A Few Distinctions

I can see from the comments in my earlier post on the situation with migrants in Europe that there’s quite a bit of confusion on that subject. According to the United Nations High Commission on Refugees there are about 50 million displaced persons worldwide in three different categories. 3-5 million of them are refugees with the greatest number of those coming from Syria. The other two classifications are people who have fled their homes but remain within their countries of origin (internally displaced persons) and those who have fled their homes to other countries (externally displaced persons).

Not every one who leaves his or her home country even when that country is at war or in in civil war is a refugee. To be a refugee you must meet certain specific criteria and most migrants don’t qualify.

In addition to the tally reported by the UNHCR there are probably tens of millions, possibly hundreds of millions of people who would leave their home countries for economic reasons if they thought they could manage it.

We don’t have a refugee crisis here in the United States. Neither does Germany. We’re hosting about 300,000 refugees and the Germans another 200,000 but we can manage that and so can they. The only countries that I would say have refugee crises are Turkey and, possibly, Rwanda.

In general refugees flee. They don’t shop for the best venue. When a Syrian leaves his or her home country and flees to Turkey she or he may or may not be a refugee. When refugees leave Turkey and wash up on shore in Greece, making a pit stop on the way to Germany, they are no longer refugees. They’re migrants. I think it’s likely that Turkey is exploiting its refugee population for political purposes but that’s another subject. At the very least the Turks are not living up to their treaty responsibilities respecting refugees and migrants.

I think we’re experiencing a migrant crisis. Just under 15% of the U. S. population today are immigrants. That’s as many as at any time in our history. By comparison about 5% of the German population are immigrants, 10% of the French population are immigrants, and 12% of the UK population are immigrants. Those are numbers much higher than they’re accustomed to but it’s still not a crisis.

I think we have a crisis because of

  1. The sheer numbers
  2. They have come so quickly (mostly since 1975, many since 1985)
  3. So many of them have come from a single country (Mexico)
  4. Economic growth and, particularly, wage growth is not as great here as it was during the earlier periods we experience heavy immigration, e.g. 1890-1900
  5. Cultural changes here which have made assimilation more difficult

I think we’ll survive and even prosper by the new immigrants but I also think that we need a breather. The study most frequently quoted to prove that our Mexican immigrants ultimately adopt English as their first language also found that they do so on average a generation later than other immigrants. It’s going to take a while for our Mexican immigrants to be assimilated—50-75 years.

Some have pointed out the contributions that new immigrants may make. They’re right. New immigrants also present problems. Unemployment 20 years after their immigration among the Hmong refugees was still around 20%. Today it’s still nearly 10%. Unemployment among Somali refugees is nearly 50% and not going down. The honest truth is that we don’t need a lot of illiterate people without urban skills and scanty command of English any more. It’s pretty hard for subsistence farmers to make it in the 21st century United States.

Many Americans have a sort of Disney-fied view of the world in which the differences between countries are just differences in languages, national costumes, and cuisines. That’s not right. There are real differences between cultures. Just as an example in some cultures (ours) people are motivated by internalized guilt while in others they are motivated by externalized shame. There are differences in attitudes about government, the role of religion in life, family life, the roles of the sexes, and just about every other aspect of life and just because people move here doesn’t mean they leave those attitudes behind.

As I suggested in the post linked above, the European countries have a choice to make but it’s their choice. Whether we accept more migrants and whom we accept should be our choice, too. Recently, it hasn’t been. It’s been the choice of our elites who like lots of new immigrants because they keep wages down and they (the elites) can just retire to their gated communities and estates if they don’t want to put up with the problems.

2 comments… add one
  • G. Shambler Link

    Agreed. And. Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump! Trump!

    Oh, but wait! I want an exemption for my favorite Mexican Restaurant’s workers and owners. Keep them here.

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