloads of migrant families turned back into the sea, following his call last year to deal with immigration with a “mass cleansing, street by street, quarter by quarter.”
Most reasonable people agree that these are not humane ways to deal with what these politicians call a “migration emergency.” But too many people take their word that there actually is some sort of a migration emergency.
To be clear: There is no immigration crisis in 2018. Not in the United States, not in Europe, not in Canada.
“It is not a migration emergency – it’s a political emergency,” William Lacy Swing, the American director-general of the International Organization for Migration, said this week. The IOM’s 8,400 staff monitor the movement of people around the world, and while they’ve identified plenty of challenges, there aren’t any overwhelming or unmanageable movements of people this year. “The overwhelming majority of migration is taking place in a regular, safe and orderly fashion,” he said.
“There is a very serious problem of communication, but what we’re seeing is that the numbers are pretty modest,” said Angel Gurria, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. The OECD, which advises 34 countries (including the United States and Canada) on immigration policy, this week released its annual report on migration levels in OECD countries. It showed a fall in numbers to ordinary, non-crisis levels.
The United States has always had movement, some of it undocumented, across its southern border. The 2018 numbers are somewhat higher than the 2017 numbers – but they’re a small fraction, less than a third, of the rate experienced in the 2000s under George W. Bush, or in the 1990s under Bill Clinton, or in the 1980s under Ronald Reagan. Since 2008, illegal crossings have fallen to lows not seen since the early 1970s.
What has risen, since 2014, has been the far smaller fraction of people on the Mexican border who are refugee claimants from Guatemala, Honduras and especially El Salvador. Those countries are experiencing crises of political and civic violence, and those fleeing have legitimate claims for asylum under the Refugee Convention, to which Washington subscribes. They are not illegal and they’re certainly not dangerous.
The European Union has had a problem with thousands of people crossing the Mediterranean on rafts and fishing boats, and sometimes walking over from Turkey, since about 2003. That problem began when the European Union eliminated temporary-work visas, creating an illegal market. It was reduced dramatically a decade ago when governments struck deals with sending countries, creating pathways for legitimate migration and return. When those countries fell into political crisis, those arrangements fell apart.
After experiencing more than 100,000 sea arrivals a month during the Syrian crisis – peaking at 200,000 in mid-2015 – Europe is currently experiencing between 4,000 and 10,000, roughly the level of a decade ago. This remains deadly– more than 3,000 people died or went missing last year alone – but it’s a European policy challenge, not an emergency.
In no way are these migration challenges associated with crime or violence. U.S. President Donald Trump tried to justify his baby-seizing policy this week by claiming that the United States might become like Germany, whose million unplanned migrants in 2015-16, he said, had caused crime to soar.
In fact, Germany’s Interior Ministry reported last month that criminal offences, including violent crime, had fallen to their lowest levels since 1992. Despite a growing population, an increasing number of criminal statutes and a million recent migrant arrivals, the German crime rate has not been so low since the 1980s. The only significant rise was in anti-Semitic crimes – almost all of them committed by supporters of right-wing parties.
In the United States, crime statistics repeatedly show that immigrants – including illegal immigrants and refugees from Latin America – have considerably lower rates of criminality, including violent crime, than Americans do.
So even if there were a migration emergency, those waves of illegals would be making Americans safer by lowering their crime rates. But there’s no emergency, and the only danger in 2018 is coming from within.
U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he was directing federal agencies to begin reuniting children and parents separated at the U.S.-Mexico border after entering the country illegally, a first step to implementing his executive order reversing an administration policy that had drawn global condemnation. Jonah Green reports.