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Huddled Masses Yearning
Europe's Immigration Crisis Resembles Our Own

The Italian Navy rescued more than 5,000 refugees over the course of last weekend. It picked up the migrants in the Mediterranean Sea as they tried to make the crossing from Libya in tiny, crowded boats. Italy has already seen a record number of migrants attempt the crossing this year; about 40,000 refugees reached its shores between January and May. In fact, the numbers for these months have already surpassed the total for the entire year of 2013.

The Italians are struggling to keep up with the flood of desperate people, reports the NYT:

The surge in the arrival of migrants is straining the ability of the Italian Navy to patrol the waters between Africa and Italy on its own. It has prompted officials in Sicily, where most of the migrants are taken, to call for more European support. “Europe can’t just turn its back on us,” Lillo Firetto, mayor of the Sicilian port city of Porto Empedocle, said in a television interview on Sunday. “This isn’t just Sicily’s border, but it’s Europe’s border, too.”

Italy has repeatedly asked for more European Union countries to join the sea patrols, but so far only Slovenia has chipped in, offering one ship for two months late last year.

Indeed, this year Europe as a whole is on track to receive the largest number of illegal immigrants since 2011, the year of the Arab spring, when about 140,000 migrants found their way to the continent. Late last month the EU border agency Frontex reported the immigration figures for January to April. (Italy reported its own figures for May separately; as of April, the country’s total was approximately 25,000, but jumped by about 15,000 in May.) Take a look at the total for these four months in 2014, as compared to the same months last year:


(Source: the BBC, from data provided by Frontex)

There’s a parallel crisis unfolding in the United States. The number of unaccompanied children crossing the border has risen dramatically this year. Border patrol has been overwhelmed, and the Senate Appropriations Committee recently approved Obama’s request for $2 billion to help HHS deal with the surge. The U.S. News & World Report has the story:

The number of children found trying to cross the Mexican border without parents has skyrocketed in recent years. Between 2008 and 2011, the number of children landing in the custody of HHS’s Refugee Resettlement fluctuated between 6,000 and 7,500 per year. In 2012 border agents apprehended 13,625 unaccompanied children and that number surged even more — to over 24,000 — last year. The total is expected to be as high as 90,000 this year. […]

Most children caught crossing the border alone are from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala and cannot be quickly repatriated.

The children have been housed in border patrol stations, while some have been transferred to temporary housing in an Arizona warehouse. Three military bases in Texas, Oklahoma, and California will also be used as short-term quarters for them.

The plight of those fleeing to Western nations for a better life is nothing less than tragic. No one relishes turning away refugees who have fled appalling conditions in Africa, or innocent children sent to America by well-meaning parents. However, as terrible as these immigration crises are, Europe and the United States have both a right and a duty to regulate the flow of people across their borders. There is no good answer to such a difficult problem, but one response is entirely illegitimate: the demonization of those who are skeptical about open borders, and all the undeniable burdens that come with them.

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  • Anthony

    Well said professor.

    Sen. Jeff Sessions (R -Alabama) on why unregulated immigration hurts working Americans. Even though I am usually in sharp disagreement with Sessions, on this issue I’m with him.

    • Dan King

      In most cases I agree with Jeff Sessions, but not in this case. The worst thing for any economy is population decline. See Japan as an example. Our native fertility rates are too low to sustain population growth. Therefore immigration is essential to our future. Mr. Sessions complains about 30 million over 10 years–that’s not even 10% of our population, assuming nobody dies or emigrates.

      Adam Smith nailed it–the bigger the market, the richer the people. He’s still right, and a country that allows free immigration will be richer than one that doesn’t.

      Worldwide population growth is stagnant. Those countries that can maintain population growth in the face of that trend are more likely to have thriving economies.

      • lukelea

        What makes you so sure Japan is doing poorly? They are actually addressing a problem that all societies are going to have to face. The world’s population cannot grow forever. We have mass immigration but our population is hardly thriving. The economy is though. I guess you have to choose.

  • lukelea

    “However, as terrible as these immigration crises are, Europe and the United States have both a right and a duty to regulate the flow of people across their borders.”

    In a world of seven billion people, most of them in poor countries, this is undoubtedly true. But one question about mass immigration, legal as well as illegal, that I have yet to see addressed is whether it hurts the development of the poor countries from which most immigrants come?

    When you consider that, almost by definition. a country’s emigrants are generally among the more daring, energetic and enterprising of its native-born citizens, it seems likely that the answer is that it hurts more than it helps. It drains an undeveloped society of its precious human capital, the very people who would push hardest for development if they had no other choice. Look at Mexico for example. Would crooks rule there if a quarter of the population had not already decamped for the United States? I doubt it.

    For true bleeding hearts — count me amongst them — this should be the number one issue.

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