We explore the differences between U.S. and German migration policy, comparing their diametric responses to the recent 'migration crisis', and considering the current and future effects of these policy decisions.
In 2015, the Migration Crisis in the European Union (EU) reached its peak, with over one million people fleeing their homelands. Unfortunately, thousands of these asylum seekers died in the process of attaining their freedom, either through drowning, starvation, and other perils associated with flight. While many Europeans believe that asylum is important, they also believe “the process needs to improve,” (European Parliament, 2017). It’s not a surprise that refugees and asylum seekers from the Middle East or Africa are attempting to make a new home in the United States and Germany. Both these countries are two of the leading economic forces in the world, and asylum acceptance rates in Germany are the highest in Europe.
The 'refugee crisis' more-or-less began in late 2014 with the rapidly expanding war in Syria. The Islamic State, ISIS, was gaining land in Northern Syria, which caused thousands to leave. At the same time, people from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia, Niger, South Sudan, and Kosovo were fleeing due to war and poverty. This created overcrowded refugee camps along Turkey and Lebanon’s borders. The newly displaced people were unable to find jobs, educate their children, or even feel safe in these camps.
Many European countries, such as Macedonia, Hungary, Slovenia, and Austria, reacted to this crisis by placing fences along the borders and introducing harsher border control. The United States has one of the hardest citizenship programs: if you're even eligible to enter the country. Other countries, like Germany, had an “open-door” policy. This policy has both supporters and critics. One critique of this policy is that by opening borders without also introducing safe and legal migratory routes, encourages refugees and asylum seekers to use dangerous travel methods to reach Europe. This includes the much publicized Mediterranean crossings to Italy. On the other side, advocates of refugees applaud Germany’s can-do ("wir schaffen das") approach to the crisis.
The United States, meanwhile, has always had an exceptional immigrant relocation program. It began in 1948 under the Displaced Persons Act. It was adopted for the people displaced by WWII. Then, in 1980, the United States enacted the Refugee Act. This act created a system to process refugees, separately from immigrants. It also capped the number of immigrants coming to the US to 270,000. This was followed up with the controversial Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, in which illegal immigrants were given a chance to obtain legal status. While very controversial, the program was extremely effective: over three million undocumented immigrants were granted amnesty. This act also increased the cap on immigrants to 540,000 a year. After this, multiple acts were passed to control the number of illegal immigrants in the US: this includes the “diversity lottery system”, the Illegal Immigration Reform Act, the Immigrant Responsibility Act, and more.
However, after September 11, 2001, many of these immigration programs were reevaluated and had stricter rules and regulations. It is now the most vigorous in the world, taking approximately 18-24 months to screen each person. This includes multiple security agencies and background checks. While the number of immigrants in the US has increased since the 1970’s, most people are in fear that the American way of life will somehow disappear. But, this is not the case. Below is a graph that shows the number of immigrants in comparison to the total US population. As you can see in the graph, while the population of immigrants has increased, their percentage in the US is minimal: less than 15%.
Image via Migration Policy Institute
Today, under the Trump administration, the United States has taken these regulations another step further with the “America First” global perspective. This slogan, as well as the anti-immigrant, fiery rhetoric used, forces a divide within not only the country but also the world. The divide created by this rhetoric has brought about more xenophobia than ever before: mass shootings in public places, detention centers for Mexican children and parents, and even separating families from each other during the process.
In a complete 180° from the US, Germany has seen many changes since Hitler’s attempted Third Reich. The biggest change is the German Basic Law ("Grundgesetz"): in this law, it provides citizens, people, and in some cases, animals, simple rights. This includes the right to own property, the freedom of movement, the free choice of occupation, the freedom of association, equality before the law, and the right to asylum. This right to asylum was broadly defined as; never should people fleeing persecution or death be denied protection. This was an enormous accomplishment in Germany since it was in response to the atrocities committed in WWII. After WWII, there was an economic shortage of blue-collar laborers in the cities. In response, the German government set up migrant worker programs that allowed people from Italy, Spain, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia, and Yugoslavia to come to Germany and work. Although this was a great idea, the program didn’t attempt to integrate them into the German way of life. This started a deep-rooted xenophobia that can still be seen today. This program was canceled after the oil crisis in the 1970’s but didn’t stop the flow of immigrants.
The number of immigrants and refugees reached its peak in 2015, with the war in the Middle East growing. The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, opened the way for asylum seekers to come to Germany in her famous “open-door policy.” This policy allows for hundreds of thousands of refugees to come into Germany and begin to create a better life for themselves and their families. This is a well assumed role for Germany. Germany has an increasing aging population and don’t have enough skilled workers to fill needed jobs. While these refugees and asylum seekers can not only fill these needed places in the economy, they can also seek other occupations. Thus, creating a life for themselves and their families in a stable country.
Even with this great opportunity, there are still some German people who don’t see this as an acceptable plan. Many critics of Chancellor Merkel’s open-door policy see it as more dangerous for the country. They claim the problems brought from these warring countries will break down the German way of life and put pressure on the economy, and that there will be more terrorist attacks. These are, of course, the result of xenophobic ideas. The reality is, that people fleeing their home country are doing so to leave the violence produced by the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also called the Islamic State (IS).
As the problems associated with “fake news” and “alternative facts” continue to grow, the immigration policy between the different countries becomes more and more blurred. Specifically focusing on the United States (US) and Germany, two of the world powerhouses that attract hundreds of thousands of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers year after year. We can see the changes from the time before WWII and now: the US is cutting the refugee resettlement program to approximately 45,000, whereas Germany’s open-door policy displays a completely converse strategy. These polar opposite views show a change in people’s mentality over time. At a time where there are more refugees globally than in WWII, the United States are severely cutting the immigration cap and backing away from the United Nations (UN) response efforts, triggering detrimental effects across the globe. Not only does this push immigrants to Europe, but it also forces these countries to accept more than their economies can handle. With this economic stress combined with xenophobic ideas, we’ve seen the rise of extreme right-wing political parties in Europe, such as the Alternative for Deutschland (AFD), and Trump’s administration in the US. Despite the complexity of these issues, we should not shy away from our moral duty to protect all people in flight situations. Instead, let's seek to implement new transnational strategies which allows for the free and humane movement of people and adequate funding for host countries.
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