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The Huddled Masses At The Border
Our immigration paradigm has shifted. Our policies need to as well.
Lampedusa is a picturesque, rocky Italian island in the Mediterranean between Tunisia and Sicily, with gorgeous beaches and a small population of around 6,000. In just five days last week, its population tripled, as 11,000 migrants showed up in at least 199 boats, overwhelming resources. The center for accommodating migrants was designed for 600. So far, in this year alone, some 127,000 migrants reached Italy, more than twice the numbers who arrived in all of 2022.
Lampedusa itself was the place where one of the worst shipwrecks in Mediterranean history happened a decade ago, when a migrant boat caught fire and sank, leaving more than 360 dead, after the Italian authorities ignored SOS signals. In June of this year, a migrant shipwreck in Greece took more than 600 lives. The human toll of this mass migration is incalculable.
Cross the globe to Eagle Pass in Texas, and you’re struck by the similarities. About 2,500 migrants arrived in just one day last week, completely swamping local resources and requiring the mayor to declare a state of emergency. El Paso is now handling around 1,200 migrants every day. Since March 2021, the Biden administration has given first 250,000 and now an additional 500,000 migrants from Venezuela formal permission to work in the US: three-quarters of a million illegal migrants in two-and-a-half years. According to Mexico’s tally, there were 142,000 encounters with illegal migrants at the border in the first two weeks of this month alone — a 60 percent increase on July and likely another monthly record.
We are told these vast numbers of migrants are merely being given “temporary protection” — but most of these “temporary” measures become permanent, and we know that in any given year, only a minuscule fraction of illegal immigrants are ever deported. All that has happened this past week is that Democratic politicians have begged the administration to quicken the pace of de facto legalization so their social services are not entirely overwhelmed. The governor of Massachusetts, for example, recently declared a state of emergency and slammed the White House for “a federal crisis of inaction that is many years in the making.” (It’s not just this White House’s fault, of course. The failure is Congressional as well and goes back decades.)
As soon as the migrants arrive, in the US and the EU, domestic and international law kicks in, and places have to be found to accommodate the travelers. These desperate travelers, it’s important to note, are not people persecuted for political or religious reasons. They are not genuinely seeking asylum. They are understandably seeking a better life in more developed countries, and there is no stopping the influx.
Climate change is one reason: many of the new migrants to Lampedusa are fleeing the terrible floods in Libya. Another is dysfunctional government — from Libya (broken by the West’s toppling of Gaddafi) and Tunisia to Venezuela and Haiti. Another factor still is population growth in the global south, particularly Africa, vastly outstripping that in the north. Another still is the revolution in information technology so that the West is so much more viscerally present in the minds of many in the developing world — and the contrast with their own lives devastating.
No one is particularly happy about this, apart from the migrants themselves, who have often endured extreme misery in their journey to a better future. But there seems to be nothing that can be done. Every rushed decision to accommodate the newcomers — like the Venezuelan decision this week — further incentivizes the next wave.
Doing deals with countries along the route — Tunisia and Libya in the EU, and Mexico in the US — has only met partial success. The NYT reported this week how the Mexican border with Guatemala is weakening, as a mob stormed a refugee aid office on Monday, after long delays in getting appointments with US officials. The largest freight train company in Mexico has suspended all trains to the US border because of the “unprecedented” number of migrants hitching a ride — many dying in the process. In the Darien Gap, between Panama and Colombia, 250,000 navigated the very dangerous jungle in 2022 — an annual record at the time. By September 18 this year, that number was 380,000.
When those opposed to mass immigration come to power in both the US and Europe … almost nothing changes. This week, the prime minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, visited Lampedusa with the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen. You might remember Meloni from the US media coverage of her as a new version of Mussolini. But she has effectively given up on stopping the influx and is now merely trying to get other EU countries to share the burden of the new arrivals. (Think of Republican governors on the border sending their migrants to northern cities or liberal havens like Martha’s Vineyard).
The trouble, of course, is that this also incentivizes new waves — and is accompanied by the uncomfortable fact that Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Latvia, Poland and Slovakia refuse to take any. This week, for its part, even France declared it would accept none of the migrants who’d just arrived in Lampedusa. Poland’s prime minister said that “the whole Europe, the whole EU, may become Lampedusa if we continue to commit the same old mistakes, the scheme and mechanisms that the Commission proposed.”
The few politicians who have genuinely tried to do something to stop the influx have been hounded by the media (see Trump), or been pursued through the court system — as was the case with Matteo Salvini, as Douglas Murray explains here — or just been incapable of marshaling the political majority required to make a difference (see Trump and the “wall,” again). But at some point, the countries of the West (excepting Japan, of course) have got to confront the fact that they are facing a new paradigm, and the old and trusted methods are not going to work anymore. Check out this quote from this week from a Trumpist:
If you’re going to leave your country, go somewhere else.
But that wasn’t a MAGA maniac. It was the Democratic governor of New York. Is the left going to call her a white supremacist now as well?
That was the core electoral appeal of the “Wall.” It is also the appeal of ramped-up enforcement in the interior, or of barriers in the middle of the Rio Grande, or barbed or razor wire everywhere on the border. The Biden administration’s core policy has not been to do anything serious to stop the influx, but to disguise it — by offering visa applications outside the US, by the new app for migrants to book appointments, and by flying migrants directly from their home countries into the cities of the US, bypassing the Southern border altogether. So far this year, some 221,000 have arrived this way — from Nicaragua, Venezuela, Haiti and Cuba.
The ease with which migrants have managed to get into the US without using the Biden app has begun to make the app irrelevant. Via the indispensable Nick Miroff at the WaPo:
“What is the point of the CBP appointment? My brother surrendered, and he got through. We know too many stories of people who got through without an appointment,” said Yonder Linarez, 28, who was traveling with 10 members of his extended family.
Linarez said he planned to cross the border and turn himself in to U.S. agents Wednesday evening at the border wall. “We tried it, but it took too long,” he said. “If we’ve endured the jungle, robbery and everything else to get here, you think not having an appointment is going to stop us?”
The entire global immigration paradigm has shifted — making the administration’s persistent repetition that “the border is secure” absurd when not risible. But our debate remains mired in past divides, and an utterly gridlocked Congress, incapable of passing a budget, let alone overhauling the immigration system as a whole.
Without massive investment in border protection, mass deportations from the interior of the country (at which many Americans would understandably balk), and a vastly expanded system of immigration courts and judges, the US has simply ceased to be a functional nation-state. We cannot determine who becomes a citizen or not. It is so, so easy to argue that any concern about this is merely proof of racism. It is merely proof that the US federal government is no longer capable of the most basic of functions: the maintenance of its own borders.
There are some readers who will respond to this by saying: good. Let everyone come. We have close to full employment and immigration helps the economy. But this is an argument for a liberal immigration policy, that selects for skilled newcomers, and other worthy applicants. What we have now is a border open to those who can gather in enough numbers to storm the border and overwhelm the entire system, and no functional system to determine who can stay, and only a gesture at deportations.
We also have downward pressure on working-class wages, and increasing frustration by those who face the reality of the influx. It does not surprise me that increasing numbers of working-class black and Hispanic Americans are gravitating to the GOP. As an activist in Chicago’s South Side said recently, “Our specific frustration lies in the continuous and blatant disregard for the safety and overall quality of life for Black residents.” And if liberals and moderate conservatives do not find a way to restore American sovereignty, then the re-election of Trump — or the emergence of someone tougher and more focused than he could ever be — is just a matter of time.
(Note to readers: This is an excerpt of The Weekly Dish. If you’re already a subscriber, click here to read the full version. This week’s issue also includes: my chat with Vivek Ramaswamy on what makes America great and how to improve it; many dissents over my views on Trump’s nihilistic party; my take on the Kendi scam; a handful of notable quotes from the week in news; 19 pieces on Substack we enjoyed this week on a variety of topics; a Mental Health Break of drone footage in Indonesia; a window from Cambridge; and, of course, the results of the View From Your Window contest — with a new challenge. Subscribe for the full Dish experience!)
From a new subscriber in the UK:
Ok, you finally got me. Why? Well there I was, reflecting on becoming boringly right-wing in my middle age — what happened to the 15-year-old who snuck into punk concerts in 1977? I mean, I’m a Remainer and Lib-Dem voter and all that, I’m a nice person honestly, but I just can’t agree with everything on the Guardian opinion page, no matter how hard I try. I’m not entirely sure that open borders are a fantastic idea if it means welcoming people whose ideas on democracy and women’s rights are a teensy bit to the right of even Rees-Mogg.
So there you have it. And forty quid.
The Kendi Scam, Unraveled
When I first encountered the improbably named Ibram X Kendi, it was through his memoir, which was affecting in places but marred by, well, an intellectual crudeness so extreme I marveled that anyone could take it seriously.
(Read the rest here, for paid subscribers)
New On The Dishcast: Vivek Ramaswamy
Vivek is an entrepreneur and a Republican candidate for the 2024 presidential race. He founded a biotech company, Roivant Sciences, after working as an investment partner at a hedge fund. He’s also the author of Woke, Inc. and Nation of Victims. I’ll get ahead of you guys and confess that I liked him in our chat, and decided I wasn’t going to repeat the now-familiar trope of trying to get him to denounce Trump. See what you think, but I learned some stuff about his life.
Listen to the episode here. There you can find two clips of our convo — on whether evangelicals will vote for a Hindu, and whether we should let Russia keep the Donbas. That link also takes you to commentary on our recent episodes with Freddie DeBoer, Sohrab Ahmari, and Matt Lewis.
Browse the Dishcast archive for another convo you might enjoy (the first 102 episodes are free in their entirety — subscribe to get everything else). Coming up: Leor Sapir on the treatment of kids with gender dysphoria, Ian Buruma on his new book The Collaborators: Three Stories of Deception and Survival in World War II, and Spencer Klavan, who wrote How to Save the West: Ancient Wisdom for 5 Modern Crises. Later on: Martha Nussbaum, Matthew Crawford, David Brooks and Pamela Paul.
Dissents Of The Week
Here’s one of many readers who took issue with my latest column:
Your framing of Trump’s GOP and nihilism is wildly off base. Isn’t the point of the impeachment inquiry to have increased power to gather evidence to decide whether impeachment is appropriate? The public info showing $20 million in payments to Hunter from Ukraine, China, et al., the Shokin affair, texts like “unlike Pop I won’t make you give me half your salary” and “10% for the Big Guy,” is more than enough to support a investigation. I’m fine with condemning the House if they vote to impeach without solid evidence, but you seem to be embracing the mainstream narrative about there’s nothing to see here.
In The ‘Stacks
This is a feature in the paid version of the Dish spotlighting about 20 of our favorite pieces from other Substackers every week. This week’s selection covers subjects such as Trump on abortion, Russell Brand, and a coming austerity. Below are few examples:
An especially dangerous trend on social media: anorexic influencers.
You can also browse all the substacks we follow and read on a regular basis here — a combination of our favorite writers and new ones we’re checking out. It’s a blogroll of sorts. If you have any recommendations for “In the ‘Stacks,” especially ones from emerging writers, please let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The View From Your Window Contest
Where do you think it’s located? Email your guess to email@example.com. Please put the location — city and/or state first, then country — in the subject line. Proximity counts if no one gets the exact spot. Bonus points for fun facts and stories. The deadline for entries is Wednesday night at midnight (PST). The winner gets the choice of a VFYW book or two annual Dish subscriptions. If you are not a subscriber, please indicate that status in your entry and we will give you a free month subscription if we select your entry for the contest results (example here if you’re new to the contest). Happy sleuthing!
The results for the latest contest are coming in a separate email to paid subscribers later today. Here’s a preview from a reader who calls himself “the mediocre super-sleuth in NYC”:
Having stared at the last week’s view for a while, I feel the need to invoke John McEnroe: “YOU CANNOT BE SERIOUS!” I know better than to underestimate the abilities of the super-sleuths, but I don’t see more than a handful solving this one.
I got the Mobile Mini sign on the metal storage units, but they’re a global company at this point, so not much help. The hacienda-style wood trellis would seem to point to a location somewhere in the American Southwest or further south. The rest of the building doesn’t offer any clues. Maybe sleuths who know their landscapes will recognize the hills beyond.
All that’s left to do is search images of storage facilities. But, OMG, who knew there are more than 52,000 storage facilities in the US? That’s more than the combined number of Starbucks, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Pizza Huts and Wendy’s. More fun storage facility facts: It is a monster $38 billion annual industry. There are over two billion square feet of storage in the US, in more than 23 million individual units. One in 11 Americans rents space.
Surprisingly, the contents of 155,000 units are auctioned off every year due to non-payment. The contents of Paris Hilton’s storage unit netted the next owner over $10 million. Burt Reynold’s memorabilia, including the Deliverance canoe, was abandoned. The very first Superman comic book, Atomic Comic #1, was found in a unit and returned to its rightful owner, Nicolas Cage.
As always, George Carlin has the definitive take on “stuff”:
As for the view, I’m stumped; but I was inspired to clear out my closets.
See you next Friday.