Migration issue re-focussed in Europe and the USA


Oct 15, 2023 09:50 PM

US President Joe Biden is under fire from both sides of the political spectrum after his Administration announced new border wall construction in Texas. Approximately 20 miles of new border barrier will be built in Starr County, a sparsely populated stretch of the border in the Rio Grande Valley. This is happening despite the fact that in 2020, Biden promised he would not build another foot of wall if elected. In response to the latest decision Mr Trump has observed that the move showed “I was right”.

It may be mentioned that the US Border Patrol apprehended 181,059 people along the US southern border in August compared with 132,648 in July, according to the latest data. In total, more than 2.2 million people have been detained since the beginning of the current fiscal year, which began in October 2022. The relevant authorities of the US Administration have also announced that it will resume deportations of illegal Venezuelan migrants, about 50,000 of whom arrived at the US-Mexico border in September alone.

However, Biden Administration is facing criticism from advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU, which called the decision “a profound failure”. ACLU border strategies director Jonathan Blazer has said in a statement that “instead of upholding this promise, the Biden administration is doubling down on the failed policies of the past that have proven wasteful and ineffective.”

This controversial measure has now been defended by Biden stating that he “can’t stop” the work because the funding was signed off by his predecessor Donald Trump while he was President. The US Department of Homeland Security has added that there is an “acute” need for such a barrier. In this context attention has also been drawn to a report that U.S. authorities have detained over 2.2 million potential migrants this fiscal year alone. It may be added that the migrant and immigration issue has reached a historic high point in the United States since September 2023. It has been revealed that the estimated number of foreign-born residents in the United States has now reached a figure of nearly 50 million according to demographer Joseph Chamie. This is being perceived as growth in the wrong direction that could eventually have consequences domestically and internationally.

The sensitive nature of the issue has gained momentum because today the U.S. with a population of about four per cent of the global population of 8 billion has become home to the largest number of immigrants in the world. It has been calculated that nearly 17 per cent of the world’s total number of immigrants reside in America. The current number of the foreign-born residing in America is substantially higher than the 44 million estimated at the time of its 2020 population census. Today’s figure is also nearly five times more than the number of immigrants residing in the country in 1965 when America passed the far-reaching Immigration and Nationality Act. It may be recalled that this Act created a new regulatory arrangement that prioritised highly skilled immigrants and those who already had family living in the country. This legislation paved the way for millions of non-European immigrants to come to the United States.

Statistics have revealed that in 1960 the largest five immigrant groups in America were from Italy followed by Germany, Canada, Great Britain and Poland. However, by 2015, about a half century later, the largest group of immigrants included Mexico at the top and then at considerably lower levels India, China, the Philippines and El Salvador. The number of foreign-born workers in America had also reached a record high of nearly 30 million by 2022 or slightly over 18 per cent of the U.S. civilian labour force. This dynamic also created another facet in 2021 when the Biden Administration granted nearly five hundred thousand Venezuelan migrants an opportunity to work and live in the U.S. legally for at least the next 18 months under the format of Temporary Protected Status. This growing complexity has also worsened over the past ten years with visa overstayers in the U.S. outnumbering unlawful border crossings by a ratio of about two to one margin.

Record numbers of migrant families from various countries are also streaming from Mexico into the United States. The U.S. Border Patrol arrested a record-breaking number of nearly 92 thousand migrants who crossed the border as part of a family group in August, 2023- substantially exceeding the prior one-month record of nearly 85 thousand set in May 2019.

It is also worth noting that the proportionate number of the foreign-born vary considerably across America’s states. California has the highest proportion with more than a quarter of its population being foreign-born. It is followed by New Jersey, New York, Florida and Hawaii with approximately a fifth of their populations being foreign-born. In contrast, less than four per cent of the population is foreign-born in West Virginia, Mississippi, Montana, Wyoming and South Dakota. The increases in unauthorised border crossings are creating political challenges across the country.

Interestingly, U.S. States next to its southern border have not been the only target for migrants of different backgrounds, the other focal point has been the recent arrival of more than one hundred thousand migrants in New York City. This has overwhelmed shelters, services and local resources and fuelled anti-immigration feelings.

A similar scenario is also developing in several other cities in the USA including Boston, Chicago, Denver, Philadelphia and Portland. The arrivals of the large numbers of asylum seekers in these cities have affected local government facilities and budgets as well as stressed volunteer groups.

However, that projected number of foreign-born in the U.S. does not take into account visa overstayers and unauthorised immigrants entering the U.S. southern border. Many demographers are accordingly suggesting that this evolving scenario related to unauthorised migrants will lead to the foreign-born population in 2060 to be likely closer to 80 million, or about a fifth of America’s projected population.

It is clear that this transforming dimension is increasing several aspects that could generate issues during the coming election for the Biden Administration.

The issue of migration has also come to the forefront among EU Member States. The current month of October has seen their efforts to reach a deal on migration policy against the background where the whole world has been watching a gradual shift rightward in Europe. It appears that European Union States have in principle agreed on a series of new procedures to handle irregular migration into Europe through amended migration rules by the end of the year.

The situation, it may be mentioned, has deteriorated in the EU in the recent past when thousands of refugees, many of them fleeing war, conflict and economic hardship have tried to cross the Mediterranean Sea.

A new Asylum and Migration Management Regulation is set to replace the current Dublin Regulation and change how asylum seekers are processed at the EU’s borders and how they are relocated across Europe. It may be recalled that the Dublin Regulation Agreement was originally signed in 1990 and revised three times, setting out rules determining which Member state was responsible for the examination of an asylum application.

The EU’s 27 members also are trying to make the changes legally binding before next year’s EU elections. The Swedish Migration Minister Maria Malmer Stenergard has underlined that “it is important to get the Pact in place, to ensure order at the EU’s external borders and reduce flow of illegal migrants.”

European Union Ministers have agreed on a deal to overhaul the bloc’s asylum procedures, which has eluded the bloc for nearly 10 years, after 12 hours of negotiations to obtain the go-ahead from front-line members Italy and Greece. The accord will change how asylum seekers are processed at the bloc’s borders and how they are relocated across Europe. Home Affairs Ministers from the 27-member bloc have apparently reached an agreement which aims to end years of division dating back to 2015 when more than one million persons, including family members with children, most of whom were fleeing war in Syria, and then reached the EU.

It needs to be understood, however, that full agreement on the stipulated changes with regard to the EU is still in not finalised because of lack of consensus. Right-wing parties in countries such as Italy, Hungary, Poland and Germany have made immigration central to their policies, railing against the asylum system and calling for greater restrictions. It also needs to be noted that Hungary and Poland are poised to take turns holding the EU presidency after the next elections. Both countries had opposed the deal. As a result, the vote was not adopted with consensus but on the basis of a majority in support.

Nevertheless, the EU has decided to create measures that would include new support for countries like Italy where many refugees arrive from across the Mediterranean as well as processing centres on the EU’s outer borders. The Italian authorities, unlike in the past, keep asylum seekers in detention as their claims are processed. This process has raised controversy among many human rights activists around the world, and wealthy nations have been accused of overlooking human rights in their effort to restrict asylum and crack down on migration. This has also impacted the political horizon.

It is now believed that the latest discussions and meetings on migration and its several dimensions have resulted in a series of agreements on the unseemly aspects of migration restrictions to countries in Africa and the Middle East. Latest developments have particularly led to reference on Tunisia which was recently accused of dumping refugees and migrants in the desert.

Muhammad Zamir, a former Ambassador, is an analyst specialised in foreign affairs, right to information and good governance.

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