Migrants 1.

Social scientists posit that people experiencing disturbing social change can seize on particularist identities like ethnicity or nationality.  Demographic change and economic change and shifting social values all can trigger such a response.  On the other hand, cultural and economic elites in Western countries celebrate the free flow of goods and labor.  They also have developed more cosmopolitan views than have many fellow citizens.[1]

Illegal immigration provides a good example of the particularist-cosmopolitan tension.  In recent times, illegal migration has become easier than ever before in history.  In both Europe and America bitter quarrels over immigration rack politics.[2]  These controversies arise not from heavy current immigration, but from heavy prior immigration.  More importantly, the general backlash against elites–who led us to war in Iraq and then into the financial crisis—has ensnared migrants.

Illegal migration to the United States dropped sharply during the Great Recession.  It hasn’t picked up immensely in the past year.  However, that still leaves 10-12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  Human symbols of elite failure.  Liberals insisting on calling them “undocumented immigrants”—as if there is just some bureaucratic foul-up in Washington—adds fuel to the fire.  President Obama’s skirting of the law angered many people.  Illegal immigration in the European Union is more recent.  There the flood of migrants from various failed states mixes with refugees from war-torn Muslim states.

People leave their “shithole” countries for good reasons and not just on a whim.  Until conditions in those countries improve, there is not likely to be a significant drop in attempts at illegal immigration.  To complicate matters further, while many of the migrants are economic migrants, the law allows them to request asylum as victims of persecution.  This clogs the immigration system and delays repatriation.

In light of this reality, attention has turned to deterring them from reaching American or European soil in the first place.  Europeans have negotiated with pathway countries—Libya, Sudan, and Turkey—to stem the departures for Europe.  The implementation of those agreements involves a good deal of brutality that is much worse than anything suffered by Central American migrants to the United States.  Mexico is unwilling to play that sort of role for the United States.  The “zero tolerance” policy attempted by a Trump administration grown tired of waiting for Congressional approval of a border wall offers another form of deterrence.

Cosmopolitans sometimes phrase the choice in a misleading way: “What sort of society do they wish to be?  Do they wish to be immigrant nations with continual demographic and cultural change?”  First, both the European Union and the United States have long had substantial legal immigration.  Second, it is legitimate to debate what kinds of immigrants best serve the interests of the community.

[1] Benjamin Barber, Jihad and McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism Are Shaping World Society (1996).  Barber’s analysis remains engaging, but it wasn’t new.  Late-Nineteenth Century sociologists had identified the problem of anomie.  For that matter, historians long ago diagnosed the rise of “mystery” religions as a response to the cosmopolitanism of the Hellenistic kingdoms.

[2] Amanda Taub and Max Fisher, “In U.S. and Europe, Conflict Over Migration Points to Political Problems,” NYT, 30 June 2018.

Halloween on the Border 2.

Entering the United States illegally is a crime, a misdemeanor on the first offense and a felony on any subsequent offense.[1]  The courts have held that people who enter the United States illegally are entitled to due process before they can be deported.[2]  The courts have also held that Congress may determine what constitutes due process.  In 1996 Congress passed the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act.”  Among other provisions, this law allows illegal immigrants to be deported without any hearing, lawyer, or right of appeal.  This is called “expedited removal.”[3]

For their part, illegal immigrants can try to dodge expedited removal by claiming asylum.  To gain asylum, the immigrants must demonstrate a credible fear of persecution if they remain in their home country.  What constitutes “persecution” is itself contested.  Most of the people now showing up at the border are trying to escape endemic poverty, violent crime, and ineffective and corrupt government in Central American so-called countries.[4]  Liberals regard these conditions as legitimate grounds for claiming asylum; conservatives want to restrict asylum to the traditional definition of people fleeing political or religious persecution by national governments.

Different administrations have applied the law in different ways.  Although the 1996 law sets no geographic boundaries to where the law may be applied, the current policy has been to apply it to illegal immigrants found within 100 miles of the border and within two weeks after they entered the United States.[5]  Furthermore, the government can either treat illegal immigration as a civil matter or as a criminal matter.

The Obama administration largely treated illegal immigrants as a civil matter.  This allowed illegal immigrants to work through the process of the immigration courts, to be represented by a lawyer, to appeal decisions of immigration judges multiple times.  This could extend the time to deportation to a year or more.  While the civil procedures dragged on, the illegal immigrants were paroled, rather than detained in custody.

Recently, the Trump administration broke with the policy of the previous administration.  It adopted a policy of “zero tolerance” for illegal immigration and it chose to treat illegal immigration as a criminal, rather than civil, matter.  Thus, illegal immigrants, even when claiming asylum, were arrested.  The government is legally-obligated to separate children from arrested parents within 20 days of arrest, then to place them in a suitable child care facility or foster family.  During the Obama administration, all but one family detention facility were closed.  This had the unpleasant knock-on effect that has garnered so much attention.[6]

[1] “In the United States, the federal government generally considers a crime punishable with incarceration for one year or less to be a misdemeanor. All other crimes are considered felonies.”—Wikipedia.

[2] Katie Benner and Charlie Savage, “Migrants to the U.S. Are Entitled to Due Process, With Some Exceptions,” NYT, 26 June 2018.

[3] Which is like calling illegal immigrants “undocumented.”  See George Orwell, “Politics and the English Language.”

[4] Ryan Duee, “Migrants Risk U.S. Crackdown to Flee Crime and Poverty,” WSJ, 26 June 2018.

[5] Obviously, there is some wiggle room here for the government.  It can be pretty difficult for migrants to prove when they entered the country.

[6] On the background to the “Flores Settlement” case, see: https://www.humanrightsfirst.org/resource/flores-settlement-brief-history-and-next-steps

The Wall.

The border between Mexico and the United States runs for almost 2,000 miles from the Pacific Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico.  Most of that border is delimited by a simple barbed-wire fence (easily cut or trampled down) or by nothing at all.  In the late 1990s and early 2000s there occurred a huge increase in the number of illegal immigrants from south of the border.  Thus, in 2005, an estimated 1.7 million people tried to enter the United States illegally and more than 1 million succeeded.  In 2006 Congress responded with the Secure Fence Act.  This led to the construction of about 700 miles of razor-wire-capped concrete walls in places where the border adjoined dense urban areas.  Such areas allowed illegal immigrants to quickly disappear, while wilder, more remote areas provided a sort of back-stop area in which it was more difficult to disappear.  In these areas the Border Patrol uses drones, motion sensors, and vehicle patrols.[1]

How well do these methods work?  Either pretty well or not well at all.  On the one hand, the success rate at entering the United States has fallen from 64 percent in 2005 to 46 percent in 2015; the total number entering the United States has collapsed from more than 1 million a year to an estimated 170,000.  On the other hand, an average of 465 illegal immigrants per day succeed in entering the United States.  The walls merely divert illegal immigrants around the walls and into other channels.[2]  Moreover, the 46 percent success rate suggests that only about 350,000 people try to enter the United States.  This, in turn suggests that either the “push” factor driving Mexicans into the United States or the “pull” factor attracting Mexicans to the United States have declined.  Certainly, the “push” factor from Mexico has declined.  First, Mexican birth-rates have been dropping from 7 children per woman in the 1960s to 2.2 children per woman today.  Second, in spite of the horrific drug war underway in Mexico, the economy is doing pretty well.  So, there are fewer “surplus” Mexicans with less of a motive to leave.  Third, most of the captured illegals are actually people in flight from the murderous violence plaguing Central American countries.[3]  Also, the stagnant American economy since the financial crisis has exerted much less demand for cheap foreign labor.  However, should either the “push” or “pull” factors be heightened, then it seems reasonable to conclude that illegal immigration would increase in spite of any existing barriers.

Then, an estimated 40 percent of the people who become illegal immigrants actually enter the country legally.  They get regular time-limited visas, then just overstay those visas and disappear into the community.[4]  Whether anything can be done in the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) remains to be seen.  President-elect Donald Trump has said that he wants to re-negotiate NAFTA.  Most people focus on the commercial aspects of this, but travel to the United States could also be included in any new talks.

Much of the discourse around Donald Trump’s “build a wall” proposal centers on its impracticality.  For example, the Border Patrol itself opposes much construction.  Instead, it favors a huge increase in spending on a “virtual wall” (drones, sensors, and—of course—many more Border Patrol agents) that has already proved a costly failure.  Opponents of immigration control and the deportation of illegal immigrants often take a similar line.  How convenient.

[1] “Securing the border,” The Week, 16 December 2016, p. 11.

[2] The problem will be familiar to any home-owner who has ever tried to find a water leak.

[3] See: “Halloween on the Border.”  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2014/08/13/halloween-on-the-border/

[4] The government could just slam the brakes on visas for Mexicans coming for something other than official business or demonstrable commercial reason.  The State Department did this with visitors from Saudi Arabia after 9/11.  Consular officers, acting on orders from Secretaries of State Colin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and John Kerry, have cut Saudi Arabian visitors by about 80 percent of the pre-9/11 figure.

More Young People.

If we look at the history of the last quarter century, we see two dominant and inter-related trends.  Radical Islam isn’t one of them.  First, the collapse of Soviet Communism inspired other followers to abandon the controlled economy for participation in the world market.  Second, information technology destroyed many old barriers.  Upheaval and opportunity resulted.   Currently, about a quarter of all the people in the world are aged 10 to 24.[1]  That is, they were born between 1992 and 2006.  The world in which they have grown up is that same world that older people have often found so disorienting.   Now young people face their own problems.

Those billions of young people are not equally distributed around the world.  They account for only 17 percent of the population in economically developed countries; for 29 percent in less-developed countries, and 32 percent in the least developed countries.  In the United States, the median age is 37; in Russia, 39; in Germany, 46.  In Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, the median age is 18.  China offers a particularly interesting case of a transition.  Faced with a swiftly rising population, China declared a one-child policy for married couples.  It worked so well that the youth base of the population narrowed to a frightening degree.  A shortage of workers to replace those who are approaching retirement loomed.  At the same time, young couples found themselves providing care for up to four aging parents, while trying to work and raise their own child.  Recently, the government ended to one-child policy.

A disproportionate share of young people lives in the countries least well able to provide them with either an adequate education or a decent standard of living.  Take the example of India.  There are more than 420 million Indians between the ages of 15 and 34.  The median age is 27.  Desperate measures to expand primary education have had mixed results.  Although almost all Indian children now attend primary school, half of fifth graders can neither read at a second grade level nor do subtraction.[2]

Then, India needs to create 12-17 million new jobs every year to absorb the population growth.  In India and in other countries in similar dire straits, young people are forced into spotty, badly-paid just to get any jobs at all.  India’s reluctance to end the carbon-burning that drives economic growth in that country is easier to understand in light of that imperative.  The here and now weighs more heavily in the balance of decision-makers than does the future.[3]

Migration from “young” countries to “aging” countries might offer a solution.  However, there are several big barriers here.  First, even in the developed countries there is a problem of youth unemployment: in the United States, almost 17 percent of people between 16 and 29 are not in school and not working; in the European Union the youth unemployment rate averages 25 percent.[4]  It will be difficult to make the case for expanded immigration of young people when a country cannot even provide work for its own young people.  Second, the poor quality of education in many developing countries means that only some people will be viable migrants.

Even so, migration from the Lands of Inopportunity to the Lands of Opportunity may be inevitable.  There are 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States.  The current refugee crisis in Europe shows just how difficult it can be to keep out hordes of determined people.

[1] Somini Sengupta, “The World’s Big Problem: Young People,” NYT, 6 March 2016.

[2] The wretched state of education can be glimpsed in Aravind Adiga, The White Tiger (2008), and Mohsin Hamid, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia (2013).

[3] A third problem is anti-female sex selection.  There are 17 million more Indian males than females aged 10 to 24.

[4] Sengupta argues that the high European rate results from a combination of a slow economy and the absence of economically valuable skills.  The same may be true in the United States, although some economists would argue that the skills-deficit argument is false.

In re: Donald Trump as crazy person.

Three months ago, Paul Krugman pointed out that Donald Trump is the only Republican candidates who is willing to raise taxes on the rich and who has something to say in favor of universal health care.[1] While Krugman goes on to denounce Trump for “his implicit racism” what is really interesting about Krugman’s analysis comes later in the column. Krugman argues that, when it comes to economics, Trump is voicing what a lot of the Republican base actually believes. However, their views have never been articulated in recent years because the Republican Party’s elected representatives are chained to a demonstrably failed economic ideology. The chains are campaign donations from wealthy donors.[2] The Republican politicians have been living in a fool’s paradise. Trump is rich enough in his own right to run for president while speaking his own mind. Even if Trump doesn’t capture (Please, oh please) the Republican nomination, his campaign is likely to shift the terms of debate inside the party, and not necessarily in the way that Democratic pundits have been predicting.

What if Donald Trump is also articulating what a lot of Americans think on other issues?

Opinion polls in October 2015 revealed that almost half of Americans (46 percent) supported building a wall along the border between the United States and Mexico.[3] A slightly larger share (48 percent) opposes building a wall. Six percent aren’t sure. While the core of the base for building is Republican (73 percent of them approve it), there are also a good number of Democrats (perhaps a third) and fewer than half (less than 48 percent) of Independents. Nothing in the polling reveals how much voters assign primacy to this issue in comparison to other issues.

In 2011, 47 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values. By November 2015, 56 percent of Americans thought that Islam’s values were “at odds” with America’s values.[4] In late November 2015, 56 percent of Americans were against allowing Syrian refugees into the United States. In contrast, 41 percent favored accepting Syrian refugees.[5] That leaves only 3 percent who “aren’t sure.” In sum, on these issues at least, America is divided into two big and solid blocks. To my mind, President Obama is right in his belief that Muslims and America are compatible and in his willingness to accept Syrian refugees. However, right at the moment, he isn’t with the country on these issues.

Well, he doesn’t have to be. He’s a lame-duck president facing a Republicans opposition in control of both houses of Congress. He isn’t going to get any legislation passed unless it’s in line with what Republicans want. He is likely to rely on executive orders and regulatory changes that get tied up in the courts, and on public excoriation of the voters for not “getting it.”

What if the Republican Party isn’t the only party whose leaders are tied to an ideology that its voters really don’t accept? What if, just for the sake of speculation, there are a bunch of Democrats who are social progressives, but economic moderates? Bernie Sanders appeals to social and economic “progressives.” In November 2016 that seems likely to be a small slice of the pie. It’s easy and comforting to think that Hillary Clinton would defeat Donald Trump. Can she?

[1] Paul Krugman, “Trump Is Right on Economics,” NYT, 7 September 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/07/opinion/paul-krugman-trump-is-right-on-economics.html?_r=0

[2] This suggests that Republican voters have supported people who don’t share their economic beliefs because the alternative would be to vote for Democrats who might share some of their economic beliefs, but whose views on social issues they reject. So much for Marxism.

[3] This is a separate question from who should pay for such a wall.

[4] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 November 2015, p. 17.

[5] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 4 December 2015, p. 19.

The owl and the pussycat.

Bounded by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, Americans are obsessed by their “un-secured” Southern border, a land frontier. Other people perceive the oceans as pathways as much as obstacles. During 2014, 350,000 people took to the sea in an effort to migrate illegally.[1]

In 2014, more than 80,000 people from the “Horn of Africa” have crossed the Gulf of Aden. Often, their first land-fall is Yemen, hardly an improvement on Somalia or Ethiopia. Their more distant goals are the oil-states of the Gulf. The largest numbers of those who reached Southern Europe by sea came from Syria and—mind-bogglingly—Eritrea.

This year more than 50,000 have descended the Bay of Bengal from Bangladesh and Myanmar to Malaysia and the little chicken-leg of Thailand that runs down the Malaysian Peninsula.[2] Many of these migrants are Rohinyas (Muslims living in northwestern Myanmar). The Buddhist military government has long persecuted the Rohinyas. Over the years, many of the Rohinyas sought refuge by taking passage to Muslim Malaysia. Often, the migrants fell prey to gangs of traffickers who sold them into near-slavery. In the last few years the trafficking gangs have extended their reach into Bangladesh.

Gangs in Myanmar and, now Bangladesh, shanghai people and take them to Thailand and Malaysia. They are crammed into little fishing boats and lightered to larger ships in the Bay of Bengal. The ships bear them south to Thailand, where they are unloaded and moved to camps in the jungle. Then the gangs start to economically exploit their captives. First, the gangs extort a standard fee from the families of those they have kidnapped, just to let them go on living. If the family can pay the ransom, then the traffickers move the captives into Malaysia. Here they work for low wages on plantations, or construction jobs, or sweat-shops. News accounts don’t say what happens to those whose families cannot pay the ransom.

The human stories are both illuminating and heart-breaking.[3] Amadou Jallow was a 22 year-old Gambian college graduate with a teaching certificate and a job in a high-school. The pay was lousy compared to what rumor said he could make in Europe. One day in 2002, without telling his father, he borrowed part of the family savings from his mother as a grub-stake, mounted his bicycle, and set off for Senegal. From Senegal he hoped to catch a boat to the Canary Islands. Two years later he finally caught his boat, although it was from Guinea-Bissau.

The boat was over-loaded (131 people set out) and badly supplied with food and water (there were supplies for six days, but the voyage took eleven days). The bodies of those who died during the night were thrown over-board when dawn broke. The hell-ship finally reached the Canary Islands. The passengers spent six weeks in a detention center, then were flown to Spain. Jallow was delighted: “I thought I was going to be a millionaire.”

It hasn’t turned out the way he expected. He made about 600 euros a year as a teacher. Now he averages about 2,000 euros working in restaurants or in farm fields. This is a pittance given the much higher cost of living in Europe compared to Gambia. He sent about 4,000 euros home to his family, but stopped doing that when work became hard to get. Now he lives in a squalid camp in a forest with other African immigrants.

The Africans keep up the charade that first drew them to Europe. They feel humiliated by their own stupidity and embarrassed by having used the modest savings of their families to finance these fool’s errands. They send home photographs of themselves smiling and standing next to expensive cars as if they were the owners. They never tell anyone the truth when they call home. More and more Africans are drawn to make the difficult, often dangerous journey to Europe. Twenty-five thousand of them have reached the Italian island of Lampedusa in recent years.

[1] Somini Sengupta, “More Refugees Take to the Sea, U.N. Reports,” NYT, 11 December 2014.

[2] Syed Zain Al-Mahmood, “Traffickers Take Aim at Bangladeshis,” WSJ, 29 October 2014.

[3] Suzanne Daley, “Chasing Riches From Africa to Europe and Finding Only Squalor,” NYT, 26 May 2011.

The International Trade in Jobs and Workers

It is an article of faith among most economists and businessmen that barriers to trade between nations create inefficiencies and lower standards of living.[1] What kinds of barriers to trade exist? Tariffs are taxes on imported goods that raise the sales price to a level that makes the import uncompetitive with a domestic product. Government subsidies (payments) to domestic producers of some goods allow them to hold down prices compared to imports. Government regulations and standards for goods which vary from one country to another can force adaptation costs onto foreign producers, thus raising the price of their goods to a point where it isn’t worth the trouble to sell in a foreign market. The effect of these barriers is to reduce competition, efficiency, and specialization, while raising the cost of living for consumers.

So, trade barriers are bad. In 1994 businessmen won passage of the international treaty called the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This treaty abolished tariffs and other barriers to trade on 70 percent of the goods produced and consumed in Mexico, the United States, and Canada. What is the up-side of this agreement? Trade between Mexico and the US tripled during the decade and a half after passage of the treaty; Canadian exports also tripled. What is the down-side of the agreement? Wages haven’t gone up in either Mexico or the US.

In the United States the response to NAFTA is ambivalent. The normal line of development in an advanced economy is that low-wage foreign competitors in low-skill sectors take jobs from the advanced economy, while the advanced economy creates jobs in high-skill and high-wage sectors. That is one of the things that seem to be happening in the United States. By 2008, three million American manufacturing jobs had been lost since the passage of NAFTA. This doesn’t count the many more jobs lost during the “Great Recession.” On the other hand, more jobs were created in those years than in the fourteen years before passage of the treaty. Similarly, highly-mechanized North American farming is far more productive and cheaper than is much Mexican farming, so agricultural exports to Mexico have also greatly increased. However, neither American politicians nor American media have been very good about pointing out the realities of the situation. Job-loss and displacement normally gets a lot more media attention than does job creation. “If it bleeds, it leads.” Those three million manufacturing jobs that went up in smoke since 1994? Mostly they went to China and India, not to Mexico.

In Mexico the response has been profoundly hostile. Mexicans dislike NAFTA by about two-to-one. Why is that? About forty percent of Mexicans still live in poverty. Small and inefficient Mexican farms have been unable to compete with low-cost imports from North America, so many Mexican farmers have been driven to the wall. There was been a huge increase in illegal immigration to the United States, until the “Great Recession” hit. Eight million of the twelve million Mexican illegal immigrants in the United States have come since the passage of NAFTA. Is NAFTA solely or even principally to blame for the flood of illegal immigrants? Not necessarily. One Mexican observer argues that the upper classes have creamed off all the rewards of expanded trade. This has kept the benefits of increased trade from flowing downward in society through higher taxes on the well-off, better services for ordinary people, and higher wages for most workers.

This raises the possibility that the Mexican upper-class is intentionally exporting much of its population to the United States in order to defend an inequitable social order at home.

[1] “Coming to terms with NAFTA,” The Week, 30 May 2008, p. 13.

Halloween on the Border.

Actions have unintended consequences. Even actions with a high moral purpose behind them can turn out to cause unforeseen problems far down the road.

The United States has waged war on drug gangs at home and drug cartels abroad. The two targets overlapped in Southern California. There, two big street gangs—MS-13 and MS-18—recruited large numbers of their members from Central American illegal immigrants. The gang members came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.[1] In the late 1990s a US law allowed the deportation of non-citizens who committed a crime in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, the US deported 100,000 gang-members back to their country of origin in “Con Air”[2] flights.

The deported gangsters just took up where they left off, only in countries with far less robust law enforcement. As has been the case in Mexico and Columbia, the drug gangs used violence and money to take over big sectors of the economies and societies of their new “homelands.” The homicide rate in San Pedro Sula, for example, is 187/100,000 people. (That’s bad: the over-all US rate is 5/100,000.) The violence terrified many people in these countries. It also terrified parents who had migrated illegally to the US while leaving their children behind in the care of relatives. Some of those people sought to get their children to safety.

Enter the unintended effects of other US government actions. For decades, high-minded people have been worried about human-trafficking. The possible sexual exploitation of children as part of this trafficking really sets off alarm bells. In 2008 a US law required that unaccompanied minors from Central America caught entering the US illegally be given a hearing before being returned to their homes. The Immigration courts are under-staffed, so this whole process can take a year. (Meanwhile, the children are released to relatives or volunteer host families and just disappear.) Then in 2012, President Obama ended the deportation of young illegals who had lived in the US for at least five years without blotting their copy-books.

In Central America, “coyotes”—human traffickers—saw a market need and rushed to fill it. They told worried parents that illegal immigrant minors could not be deported from the United States. The parents did what any parent would do in similar circumstances. They paid the “coyotes.” The “coyotes” did what any businessmen would do in similar circumstance. They provided the service for which they had been paid. In Spring and Summer 2014, almost 60,000 children of various ages illegally entered the United States. They came by way of Mexico, but they came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.

Having already taken actions that unintentionally caused the problem in the first place, the US government is now dead-locked about what action to take to make it go away.   The Republicans want to change the 2008 law so that the Immigration Service can put the new immigrants on kiddy versions of “Con Air” flights as soon as they show up. The Democrats want to throw money at immigration judges to legally process the new immigrants under the existing law. Given how actions have unintended consequences, maybe inaction is the best thing. Although, philosophically speaking, inaction is a kind of action.

“The origins of the border crisis,” The Week, 15 August 2014, p. 9.

[1] Although, curiously, not from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or Panama.

[2] The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, run by the US Marshal Service, inspired the movie “Con Air” (1997, dir. Simon West, prod. Jerry Bruckheimer), but bears no resemblance to it. If it did it would probably try to enter the Witness Protection Program and live as an insurance agent in Dubuque.