Last week, the Biden administration announced that it will offer work permits and protections against deportation to more than 400,000 Venezuelans who arrived in the United States since 2021.
On paper, this is a humanitarian gesture, an acknowledgment of the miseries of life under the dictatorship of Nicolás Maduro. In political practice, it is a desperate attempt to respond to the sudden rise in anti-immigrant sentiment in Democratic cities, especially New York, as the influx of migrants overwhelms social services and shelters.
I say desperate because the fundamental problem facing the Biden administration is at the southern border, where all attempts to deal with the extraordinary number of people trying to cross or seek asylum are overwhelmed.
The Wall Street Journal reports that in one week, about 10,000 migrants entered the city of Eagle Pass, Texas, whose total population is less than 30,000.
The subsequent movement of migrants to places like New York, Chicago and Washington has been encouraged by Republican state governors, but under any circumstances, crowds like these in Eagle Pass would ultimately result in a surge in the number of people in big cities. And policies that make it easier to work in these cities, like the measure adopted by the Biden administration, will likely encourage more migration until the border is more stable and secure.
The liberal confusion over this situation — see the spectacle of Democratic politicians like Eric Adams and Kathy Hochul sounding like Fox News hosts — is a harbinger of the difficult future that advocates of this school of thought will face across the West.
For decades, liberal jurisdictions have announced their openness to migrants, while counting on the sheer difficulty of international migration and conservative-backed restrictions to keep the pace of arrivals manageable and confine any chaos to the border. instead of allowing it to spread to the metropolis.
What has changed, and will continue to change for decades, are the numbers of these processes. Civil wars and climate change will play a role, but the most important transformations are, first, the way the internet and smartphones have made it easier to travel the world, and, second, the population imbalance between a wealthy, rapidly aging West and a rapidly aging South. Poorer and younger overall. This is a deeply unstable balance that attracts economic migrants to the north.
All of this is a bigger problem for Europe than for the US. European aging is more advanced, Africa’s population will continue to grow for decades (in 50 years, there could be five Africans for every European), while Latin America’s birth rates have been declining.
The European equivalent of Eagle Pass is the island of Lampedusa, south of Italy, where recent migrants outnumber the native population. This increase is just the beginning, argues Christopher Caldwell in an essay for The Spectator magazine about the continent’s dilemmas in which he quotes former French president Nicolas Sarkozy: “The migration crisis has not even begun.”
The American challenge is less dramatic, but not that different. The world has shrunk, and there is no clear limit to how many people can reach the Rio Grande. Therefore, what is happening this year will happen more often in years to come. The challenges of mass arrivals will spread beyond the border, and there will be growing demand for restrictions — even from people generally sympathetic to migrants. The numbers alone will make any restrictions less effective.
This combination could result in a pattern similar to what we saw in the UK after Brexit and in Italy under Giorgia Meloni: right-wing politicians are elected promising to regain control of borders, but their policies are ineffective and even their governments continue to record high migration rates.
The choice, then, is between moving further towards punitive and insensitive measures, as Donald Trump’s government did with its family separation policy and in its agreement with Mexico. Or retreat, like what many voters did in the face of Trumpist actions. The problem is that this encouraged Democrats to move left, leaving them unprepared to deal with the crisis once they came to power. And that now threatens to help elect Trump once again.
In one sense, the challenge facing liberals can be summed up in one decision: take more responsibility for immigration restrictions, or get used to right-wing populists doing it for them.
Truth be told, the problems for both the left and the right will be even more complicated than that. Populists themselves will not always know how to deliver on their promises. Liberals’ interests may differ depending on where they live, for example in New York City or in college towns and suburbs.
Furthermore, the scale and diversity of migration can create unexpected alliances (many Venezuelan migrants might vote for Trump if given the chance, after their experience with socialism) and new internal fault lines.
There will likely be neither a punitive end to the crisis nor a successful humanitarian means of managing it. There will be a general shift to the right, with a growing tolerance for punitive measures (“build the wall” could be a liberal slogan in the future).
This will have some effect on the flow of migration — but it will not stop it from being dramatic, chaotic and transformative as we move towards the new world order that awaits us, whatever that may be.
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