Saturday, January 3, 2015


As we begin yet another year disillusioned at the charade of comprehensive immigration reform in the United States, perhaps we might, in the proud tradition of Thomas Jefferson, gaze across the Atlantic for relative consolation. There, we might hope to find in, say, the 22,000 migrant deaths at the European Union's southern border since the year 2000 (as compared with "only" 6,000 deaths at the US-Mexico border) a reminder--albeit morbid--of why, despite its shortcomings, America is still the world's beacon: "a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home."

But, then, what should we make of the fact that EU nations have actually legalized far larger proportions of their unauthorized immigrant populations than the United States in recent decades?

Specifically, since 1996, EU nations (led by the "southern border" states of Italy, Spain, Greece, and Portugal) have "regularized" over 5 million unauthorized migrants. By contrast, since 1986, the US has legalized less than 4 million unauthorized immigrants. This has been the case even though the EU's unauthorized immigrant population (3.8 million, 2011 est.) has been only a little over one third that of the US (11 million, 2011 est.), and the EU's total population density (about 120 people per km², 2011 est.) has been about 3.5 times that of the US (35 people per km²).

Moreover, when past "amnesty" proposals were opposed, EU nations resorted instead to formal policies of toleration--still granting unauthorized immigrants official relief from deportation. By contrast, the US government (at least until DACA and other recent Obama administration initiatives) opted for an informal policy of toleration, mainly vis-à-vis businesses that violated immigration laws, while treating the most vulnerable unauthorized immigrants as criminals and leaving all others in limbo.

Perhaps paradoxically, the EU's lack of a central immigration authority (in light of the perplexing Schengen agreement--removing borders between member states but largely maintaining their sovereign responsibility with regard to the treatment of non-EU migrants on their soil) might partly explain the current state of affairs. It appears that southernmost nation-states, in particular (which, owing to their proximity to Africa via the Mediterranean, have become the front line of illegal migration from the continent), may have been compelled by circumstances into a more realistic or pragmatic approach. They recognize that legalization sometimes provides the best solution to an inherently tragic problem--notably, "as a means of controlling the illegal employment of large numbers of immigrant workers, and of curbing the informal market and, thus, helping to boost the tax base and strengthen the economy."

Contrast this with the blindly legalistic (i.e., ideological) arguments of critics of "amnesty" in this so-called "nation of immigrants," where the central government's paralysis over immigration reform has led to local policy aberrations (such as the border state of Arizona's anti-immigrant challenge to federal preemption a few years ago).

Enough said.

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