The topic of our February 13 meeting was immigration.
The cover of our packet had a few quotes from The Future of Democracy:
Our discussion centered on the book Fortress Europe, by Matthew Carr, and a recent article from the Washington Post about a farmer who was fined for taking in migrants in southern France.
Going back 20 years, over 1,000 people die per year trying to escape extreme poverty and oppression from Africa and Eastern Europe. Because the 28 members of the European Union essentially have created a border-free zone between them, migrants from the south and east must pass through the borders of the furthest south and east countries to enter this expansive area where they hope for new political and economic freedom (see map below). All EU members participate in guarding the borders of this “Schengen” zone, and routinely send back people who have risked their lives to get to these borders, or put them in detention camps for months or years. This, despite the 2008 Lisbon Treaty of the European Union, stating: “The Union is founded on the values of respect for human dignity, freedom, democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities.” The UN human rights commission (UNHCR) “insists that…migrants should be able to apply for asylum from the moment they are rescued on the high seas, in the country of the vessel that rescues them.” (Page 75)
Exclusion or expulsion of specific racial or ethnic groups in Europe has a long history. Southern Spain was ruled by Muslims from 711 until they were expelled in 1492. Jews were expelled from a number of European countries throughout the middle ages, including England and France. The US passed the Chinese Exclusion act in 1882 to provide protection from the “yellow peril.” In 1885, Bismarck drove out the Poles from Prussia. Britain approved the Aliens Act in 1905, mainly to keep out Jews fleeing persecution in Russia. The requirement for the presentation of passports to gain entry into a country only began after World War I.
Due to the realization of many of the Allied nations after World War II that their exclusionary policies had contributed to the extermination of many Jews, they entered into the Geneva Convention on Refugees in 1951 (extended in 1967), which stated that UN members would provide protection to refugees who leave their countries “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion."
Previously the US and Western European countries admitted some refugees from Eastern Europe, particularly the Soviet Block, and Africa. Many migrants, including those from Mexico or Central America, took on jobs that Europeans and Americans considered difficult or beneath them in areas such as menial labor, construction, or agriculture.
With the beginning of terrorist attacks on Europe and the US around the beginning of the new century many leaders and citizens began to doubt the wisdom of porous borders. The advent of the economic downturn which began in 2008 made many believe that the reason for their economic doldrums was based on migrants who were willing to work for less and therefore took jobs that should have gone to the nationals of those nations. This coincided with extreme droughts and wars in Africa and political oppression in Eastern Europe and the Middle East that created an increasing crush of those seeking asylum or economic opportunities. Many were so desperate that they were willing to risk their lives to seek new opportunities for themselves and their families. Examples: Over 200,000 have been killed in Syria by their own government in that country’s civil war; in Somalia there is no government - society has broken down while poverty and starvation are the norm.
The crush of migration has greatly increased in recent years. In the US, deportations more than doubled from 1999 to 2008 to 350,000 per year. Tens of thousands of Mexican and Latino migrants have been forced to use dangerous desert routes to the US where many have died. Under Obama the definition of criminality was widened to minor infractions so that more could be expelled and under Trump many who simply registered under Obama now are threatened with expulsion. In Southern Europe, Amnesty International has condemned countries such as Greece for “the routine and widespread practice of pushing back refuges and migrants arriving at its borders in search of protection, safety, and better futures…” (Page 256)
1. We must consider the humanity of those who seek admission to more prosperous countries because of extreme oppression and threats to their very existence. Europe and the US made the mistake of refusing to admit Jews seeking asylum for much of the first half of the twentieth century. Today’s situation is similar.
2. The US must partner with Europe to bring extreme sanctions on countries that oppress their people and work with their partners to rebuild countries torn by civil war.
3. The US and its partners must admit more, not less, refugees from oppression and starvation. The US was considered a beacon for the oppressed until the beginning of this century. Our reputation and values are being diminished by denying the human rights of those who are going through the same trials that brought many of our ancestors to western democracies.
4. We should address the fears of those who believe that those who are admitted to our democracies have the potential to harm us. This can be done by extreme vetting and requiring immigrants to check in with authorities. Basing our immigration policies on race or religion creates a recruiting tool for those who believe themselves to have no recourse but to join terrorist organizations.
5. We should work with the governments of other nations whenever possible to reform trade agreements so that their workers are respected and they can make a living wage. This would decrease the need of those in other countries to cross borders.
6. We should create job training programs and invest in industries such as clean energy while supporting infrastructure rebuilding in Western countries to improve job prospects for those who have fallen behind economically so that immigrants are seen less as a threat to take jobs from them.
We will continue to meet on the second Monday of each month. Next meeting will be March 13, 2017. We will be discussing those of limited economic means who support conservative views. We will focus on the book Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Hochschild.
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The Future of Democracy can be ordered wherever books are sold.
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and several related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Master’s in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.