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Jason Dzubow on Political Asylum

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  1. A Military Solution to the Migration Crisis?

    The European Union has been struggling to cope with a surge of migrants fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East and Africa. The high season has not yet begun, and already hundreds have died trying to cross the Mediterranean. Thousands more have arrived on the Continent to seek protection. In response, the EU is planning a combined military campaign by air, sea, and possibly land against the smuggling networks. Can such a plan succeed? And could the lessons of Europe be applied to our own migration crisis along the Southern border?



    Just because you have a hammer does not mean every problem is a nail.

    According to a recent article about the EU plan:

    The campaign’s aim is defined as “to disrupt the business model of the smugglers, achieved by undertaking systematic efforts to identify, seize/capture, and destroy vessels and assets before they are used by smugglers … The operation will need to be phased in and will be heavily dependent on intelligence.

    Military operations would focus on actions “inside Libya’s internal and territorial waters and the coast,” and possibly “ashore,” as well.

    The downsides of such an operation are fairly obvious. As an EU planning document admits, the campaign could result in innocent people being killed: “Boarding operations against smugglers in the presence of migrants has a high risk of collateral damage including the loss of life.” There are also difficult practical problems—smugglers frequently rent boats from fisherman and then fill the boat with migrants shortly before they sail. So there is little time to identify which boats are being used for human cargo and to neutralize them before people are aboard. Also, the Libyan coast is dangerous. Different militias control different parts of the country, and some have the capacity to target European warships and aircraft. Finally, and maybe most significantly, the migrants are desperate people fleeing for their lives, so it is unclear whether they would be dissuaded from their journey if it were marginally more difficult.

    On the other hand, large numbers of people are already dying at sea (about 2,000 so far this year), and there is little doubt that the impunity the smugglers enjoy encourages them to continue their activities. There is also some evidence that the smugglers are encouraging certain people to make the journey, when they would be better off staying put. But the question is, Can military force make the situation better?

    First, I suppose it depends on how we define “better.” If we mean that Europe will have to deal with fewer migrants, then military action against the smugglers may make things “better,” at least to some degree. We’ve seen this story before in the militarization of the drug war. The costs to the drug smugglers goes up, the cost of the product goes up, and—perhaps—fewer drugs get through. The key difference between smuggling humans and smuggling drugs is that each person must be able to pay for the cost of his trip. If the cost to smuggle drugs goes up, the users pay, but if the cost of human trafficking goes up, the trafficked people must pay. If action against the traffickers increases the cost of passage, maybe fewer people will be able to afford the journey. And if fewer migrants reach Europe, the situation will be “better” in that Europe will not have to deal with it.

    But if “better” means actually addressing the problem, interdicting smugglers will likely not make the situation any better. If the asylum seekers were merely economic migrants, they might be dissuaded from making the trip. But most of the people crossing the Med are fleeing for their lives--they are from places like Syria and Eritrea, where return to the home country is unthinkable. Cutting off the route to Europe will--at best--force them to go somewhere else.

    While Europe does bear some of the blame for the current mess in the Middle East and Africa (due to colonialism and economic exploitation), I don't believe that the Europeans can be expected to accept every migrant who come their way. However, I do think Europe--and the rest of the world--has a moral obligation to help legitimate refugees fleeing violence and persecution. Perhaps European interests would be better served by using its military and logistical power to establish better safe havens for refugees, and to create an orderly resettlement process for those who will likely never return home.

    And what of America? Is there a military solution to our own migrant crisis? Much of the migration to our country is driven by gang and cartel violence in Central America and Mexico. Last year, the Congressional Research Service published a report about the U.S. government's role in combating Central American gangs. The report details our efforts on the law enforcement and preventative sides of the gang problem. In short, it seems that a law enforcement-only approach (such as Mano Duro in El Salvador) is not as effective as a more holistic approach, and so the effectiveness of throwing additional military forces against the gangs seems doubtful.

    Perhaps the border itself could be further militarized, but it is difficult to see how this would make much difference either. The number of agents at the border is at an all time high, and the number of apprehensions has dropped to 1970s levels (indicating fewer people attempting to enter illegally). The bigger problem these days is the large number of people surrendering at the border and requesting asylum, and of course this is not a problem amenable to a military solution.

    For us and for the Europeans, the influx of asylum seekers presents a serious challenge. Rather than using military force to attack smugglers and deflect the problem, we would be better off addressing root causes and protecting vulnerable people from harm.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.
  2. Is the Asylum System to Blame for Migrant Deaths?

    We think of spring in the Northern hemisphere as a time of rebirth and renewal. But in the Mediterranean, for refugees attempting to reach Europe by sea, it is a time of dying.
    Deporting children protects them. Vaccines cause Autism. Ketchup is a vegetable.

    Last month, over 800 people died when an overcrowded boat sank en router from Libya to Southern Europe. That brings the number of migrant deaths at sea during this season to 1,780 people, as compared to 96 people during the same period last year.


    By contrast, deaths at the U.S. border are down from previous years. The Associated Press reports that, "The number of people who died trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border has dropped to the lowest level in 15 years as more immigrants turned themselves in to authorities in Texas and fewer took their chances with the dangerous trek across the Arizona desert." In FY 2014, the government recorded 307 deaths at the border. Although this is significantly lower than what we are seeing in Europe, hundreds of people are still dying each year on their journeys to the United States (and of course this figure does not include people who die on the route to the U.S. before they reach our border).


    In many cases, the migrants coming to Europe and the United States are fleeing severe violence in their home countries. They are desperate people seeking safety and a better life in the West. And although in many ways the U.S. and Europe are hostile to asylum seekers, we do provide strong "pull factors" that encourage people to make the journey. We offer such people asylum.


    So it's fair to ask: Does the very fact that we offer asylum provide an incentive for people to risk their lives--and sometimes die--to reach our country?


    A recent bill proposed in Congress and passed by the House Judiciary Committee seems to answer this question in the affirmative. The bill, called the Protection of Children Act of 2015, would "protect" unaccompanied minors who come to the U.S. by sending them home more expeditiously. One of the bill's sponsors, Congressman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) explained the rationale for this new legislation:
    The Obama Administration’s immigration policies have given confidence to parents who are in the U.S. illegally that they can stay and have encouraged them to bring their children, who are still in Central America and beyond, to the United States unlawfully. These children, often assisted by smugglers, face many dangerous situations as they travel through Mexico and then walk miles across a hostile border environment. We need to take action to stop these children from risking their lives to come to the United States unaccompanied and unlawfully. The Protection of Children Act makes common sense changes to our laws to ensure minors who travel to the U.S. alone are returned home safely and quickly.

    While the bill will not, in fact, protect any children (rather, it will harm them), the Protection of Children Act is--at least in part--an effort to reduce the incentive for people to come to the U.S. for asylum and thus an effort to reduce the number of people who die attempting to reach our country.


    But still, the question remains: Do our asylum laws encourage people to come illegally to the United States and risk their lives in the process? Is our generosity killing people?


    One way to look at the question is to explore the motivation for asylum seekers' coming to the U.S. Which is more important, the "push" of danger in the home country or the "pull" of asylum in the United States? If the "pull" is more important, we would expect that people from similar countries would come to the U.S. in similar numbers, regardless of violence levels in those countries. So for example, we would expect to see people coming to the U.S. in similar numbers from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua (all poor Central American countries). A review of the data, however, indicates that this is not the case. Many more people come to the U.S. from the more violent countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) than from the less violent one (Nicaragua) (I have written more about this here).


    Some of the disparity may be because there are more people from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras in the U.S. than there are people from Nicaragua, and so perhaps migrants are not fleeing violence, but instead are coming here for family unity. There is no doubt that this is part of the equation. However, according to the Pew Foundation, there are roughly 408,261 Nicaraguans in the U.S. By comparison, there are 774,866 Hondurans, 1,265,400 Guatemalans, and 1,969,495 Salvadorans in the United States. I could not find recent data on the number of Nicaraguans coming to the U.S., but for December 2014, Nicaragua was not even in the top 10 sending countries for asylum seekers. In that month, 333 people filed for asylum from Honduras, 495 from El Salvador, and 546 from Guatemala. One hundred and fifty four people filed for asylum from India, which is # 10 on the list, so we know that even fewer people sought asylum from Nicaragua. Given the significant number of Nicaraguans living in the U.S., if family unity was the main “pull” factor, we would expect greater numbers of migrants from Nicaragua.


    All this leads to the conclusion that violent conditions in Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are “pushing” people to come to the United States. And, by the way, this squares with anecdotal evidence from the asylum seekers themselves and the lawyers (like me) who represent them.


    So what does it all mean? If people are coming here mainly due to “push” factors (violence) and not “pull” factors (asylum), then making it more difficult for them to claim asylum in the U.S. (or Europe) is unlikely to dissuade them from making the journey.


    Most asylum seekers, like most people, are rational and respond to their environment in rationale ways. If conditions are violent and they fear for their lives, people will flee. If there is somewhere safe for them to go, they will go. The Protection of Children Act does nothing to protect such people. It merely shifts the problem somewhere else. To help reduce the number of asylum seeker deaths, the United States and Europe need to do more to address the root causes of violence. Making life even more difficult for those fleeing harm will only make a bad situation worse.

    Originally posted on the Asylumist: www.Asylumist.com.

    Updated 05-05-2015 at 09:13 AM by JDzubow

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