European Union countries are experiencing a wave of immigrants, seeking refuge from war. It is not unlike the circumstances that prevailed in Europe after World War II, which led to the creation of the U.N. Refugee Convention. How will Europe 75 years later answer the call of these refugees? Can Europe integrate these refugees into its fabric as the refugees of World War II were integrated into their new countries to strength them and contribute to a post- war economic boom? These are tests for our unsettled times. Europe with the help of the immigrants can rise to become stronger, and more vibrant.
Other places have experienced the positive effects of immigration. I am from one of those places – the Twin Cities in Minnesota, U.S.A. I am an immigration attorney from the Twin Cities (Minneapolis –St. Paul) in Minnesota in Mid-Northern part of the United States where my focus is on mainly business and investment-based immigration.
The immigrants to the Twin Cities in Minnesota have made our region economically stronger and more vibrant.
Over time, the Twin Cities in Minnesota have experienced waves of immigrants from Europe, including Danes, Norwegians, Swedes and Germans. More recently, we have had immigrants from Laos, Bosnians, Somalis, Liberians, Indians, Russians, Chinese and Latin Americans settle into our community. Some have come as refugees fleeing a terrible war or disaster at home. Others have come because economic opportunity and the chance for a better life called them.
There is a wonderful website that records the stories of U.S. immigrants, who have obtained permanent residence. Greencard Voices is located here in the Twin Cities. The Director of the Greencard Voices is a native Slovenian, Tea Rozman-Clark.
Immigrants to our region have made it stronger by bringing new ideas, new talents, and new products. Many immigrants have found jobs in plants in smaller towns that have long-term problems finding workers. Others have started businesses ranging from the local ethnic grocery store and restaurant to higher tech businesses such as IT consulting businesses and food ingredient companies to mention a few.
I need look no further than my neighborhood to see prime examples of immigrant entrepreneurship – the Baku Restaurant, Fish and Fruit ethnic grocery store and the local newspaper, Zerkalo. We also gained as a region because the immigrants arrive in their prime work years where society reaps the benefits without having to incur the initial costs of raising and feeding the person during their early unproductive childhood years.
Yet, there are calls by some to resist the “new people,” whoever those people may be. This is not uncommon, even here in the U.S. The Native American Party or American party of the 19th was a prime example of such nativism. In the 19th century, this group of Protestant men wanted to purify American politics by limiting or excluding Catholics, particularly Irish and German Catholics. They rose to prominence on fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Catholic Irish and Germans. In popular society, the party was called the Know Nothing Party.
Unfortunately, the intellectual descendants of the Know Nothing Party are still around in the United States, although they no longer use such a revealing name.
These descendants of Know Nothings accumulate power by stirring up irrational fear of new groups of immigrants. They use bad incidents by a few to paint a whole people as bad, while ignoring the thousands of immigrants that are integrating and contributing to society.
Here in the United States, the anti-immigrant crowd demands the building of a wall on the southern border that would be impenetrable. They also demand that the millions of undocumented immigrants, who have lived in the US for years, be rounded up and deported. They do not care that an impenetrable wall is improbable, and if it could be built, it would be extremely expensive. They do not care that their proposal to deport millions will break up families, cost billions to round up and deport, and will shrink economic GDP when these working immigrants do not show up to work. Their proposals are irrational, and dangerous, but emotionally satisfying to people, who are afraid.
In the current refugee crises in Europe, it seems unfortunate that some have decided to repeat the irrational anti-immigrant arguments and policies that we heard here in the U.S. For instance, the problem with building walls, as the Hungarians are about to find out, is that walls do not work very well. Here in the United States, we have built sophisticated walls and sensors along much of the Southern Border at great expense. The smugglers defeat the U.S. wall and sensors by digging a tunnel, or cutting a hole in the fence. Once inside the fence, the individuals melt into the shadows.
The reason walls and current European policies do not work and will not work is that the refugees of the war in the Syria and Iraq have nowhere else safe to go. Walls and similar policies may give the illusion of keeping people out. Such measures do not stop desperate refugees.
Walls do not stop smugglers, who want their profits to continue. What we have found in the U.S. is that when the crossing becomes more difficult, the price that must be paid increases. Walls and obstacles enrich the smugglers, because they have the incentive to build the tunnel, or bribe the border guard. The wall also poses a barrier that forces the refugee to use a smuggler, which allows the smuggler to squeeze and tax the desperate refugees even more on their journey. Enriching a class of human smuggling criminals seems an unwelcome and unwise policy.
If walls are not the answer, the answer is to have smarter policies founded on the reality that the refugees will continue to come until the war in Syria and Iraq ends. While obviously granting deserving applicants, refugee status is a start. European countries may also want to explore something similar to the Temporary Protected Status, which is a humanitarian measure that we have in the United States in addition to refugee status for example.
In the U.S., Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a humanitarian benefit that the Secretary of Homeland Security may grant to nationals of a designated country for a minimum of 6 months or maximum of 18 months at a time. In the U.S., it may be extended to people of a designated country where there is an on-going armed conflict, environmental disaster resulting in a substantial and temporary disruption of living conditions or some other extraordinary temporary conditions.
The purpose of TPS is to ensure that the people have a safe place to stay until the conditions of their country return to normal. TPS can be extended in increments of 6, 12, or 18 months if the conditions that caused TPS to be granted still persist.
Once TPS has been announced for a country, nationals of that country present in the US have a designated period to register and apply for work authorization. In the US, TPS does not lead to permanent residence. It ends when the conditions improve. For countries in Europe that want to help but do not want to extend permanent residence, TPS or something like it might make sense. For more information on TPS, please check out the United States Citizenship Immigration Service website.
However, a TPS like status and the other current EU policies will not stop the unmetered flow of immigrants to Europe. Current policy reacts to symptoms of the crises, which is what to do with the lucky ones that made it to Europe. These measures do not address the root cause, or the worst excesses. These measures do not attempt to halt the transfer of millions of dollars from immigrants and refugees to underworld smugglers. These measures still require immigrants and refugees to risk their lives on flimsy boats crossing the sea.
A smarter policy realizes that the refugees will come and pay whatever price can be paid, as long as chaos and extreme danger persist in their countries of origin. The EU should set up a sane, quick, and reasonable process for refugees to apply for refugee status in Europe in the camps and elsewhere in Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, which would cut off funds to smugglers and eliminate the need for a perilous journey. This policy would allow the EU to control the rate and flow of refugees rather than reacting to the flow arriving on-shore.
These immigrants represent great potential promise for Europe. They are ready workers, who can build a new European tomorrow that is stronger and more dynamic than the one today.
In my experience, the key is to find them productive work and allow them to rebuild their lives. Many immigrants that I know (some of them clients) have begun with little other than their wits, but have built a better life, founded businesses, bought homes, and contributed positively to society. It has largely worked for the people of the United States and the region around the Twin Cities. It can work in Europe.
This influx of youthful adults could be a boon for countries that due to low birth rates might otherwise lack the workers to sustain the social welfare benefits that their people have grown accustomed to receiving. While the refugees represent promise, the refugees must be handled with care to avoid concentrating them in ghettos, or the creation of a permanent underclass who are not welcomed as has happened in the past with the North Africans in France and the Turks in Germany.
Author: George C. Maxwell, Esq., a U.S. immigration attorney at Borene Law Firm, P.A. and officer and council member of the Minnesota State Bar Association, Immigration and International Business Law Sections in the U.S.