Immigration Isn’t Just America’s Problem: Can We Learn From Europe?

John Moore/Getty Images

John Moore/Getty Images

When it comes to immigration, the United States and Europe are rather interesting comparisons — with a few key things in common and a few that act as nice foils. Looking at problems the European government, and individual governments of countries within, can shed valuable light on the United States’ own problem.

To start, let’s take a look at the biggest immigration events on the international radar for the United States and Europe overall, and how they’re responded to. Immigration is a continual issue, it never goes away. Regulation and control are always concerns.

However, what’s interesting is that countries will see spikes in public concern over immigration, and they also face administrative strain under sudden plights and subsequent immigration demand. But the two don’t always line up. Often public attention is drawn to a particular event or crisis, even if the event is not representative of the overall state of immigration, or is only a reminder of conditions that are already there.

Barack Obama on unaccompanied minors

This is a phenomena President Barack Obama addressed in a speech given Thursday. “The one thing that I think has happened was the issue with unaccompanied children that go so much attention a couple months back. And part of the reason that was important was not because that represented a huge unprecedented surge in overall immigration at the border” — and the numbers support this — “but I do think that it changed the perception of the American people about what’s happening at the borders.”

You can almost hear the frustration laced in the words. As a politician with number sheets and monthly reports, it’s only natural to have a degree of impatience when the public responds to media images but pays little attention to statistics. And the statistics have been showing a reduction in illegal immigration, explainable by the economic hardship which affected the job market and hit especially hard on industries that would have provided many of the jobs usually available to illegal workers.

Having said that, the United States still has a major immigration problem and has had one for a long time. The humanitarian crisis of underage immigrants wasn’t wrong to draw attention to immigration, even if it wasn’t representational of America’s biggest problems. Besides, even if border crossings have seen a decrease as a result of the slow recovery in America’s job markets, increased economic recovery over time may lead to a renewed flow of immigrants. On top of that, the present population of illegal residents within the U.S. still needs to be considered, and that reform demand is perhaps the most important.

Deaths at sea and Europe’s immigration

The biggest news bulletin in European immigration came earlier this week as asylum seekers from the Middle East and Africa attempted a dangerous crossing into Europe, with 300 people dying in the water as three boats were damaged or sank. “These past few days have been the deadliest this year on the Mediterranean for people making irregular crossings to Europe, with at least three vessels having overturned or sunk,” said United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) senior spokesperson Melissa Fleming.

Those fleeing came mostly from Mali, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, and the Sudan, but increasing refugees are also arriving from Libya, Syria, and other areas. Looking at Europe as a whole is obviously a somewhat inaccurate way to compare immigration. However, if you look at smaller regions in Europe, the comparison loses some of its relevance.

For example, the U.K. shows that the largest number of its immigrants are from within Europe itself — according to the BBC, and of course issues like the 102,000 that have crossed the Mediterranean this year to Italy — according to The New York Times — must be dealt with by the EU as a whole to an extent.

Why we’re different — and what that could teach us

The United States’ immigrant population has seen a slow reduction, but the majority of illegal immigrants remain from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador — 92 percent of apprehensions were from said locations, 70 percent from Mexico, according to 2012 statistics from Migration Policy Institutes. This is a fairly consistent demographic, even if the numbers have shifted for our legal immigration population — increasingly Asian in origin.

Europe tends to see major shifts as political and social events drive migration events from various nations undergoing major change or crisis. Examples of this would include the Yazidis fleeing Iraq, Palestinians seeking escape from Gaza, and Syrians refugees.

One could argue that the U.S. has more power to predict and prepare for the illegal immigration events — such as unidentified minors — it faces along its borders. There are more easily anticipated root problems in neighboring nations, and fewer countries with less powder keg-like environments. Yet the United States is also landlocked with one of its largest illegal immigration contributors, and the problems within are fairly constant. This is a disadvantage obviously in many ways — for one thing, it’s much easier to cross into the U.S. than to cross the Mediterranean.

However, it makes the U.S.’s immigration situation far easier to plan ahead for, we have a simplified and known set of immigration sources to work with and prepare for. And while both Europe and the United States may discuss getting to the root of the problem when dealing with illegal immigration, the U.S. has more of a manageable task in many ways.

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