The United States, like many Western nations, continues to be a beacon of hope. People grow up dreaming of coming here, looking for the chance at a better life. After all, America boasts wide-ranging civil liberties, diverse yet stable communities, massive opportunities for entrepreneurship and powerful institutions. In spite of the political upheaval of the past four years, the United States remains the most popular immigrant destination. Worldwide, about 750 million adults, and who knows how many children, wish to become Americans, and that number increases annually. With this high level of demand, we are forced to be selective about who we admit. That said, under the status quo, both right- and left-wing views on immigration are misguided. We hope to present considerations overlooked by both sides of the political spectrum.
There are two common veins of — non-Trumpist — popular immigration policy. Some advocate for an altruistic stance, one that protects undocumented immigrants and establishes sanctuary cities. Then we have those who would pursue “meritocracy,” claiming we should prioritize the admission of the best and brightest. The former will be the focus of this piece.
We don’t want the West to abandon its legacy of giving the opportunities to the less fortunate. Rather, we want to focus on a different group. Undocumented immigrants are overwhelmingly decent folks looking to have better lives. There are countless anecdotes and statistics to demonstrate this. Even so, that does not mean we should direct our limited resources to this community over any other.
Those who enter or stay in countries illegally are not necessarily those who are struggling the most; they are often simply those most able to travel. Brazilians and South Koreans, for example, are around four to seven times more likely to be granted a visa than Iraqis and Venezuelans and the former two make up a bigger chunk of unauthorized residents. It is also significantly easier for a Mexican person to enter the United States through the southern border than a Rohingya person. If we truly wanted to help the most people to the highest degree possible, we would prioritize the admission of people who are faced with the greatest amount of strife.
Of course, this is not a call to ignore individual struggles and enact blanket policies by country. Through these legal avenues, we could bring in new people seeking to participate in our system. This would necessarily entail the reallocation of resources currently being directed to other avenues of immigration, such as sanctuary cities and merit-based immigration. Barely 26 percent of all asylum appeals made from within the United States are granted and the rate is even lower for those who enter illegally. The status quo fails to offer a pathway to citizenship to so many would-be Americans. If we were to broaden access to asylum, and reduce the proportion of relatively better off applicants, we could make headway on this issue, too.
It’s important to recognize, though, that there are good and bad ways to integrate new members into a community. For example, a bad way would be the essentially segregationist refugee camp approach, such as the one adopted by Germany. Combine long wait times, high population density, stress, poverty and culture shock, and you have a recipe for disaster. We should work to help these people assimilate so they can properly access the opportunities around them. Objectors may point to potential expenses, but we would argue that these are worthwhile, long-term investments. Refugees and asylees tend to be people who appreciate the values of their destination country. Countries should come together and distribute refugees among them to avoid these densely populated “misery camps,” but also to collectively reap the reward of new, hardworking citizens.
Consider crises like Yemen, where more than 4.3 million people have fled their homes, or the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where 13 million people lack adequate food and a disturbing 1.3 million children under 5 are severely malnourished. Western powers ought to better consider who they lend assistance to — often those most in need of help are those least able to ask.
While we should reject the false rhetoric that labels foreigners dangerous, the existing vetting process would help to mitigate some of the harms of illegal immigration. Although we already presented evidence indicating that undocumented immigrants are not some major source of criminality in the United States, that does not mean that they commit no crime. The fact of the matter is that many sanctuary city policies have permitted repeat offenders to avoid deportation and harm those around them — regardless of their immigration status. All crime done by foreigners in the United States is, in a sense, preventable. The background checks and interviewing that asylees and refugees go through can reduce these risks. The legal status of immigrants also makes them far more likely to report crime in the first place, an added benefit.
We cannot fall into vile ideological traps like Islamophobia and white supremacy, and let us not forget our shared duty to our brothers and sisters abroad. For the sake of both those abroad and at home, we should stop spending our resources and political capital on sanctuary city policies, and offer our aid to the people fleeing war and persecution.