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Europe's Refugee Crisis Offers Lessons for the U.S.

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 9/03/2016 Tom Mockaitis

The decision by Slovenia, Croatia, Macedonia and Serbia to close their borders effectively shuts down the Balkan escape route for Syrian refugees. The new closures are part of an EU deal with Turkey. Ironically, the same government in Brussels that cut this deal had criticized Hungary for closing its borders last summer.
Designed to reduce the flow of migrants to Europe, the agreement puts refuges at even greater risk and could lead to violent clashes between local security forces and people desperate to reach asylum. It also serves as a grim warning to U.S. politicians seeking simple solutions to the complex problem of forced migration.
The deal, whose details have yet to be worked out, requires Turkey to repatriate migrants who land in Greece. In a bizarre quid pro quo, Europe will accept one asylum seeker from Turkey in return for each refugee returned. Other than giving EU countries a breathing space and allowing them to be more selective in whom they take, it is hard to see how this exchange will give Europe much relief.
The agreement will certainly add to the misery of people who are already suffering a great deal. Even with the $3.3 in aid the EU has promised Ankara, it is not clear that Turkey will be able to provide for the returnees while it continues to cope with the influx of new refugees fleeing Syria.
While the details of this bargain get hammered out, people continue to arrive. Nearly 137,000 asylum seekers have entered Europe since the beginning of the year. As warmer weather makes the journey less hazardous, the number of those trying to make the dangerous voyage will certainly increase. The smugglers who transport them do not care about international agreements, and Greece cannot secure its entire coastline.
Then there is the problem of those who have already arrived. Estimates place the number of asylum seekers who entered Europe in 2015 alone at 1.8 million. Fewer than 300,000 have been granted asylum. What will the EU do with the rest?
Greece faces the worst and most immediate problem. As many as 200,000 refugees may be in the country with 2-3,000 more arriving each day. Closure of the Macedonian border prevents them moving on to other countries. These desperate people will certainly resist being returned to Turkey. Will they be forcibly removed?
Official closures notwithstanding, some of those in Greece will try to cross land borders, none of which can be completely secured. Will these people be met with force? Anticipating trouble, Hungary has already beefed up its border police. Other asylum seekers will journey farther by sea, perhaps trying to reach Italy. The longer the voyage the greater the likelihood more of them will drown.
Sadly, there is no good solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, which is but a small part of the displacement of people by conflict, natural disasters, and economic hardship around the globe. Nothing short of alleviating the conditions that cause people to flee in the first place will stop such migration. In the case of Syria, that means ending a bitter civil war that shows no signs of being resolved any time soon.
The United States cannot of course solve Europe's refugee crisis, but it can learn from it. The clearest lesson is that the simplistic solutions offered by candidates in the race for president will not work. Contrary to what they tell voters, border security requires far more than building a wall. Even if the entire southern border could be sealed (impossible given the number of cars, trucks, and trains that cross it legally each day), thousands of miles of coastline would remain open.
The promise to deport all illegal immigrants rings equally hollow. If Europe cannot forcibly repatriate 200,000, how will the U.S. deport 12 million, many of whom have live in the U.S. for decades? Even if it could round them all up, the government would have to create concentration camps just to hold that many people while it processed them for deportation. Even attempting such a mass incarceration would comprise the country's core values.
A better solution would be to legitimize the status of those already here and regulate the flow of labor across U.S. borders. Granting illegal immigrants and new workers legal status need not mean granting them citizenship or even a path to citizenship. The EU has developed a "blue card," a long-term work visa for laborers. The U.S. might at least try this approach. The holder of such a card would be allowed to stay only as long as he/she held a job. He/she would pay taxes and enjoy the same rights as other workers. Blue card holders would not be able to vote or hold office.
Critics might object that such a system would only encourage more illegals to enter the U.S. That argument overlooks the fact that someone is already hiring these people, or they would not have come here in the first place. Availability of jobs, not lax border security is what attracts them. Why not turn an unregulated, illegal labor exchange into a regulated, legal one?
For such a system to work, though, a few other changes would be needed. Instead of pursuing illegal workers,the government should concentrate on punishing those who hire them. Of course, doing so might mean that affluent Americans who tougher immigration policies, would no longer be able to pay their nannies, maids, and gardeners under the table. That would, however, be a small price to pay.

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