Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Refugees and the Democratic Party

We have not yet figured out where to stand on refugees.

It may be there is not one single immigration/refugee problem but many, but the question often seems to devolve down to how do you decide who you want to allow to cross your border and who you want to turn away.

We have dealt with people crossing borders since before American independence and the Europeans have had border laws for far longer.

So it is puzzling to see so many countries looking so confused and conflicted about what to do with the waves of refugees from all around the Mediterranean basin, and from Afghanistan.

You would think we would have had some modicum of agreement about what to do for and with these desperate people.

It's the old lifeboat question: Can we afford to bring everyone on board the lifeboat at the risk of sinking it and saving no one?

I really do not know how to even begin thinking about this.

I do know when I see a report about African refugees adrift in the Mediterranean and boats headed out to deny them entry and other boats headed out to haul them over to Sicily, I have the feeling both crews on both sides are wrong.  

Those who say simply we must head out to sea and load all the Africans we find in the boats and haul them off to Sicily seem so certain this is the only humane response. Well, we can't just let them drown at sea.

But I have to ask: Once you open that door, are you not encouraging even more to take that risk? You will say, these people are so desperate, it's foolish to talk about encouraging them. But one cannot look at them and not see they are throwing themselves on the mercy of others. They are appealing to the same streak of compassion the man lying on the street with his hand outstretched is tapping. Pity me. Do something for me in my suffering.

Which is not to say the refugees are wrong to do this, to appeal to our compassion. But can we hand out change to everyone?  
I once decided to simply give every street beggar something, just so I would not have to feel badly walking by them. I soon discovered my pockets were empty long before my path brought me to my destination.

After World War II there were more refugees moving in larger groups over a shorter time than what we are dealing with, but in the case of the European refugees, you could see the cause of their displacement was limited and discrete. Once all those Jews leaving Europe, those bombed out Italians and Poles got resettled, that would be it. 
In fact, there are at least two categories of immigrants, as far as I can see from Professor Google, the vast majority being people who were not displaced by war, crime, famine, but who simply lined up in a more or less orderly way and got in. And, surprisingly, although the biggest immigrant population in this country is (predictably) Mexican, i.e. people who now live here legally either as citizens or not, are Mexican, but if you look at the past few years, more people moved here from India than from Mexico or from any other nation and more from China than from Mexico. The numbers are around 140,000 from each country per year.

For Europe, when it comes to the Africans and the Syrians, there is no end in sight. There are simply too many desperately poor, failed states in Africa. For the United States it's  Central America from which the desperate and the equivalent of "boat people" emanate.

To some extent, it's a question of numbers. How many can we anticipate? How much will they cost to absorb, if we decided to absorb them, rather than turn them away?

Are there any good ways to estimate the numbers?
I once heard a story about a survey which reported that 1/4 of the entire nation of China would emigrate to the United States tomorrow if they were allowed to do so. That would be around 300 million Chinese moving to the US. We would have more Chinese speakers than English speakers.  India is about the same size as China, and what if 1/3 of the Indians decided they'd like to come, too? These reports may be absurd, but it raises the reductio ad absurdum argument: is there a point at which we would all agree there is a limit on what we can absorb? On the other hand, this "horror show" scenario has some basis in reality in the sense we are seeing the greatest number of immigrants seeking to leave their countries come from India and China.
We rarely hear Donald Trump or any of his frothing minions scream about the threat from the Trojan horses of India and China because people from these nations do not scare the White men without college degrees living in rural Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The argument is that if we had 300 million Chinese speakers and 300 million Indians move into the USA overnight, it would change the nature of our country. People who might welcome the diversity afforded by some new people may well recoil if there are more of them than "us."

One thing Democrats should be doing right now is thinking about all these issues and not simply reacting reflexively: If Trump wants to keep them out, I want to let them all in. 

There is a real problem here. We have to get serious about solving it.

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