Can anyone spot the fallacy in this popular Internet meme? If you guessed 'comparing apples to oranges', collect your prize! Holland and Belgium have virtually identical standards of living, so nobody's desperate to get from one to the other. Mexico and the USA have one of the highest differences in standard of living ever measured, so millions of people from Mexico and places south are desperate to get into the United States, and 11 million Mexicans alone are living undocumented in the USA right now. That's why that fence exists, and it's also why President Barack Obama, noted liberal, has presided over extremely tough enforcement of American immigration laws.
After up to 700 people just died trying desperately to get from Africa to Europe, I think we can begin to understand what a more accurate comparison might be. Now, of course, the drowning at sea is a horrible catastrophe, but I try to avoid Betroffenheitsgelaber (sorry, kind of untranslatable, think lip service) on this blog. The last time hundreds died in the Mediterranean, EU representatives solemnly swore that they were utterly horrified and change was urgently needed: "We cannot stand by and watch idly while more people perish in the Mediterranean. Since then many more have since drowned in the sea. 3000 already this year. Every single life lost off our coasts is a stain on our civilization." Since that solemn vow, EU policy has barely budged, and people keep drowning. Talk is cheap.
There have been plenty of responses to Europe's disastrous immigration policy, including a Canadian law professor urging the EU to simply open its borders, to Heribert Prantl of the Süddeusche Zeitung. This omnipresent talk show guest and professional center-left opinionator urged something relatively similar in a recent and much-cited opinion piece (g, my translation):
The EU must create legal paths to immigration. The EU must suspend visa requirements for a certain time. The EU must accept refugee applications in the countries where the refugees originate. Refugees from hellish states (Syria) must be settled in EU countries. The EU has won the Nobel Prize. An EU that watches as people die should have the prize revoked. An EU that regards and exploits the Mediterranean Sea as its ally is a murderous union.
American immigration skeptic and gleefully blunt contrarian Steve Sailer, surprisingly, joins Prantl as to exactly one point:
A simple reform would be to modernize the refugee application system to the 21st Century and run it solely over the Internet. You can apply from your local Internet cafe in your own country, and if you are Einstein, Solzhenitsyn, or Coetzee, you get in. If you aren’t, too bad, stay home. If you show up without your application being already approved, you get a year in a work camp and a one way ticket home.
This would stop the drownings quick.
The current refugee system is like if you showed up at Harvard in person and demanded they let you be a student, so they say, well, we’ll take a couple of semesters to process your application, so in the meantime here’s the Harvard course catalog!
Funny how Harvard doesn’t work that way.
The main problem with EU immigration policy is the double standards and ambiguities. The land borders of the EU are controlled and hard to access. Also, you must reach an EU state to apply for refugee status. So, because you have to somehow set foot on European soil and probably can't do it overland, the terrifyingly dangerous sea voyage remains your only option. And since some people do make it occasionally, more and more immigrants dare the voyage, thousands every week. As psychologists and slot-machine designers have long known, intermittent, random rewards serve as an even stronger behavioral incentive than constant rewards.
So the current situation of random rewards is the worst possible outcome. Seems like the only two alternatives which would reduce the possibility of further sinkings are either a huge liberalization a la Prantl, or an absolute shutdown: You apply for asylum online in your home country and must submit identifying information such as a fingerprint or retinal scan. If you're rejected, that's it. Only those with granted permits will be allowed into the EU, all others will be intercepted at sea and deported back to their home countries immediately, no exceptions. Option number two will probably result in some people who might have valid asylum claims not getting asylum, but if rigorously enforced, would probably reduce the number of drownings.
Number two is liberalization similar to what Prantl describes. Keep in mind, though, that allowing millions of new immigrants from Africa into the EU is going to have lots and lots of unforeseen consequences, like (further) erosion of social trust. As one recent study put it:
Several empirical studies have indeed documented a negative relation between ethnic diversity and generalized trust, an attitude that is considered an important measure of social cohesion. Levels of generalized trust are not just lower among ethnic minorities themselves, but they are also suppressed among majority populations when they face diverse surroundings (Alesina & La Ferrara, 2002; Banting, Johnston, & Soroka, 2006; Bjørnskov, 2006; Hero, 2003). Recently this debate was reinvigorated by the publication of the Putnam (2007) article “E Pluribus Unum: Diversity and Community in the Twenty-First Century,” demonstrating a negative impact of ethnic diversity in American society. Based on the results of the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, Putnam argues that at least in the short run diversity is likely to weaken community cohesion.
So with that in mind, I have a catalog of questions for Prantl and others who want to see immigration restrictions drastically eased. Yes, I know it's far easier to simply denounce those in power for not having found a solution to this problem yet, but that doesn't actually help anybody. Here are the questions any policy is going to have to answer.
1. First, who is a 'refugee'? Someone who is facing genocide? Someone facing imminent death or injury based on his or her ethnicity/political views? Someone who is merely facing discrimination and harrassment? Someone who has no economic prospects in their home country because of war, corruption, economic dysfunction?
2. Note that if you choose the last category, we will be talking about millions of people. There are 1.1 billion people in Africa alone, and I would imagine at least 40 million would jump at the chance to come to Europe.
3. Assuming you choose a more restrictive definition than economic refugee, how would you tell them apart? Just by having them sign a form? Would you have hearings where they can present evidence and call witnesses? Where? If you say 'in their country of origin', how many extra diplomats are you going to need? Will they be able to file an appeal of an adverse judgment? Where?
4. Assuming you choose the most liberal option, you're going to be bringing in an extra 10% of the European population. Which countries would have to take how many people? Assuming distribution according to current population, Germany would have to accept about 8 million new refugees, probably larger than the population of the 6 biggest German cities combined. And that's a minimum. Poorer EU states would probably ask to take fewer than their share.
5. Let's cut that number in half to make this easier. Germany now has to find housing and provide food for 4 million new people, many of them illiterate and unskilled. After all, many African countries have perhaps 50-60% literacy rates, and those who can read probably have the best chances in their home countries. Where are you going to put them? And who pays for their upkeep and support? The local government, the state government, the federal government, or the EU? Funding disputes already have levels of the German government at each others' throats. Finding billions for 4 million new immigrants will drive these disputes thermonuclear.
6. Are you going to allow family reunification? How close a relative do you have to be? How would this be proven? Where would the hearings take place, and who would pay for them? What if an immigrant commits a crime? Blunt truth: They're disproportionately likely to do so, which explains why they're massively over-represented in French and German prisons. As I've pointed out on this blog before, French prisons are 70% Muslim. Let that sink in. 70%. Do they get one crime before deportation? Two? Also, what if they can't or won't learn Dutch or Czech? Not the easiest languages to learn, especially for illiterate people.
7. And now for the backlash. Opinion writers and liberal activists don't have to worry about immigrants taking their jobs, but bricklayers, delivery drivers, cashiers, warehouse workers, etc. sure do. They will notice massive downward pressure on wages for low-skilled work. So, you either ban the immigrants from working and pay the massive resulting welfare bills, or you let them work and face social upheaval. Current levels of immigration have fueled a huge boom for the European nationalist right, imagine what quadrupling the levels of immigrants would do.
8. Now, who makes this policy? The EU? If so, then what happens when Hungarians vote in a government or a referendum that rejects it. Will all the immigrants slated for Hungary be re-routed to other EU states?
9. And now to European voters. If you asked German voters whether they would be willing to pay extra taxes to accommodate 4 million new immigrants, I have zero doubt what the answer would be. Now you can denounce these people and mock them and create Internet memes about how xenophobic they are, but they don't care. You can also denounce the political parties that represent them, but that accomplishes nothing. The Front National already knows you hate them and they are fine with that. How are you going to build a cordon sanitaire against a right-wing party that gets 40% of the vote?
Those are just a few of the hundreds of questions that have to be addressed when you think about immigration policy. I have yet to see any lefty critic of current EU immigration policy even try to provide an empirically sound answer to any but a few of these questions. Some policy problems have simple solutions, this one doesn't. It's a problem from hell, and liberal critics of the EU's current regime should switch from simply bitching about what some politician said to trying to find workable answers to this problem from hell.