The Forum on the World Economic Order hosted its second delegation of experts in November for a seven day study tour focusing on challenges to migration, immigration, and integration both in the United States and around the world. The Forum was pleased to welcome five participants from South Africa, the Czech Republic, Germany, Turkey, and Hong Kong to the program, which took place in Washington, DC and Austin, TX. During the week, the delegation met with over twenty U.S. migration and immigration practitioners from across the political spectrum, representing the private sector, NGOs, non-profits, think tanks, academia, and government at the local, state, and federal level.
The program began in Washington, DC and included meetings with Microsoft, Migration Policy Institute, the Woodrow Wilson Center, Cato Institute, U.S. House of Representatives, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the Heritage Foundation, among others. While in Washington, the delegation had the opportunity to discuss the current state of immigration policy on the federal level, as well as gain deeper understanding of both the U.S. and Canadian immigration systems. All speakers were in agreement that U.S. immigration policy was in need of reform, though there was debate as to whether the restrictions should be broadened or narrowed. The participants were also able to get a look at U.S. immigration by the numbers, including estimates of illegal or unauthorized immigration. The group was surprised to learn that the United States and Mexico are cooperating on border control, particularly as a deterrent for illegal immigration from Central America, which is steadily increasing as migration from Mexico decreases.
In Austin, TX, the delegation gained regional perspective of migration and immigration. Texas has the seventh highest immigration rate in the United States and is considered the second largest destination for illegal immigrants after California. While in Texas, the group met with representatives from the Texas State Senate, the Young Hispanic Professional Association of Austin, the Commission on Immigrant Affairs for the City of Austin, the University of Texas, Foster LLP, American Gateways, and Tech Ranch Austin. In Texas the discussion focused largely on Latino immigration to Texas, and the distinctions within the community, from Tejanos who have been in Texas for generations, to Chicanos who consider themselves Mexican-American, to those who have only recently crossed the border and may not yet “feel American.”
Undocumented immigration was at the fore of discussion in Austin, with an estimated 2-3 million unauthorized immigrants living in Texas. To further complicate the issue, roughly four million native-born U.S. citizens in Texas have at least one illegal immigrant parent. A number of instances in Texas show even siblings having mixed-status, depending on if they were brought to the U.S. illegally as children or were born in the country after the family arrived. The topic of undocumented children resonated with many of the discussion partners in both Austin and Washington, DC, specifically with regard to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), an executive order by President Obama which has been repealed by President Trump and is set to expire in March 2018.
Under DACA, roughly 700,000 individuals who were brought to the United States as children are given a Social Security Number, a work authorization, the ability to travel abroad for educational or humanitarian purposes, and protection from deportation for two years at a time. If Congress is unable to propose a viable replacement for the program by early 2018, these individuals will revert back to their undocumented status. For many of the discussion partners, DACA represented a moral quandary: though most agreed that the individuals were faultless at the time of their unauthorized arrival as children who could not decide for themselves, some were hesitant to “reward” those who have nonetheless broken the law. This debate represents the crux of the illegal immigration issue in the United States, and was a recurring theme throughout the program.
At the end of the week, the delegation proposed recommendations to better migration policy around the world, drawing from their experience in their own countries and what they had discussed with the U.S. experts. International cooperation on immigration was considered essential, particularly between countries sharing a border, with the U.S and Mexico as a prime example. A less restrictive immigration system was thought to discourage illegal immigration, allowing for more opportunities for governments to regulate incoming migratory flows. Lastly, the delegation believed that greater communication between host societies and incoming immigrants would ease some of the tensions that communities around the world are experiencing. Often immigrants are not a threat to the host society, as they are rarely competing for the same jobs as the native-born population, and share a desire to prosper in the country. By bringing individuals together and allowing them to interact firsthand, the fears of the host community can be directly addressed and often quelled, while encouraging the incoming immigrants to become involved in the community and therefore better integrate into their new home.
The Forum on the World Economic Order would like to thank all of the participants for their excellent engagement and insightful contributions throughout the program.
Courtney Flynn, Program Associate, Forum on the World Economic Order, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom