Beyond Trump’s wall


Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.

Even if immigrants and asylum seekers can’t or don’t vote, they are nonetheless radically changing the political landscape in the countries where they have arrived.

Perhaps even more than economic factors, the fearful perception that new arrivals are soiling national identities is fueling the populist insurgency that has spread across Western democracies, from Great Britain to the U.S., Germany, Austria and, most recently, Italy. While the political tide has been held back in France, anti-immigrant sentiment still remains high. Japan, by contrast, has not witnessed populist politics despite two decades of virtual economic stagnation, largely because it is a homogenous nation with little immigrant presence.

Both those who rode the wave of reaction to power or political prominence, as well as those who seek to stem the momentum of nativist politics, must now figure out how to deal effectively with the immigration challenge.

Demagogic, simplistic and blunt approaches to this complex issue — most notably U.S. President Donald Trump’s infamous proposal for a wall along the Mexican border — are making little headway. It is not surprising that Mexico’s leaders have made clear they will not spend one peso on what they regard as a monstrosity. Even the Republican-dominated U.S. Congress was only willing to fork over a measly $1.6 billion for a project estimated to cost nearly 20 times that much in the budget the president signed into law earlier this month.

This reality-based reticence opens the way for more pragmatic alternatives, which we examine this week in The WorldPost.

Former Mexican president Ernesto Zedillo proposes a new “circular” worker permit program that both protects U.S. jobs while providing for legal migration of Mexican workers in a way that protects their rights. The plan would allow Mexican laborers to work legally for periods in the U.S., return home and come back again as economic need dictates. It includes provisions aimed at recruiting U.S. workers first and a “decelerator” clause if the inflow of migrant labor is judged to be displacing jobs in the U.S.

Zedillo sees this plan as embodying the larger principles of a global compact presently being debated at the United Nations that would guide immigration policy for all nations. Though the compact calls for the very kind of legal and orderly immigration policies the U.S. is seeking, the Trump administration has abandoned the talks.

Zedillo cites a report by the late U.N. migration envoy Peter Sutherland that is a key foundation of the compact.  The Sutherland report, writes the former Mexican president, “clearly admits that nations have no obligation to open their borders to all migrants. While the benefits of migration are tangible, he wrote, they do take time to materialize. But their associated costs can appear immediately, for individuals and even entire social groups. This is a situation that must be acknowledged and addressed with practical solutions. … [A]lthough orderly migration depends on providing expanded pathways for legal entry, these must be subject to labor market considerations. Sutherland wasn’t shy to recommend circular, back-and-forth migration as an effective way to manage the movement of people between poorer countries and richer ones.”

Under President Emmanuel Macron, the French authorities — following an agreement between European and African governments — have sought another path to legal and orderly migration for asylum seekers and refugees through an innovative program that screens applicants in African countries along the migration route, with the goal of impeding both the perilous journey and illegal attempts at entry into Europe. As Pascal Brice, who heads the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons, writes from Paris, “The OFPRA missions are an important way to help the victims of persecution and conflict. They make it possible to provide assistance to transit states while preventing refugees, especially the most vulnerable, from undertaking a terrible and dangerous voyage. Rather than an outsourcing of the right to asylum beyond European borders, missions such as those led by OFPRA complement the necessary full observance of this right in Europe.”

In cooperation with the U.N. High Commission on Refugees, Brice reports, “OFPRA teams traveled to Niger twice and to Chad once since October of last year. In total, they were able to interview nearly 400 people, who have since started arriving in France. Among these are the first 50 people to be evacuated from Libya by UNHCR: men, women and children from Eritrea, Darfur and several other African countries who have been subjected to rape, torture and kidnapping.”

Carolina Jiménez and Alicia Moncada report from San José de la Costa, Venezuela on the plight of refugees fleeing that troubled nation. “Venezuela is in the grip of a human rights crisis that has forced people to make a desperate and hazardous 60-mile journey to Curaçao, a Dutch-Caribbean island, in search of safety and subsistence,” they write. In January, a boat headed for Curacao capsized, drowning the roughly 30 people on board. “Many are fleeing political persecution following a government crackdown on dissent that has led to the deaths of at least 120 protestors. Some are leaving because they can no longer feed their families due to hyperinflation and chronic food shortages. Others have left in search of functioning health care and medicines that are no longer available in Venezuela.”

As the crisis has deepened over the past four years, say the authors, “at least 145,000 people from Venezuela applied for asylum abroad. Another 444,000 have applied for arrangements outside the asylum system that would allow them to live and work in a different country for an extended period of time.”

Not unlike in Europe, the surrounding countries are seeking to arrive at a regional solution to address the growing refugee crisis. “The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights,” Jiminéz and Moncada note, “has called on states to implement mechanisms for the protection and humane treatment of migrants and refugees. Peru, Brazil and Colombia have taken some steps toward this but much more needs to be done to prevent further tragedies.”

This was produced by The WorldPost, a partnership of the Berggruen Institute and The Washington Post.