Navigating Migration for the 21st Century: Policy Recommendations

© flickr by takomabibelot.

In November 2017, the Forum on the World Economic Order (WEO) of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom carried out its second program of the year, entitled “Breaking the Barrier: Migration, Immigration, Integration.” During the seven day program, five migration and immigration experts from around the world met with specialists in Washington, DC and Austin, TX working in government, think tanks, NGOs, and the private sector. The goal of the program was to discuss global challenges to migration and immigration, and how to best address the needs of governments, host communities, and migrants.

A major theme of the program focused on maintaining a balance between freedom of movement for migrants, particularly from threatening situations, and the national security concerns of governments. Challenges of integrating immigrants and mitigating concerns of host communities also featured prominently in the discussion. Following the program, the experts put forth a series of policy recommendations to address these and other challenges for global migration. The purpose of this report is to elaborate on these policy recommendations in order to expand their relevance for the world economic order.

10 Key Takeaways from the Program


The following takeaways are a result of the discussions between the Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s delegation of experts and meeting partners in Washington, DC and Austin, TX. These takeaways are in no way are meant to serve as a comprehensive study on migration and immigration or as a theory reader for the topic.

Border security is more than a wall

An effective border security strategy involves a mix of technology and personnel, in addition to a physical structure. Though it is a widely held assumption that closing borders and erecting physical deterrents will curb undocumented immigration, 40% of undocumented immigrants in the United States are a result of visa or green card overstays. These individuals had entered the country legally and allowed their official status to lapse or expire, causing them to become unauthorized immigrants. In this instance, a border wall is not an effective deterrent, and an increase in personnel monitoring visa statuses is what is needed to ensure compliance. The challenges of a physical structure are also exemplified by the many vast and/or geographically arduous borders countries share. Technology such as drones are often a much more fiscally responsible and effective alternative to monitor borders, as they can patrol areas that a physical structure would not be able to cover.

Football teams vs. ESL teachers

In order to provide the necessary social support for incoming immigrants, such as hiring English as a Second Language teachers in schools, other services benefitting the general population may have to be truncated or terminated for budgetary reasons, such as sports teams or after-school programs. This can cause resentment in host communities, who view immigrants as new arrivals who have taken resources away from individuals already living in an area, without having worked for such benefits. Rather than acknowledge that such social support can accelerate the integration process and ultimately lead to greater contributions from immigrants via taxes, labor, etc., some communities have reacted in anger, which further isolates incoming immigrants and creates divisions in society.

Undocumented immigration is not clear cut

The undocumented immigration debate represents a conflict between legality and morality in many countries. In the United States, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was created in 2012, granting those who came to the United States as undocumented children work authorizations as well as a Social Security number for identification, but not a path to citizenship. Currently, the program is set to expire under President Trump, which has fueled a debate on the ethics of punishing individuals who broke the law, but were not able to decide for themselves at the time and have now spent a majority of their lives in the United States. The fate of the 800,000 individuals protected under DACA remains unclear, as the United States wrestles with the concept of national identity and what makes an American, shadowed by the desire to take a hard stance on undocumented immigration in the name of national security.

Constituents matter more than party line

The major determinant of a politician’s stance on immigration may not be his/her political affiliation, but rather whom they represent. In the United States, Republican members of Congress from high-immigration states such as Texas have been more open to granting rights to undocumented citizens than their counterparts in other parts of the country. As a result, roughly 1/3 of the Latino population in Texas, the community most affected by (undocumented) immigration, votes Republican, despite Latinos being considered a largely Democratic constituency in the rest of the country. It is therefore unsurprising that of Republican presidential candidates since 1980, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, both from high-immigration states and known for their relatively open stances on undocumented immigrants, received the greatest support from Latino voters at 37% and 40%, respectively. Representatives of communities with large evangelical populations, despite being traditionally considered a Republican stronghold, are also often more open to immigration, as it relates to the religious beliefs of their constituents.

Personality over policy

Although Donald Trump was largely elected on the premise that he would stem undocumented immigration, it is only recently that he has made any significant policy decisions in this area. Nonetheless, the persona Trump has created as having no tolerance for undocumented immigration has preceded him across the border. Unauthorized crossings at the U.S.-Mexico border are down since Trump was elected, resulting in a 300% increase in asylum claims in Mexico from Central American, many of whom would have previously gone on to the United States. More and more people still looking to cross the border have turned to professional smugglers, as the process is believed to be more difficult now, despite no major changes to the border security system yet. As a result, the fee charged by smugglers increased from roughly $6-7,000 to $11,000 almost immediately after the election, and more migrants are finding themselves ensnared in smuggling rings, which often traffic illegal substances in addition to people. By rhetoric alone, Trump has served as a larger deterrent to undocumented immigration than any of his policies thus far.

Current immigrants are not integrating more slowly

According to the experts, there have been no significant studies that show current waves of immigrants are integrating less fully or at slower rates than previous groups to the United States. Third generation individuals continue to be typically considered “completely integrated,” regardless of country of origin or when their ancestors emigrated. This has not changed as the demographics of immigrant populations have fluctuated, with today’s immigrants largely stemming from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa, rather than Europe. Criticisms from the 19th century against Italian and Irish immigrants and their seemingly reluctant desire to integrate are now being echoed against Latin American and Middle Eastern immigrants, often by the descendants of those original targets of abuse.

Louder anti-immigrant voices in society, not more

According to polls conducted by Gallup, Americans are actually more tolerant of immigration now than in the past. In the 1900s, 66% of those polled said immigration should decrease, while only 7% were in favor of increased immigration. Today, those opposed to immigration have dropped to 38%, while those in favor have risen to 25% of those surveyed.  On a political level, there has also not been a massive increase in voices against immigration, but rather a large upswing in pro-immigration Democrats. In 2005, 35-40% of both Republicans and Democrats were in favor of immigration. In 2016 the Republican number stayed largely constant, but 82% of Democrats were now pro-immigration. This implies that some perception of rising anti-immigrant sentiment can be explained not by an increase in support for the issue, but rather an increase in how publically individuals and groups are willing to espouse anti-immigrant rhetoric, utilizing new platforms such as social media.

Filling the jobs native-born citizens can’t/won’t take

 One of the most popular reasons given for anti-immigrant sentiment has been fear of job loss to incoming immigrants who are believed to work for less money than the native-born population. The reality, however, is that immigrants are seldom stealing jobs directly from citizens, but rather are filling the positions the native-born population doesn’t want to (low-skilled immigration) or can’t (high-skilled immigration) take. A prime example of this is Microsoft, who is currently pushing for an increase in specialty worker visas (H1B). Microsoft has over 6,000 open positions in the United States that they can’t fill, with an average starting salary of over $100,000. The incentives are in place; however, there are not a sufficient number of U.S. citizens with the qualifications for the positions, forcing Microsoft to recruit talent from overseas. The same principle holds true for low-skilled jobs, which cannot attract enough native-born citizens to meet demand. In the case of crop harvesting, some farmers will hire immigrants or seasonal workers from across the border, often at lower wages and harsher working conditions, because many native-born citizens do not wish to fill the labor gap.

The power of representation

According to American Gateways, if immigrants have a lawyer, they are 5-14 times more likely to be successful in legal appeals than their unrepresented counterparts. In an ambiguous area such as immigration, another major factor for legislative success merely comes down to which judge will be presiding over an immigrant’s case. Detention centers provide the biggest challenge to getting pro bono representation for immigrants, as cases tend to be very time consuming and are often under difficult circumstances, although these are the individuals in most dire need of legal assistance. Many undocumented immigrants are also unaware of their rights, and will often forfeit basic education, safety, or medical care for themselves and their children out of fear of deportation or arrest. Any laws designed to protect (undocumented) immigrants are meaningless without resources to help these individuals learn their rights and break down the intricacies of the judicial system.

Immigrants boost the economy

Both documented and undocumented immigrants play a vital role in the economy by providing services that native-born citizens could not or would not supply. In addition to high-skilled industries pulling talent from abroad to fill a demonstrated need, exemplified by Microsoft, industries such as agriculture, construction, and the service industry are largely supported by immigrant labor. Undocumented immigrants typically find themselves in such lower-skilled sectors, often working for much less than U.S. citizens. Through their labor, undocumented immigrants contribute roughly $11 billion to the U.S. economy, without drawing on federal benefits for which they are ineligible. Immigrants in general also tend to be more entrepreneurial than their native-born counterparts, with 27.5% of immigrants opening their own businesses, despite only comprising 13% of the population. Through low-skilled, high-skilled, or independent labor, immigrants have proven to contribute to the economic growth of their host country regardless of legal status.


Policy Recommendations

© wikipedia public domain by Jonathan McIntosh.

Aside from calls to the international community to be more proactive and aware of situations that could cause mass waves of migration in the first place, the following policy recommendations to address global migration challenges were put forth by our experts as a result of the discussions fostered by the program “Breaking the Barrier: Migration, Immigration, Integration:”

1. Foster more dialogue, less animosity in communities: Community leaders should work to create more opportunities for intercultural dialogue between host societies and migrant communities, particularly in areas of new or sudden immigration. A fear of the unknown is often a driver of animosity between groups, which can be compounded by culture shock felt on both sides. Investing in cultural exchange such as festivals, expositions, and art or culinary displays gives current residents the opportunity to engage with a new portion of their community’s cultural fabric, while encouraging newcomers to integrate themselves into broader society. This macro-level exchange should be supplemented by dialogue on an interpersonal level, coordinated potentially through recreational societies, communities of worship, or employers, in order to create deeper ties to both the individuals and the place, regardless of origin.

2. Increased cooperation between law enforcement and immigrants: Law enforcement officials should seek to build up their relationships with immigrant communities, particularly in areas of high undocumented immigration. If these communities feel a sense of trust towards law enforcement, they will be more likely to report crimes or seek emergency attention when necessary, rather than remain quiet out of fear of punishment or deportation. However, it is important that law enforcement not approach such relationships as purely informant opportunities, as this will spread further mistrust and be counterintuitive to the outreach objectives. Instead, law enforcement should utilize opportunities to get involved in predominantly immigrant communities, establishing themselves as a resource and a peer in the larger community.

3. Enforcement of an international rules based migration system: As migration is an international problem, countries should cooperate on developing a tangible international system for dealing with movement between borders. Sovereign states should be given the opportunity to negotiate a rule of law-based system that seeks to best satisfy the interests of the state, interests of migrants, and interests of host societies. It should be noted that in the case of the European Union (EU), whose members have partially abdicated sovereignty over migration in exchange for free movement of people within the EU, all decisions would be made in the interest of the EU as a whole, rather than individual Member States. Cooperation on border security can focus on neighboring countries, as demonstrated by the United States’ cooperation with Mexico to limit undocumented crossings from Mexican and Central American migrants, or regional refugee resettlement, particularly in the wake of the Syrian crisis. One solution for countries who do not wish to take in refugees is to provide appropriations, in the form of resettlement and integration costs, to countries that will. While this is not a perfect system, such an agreement can help states address pushback against immigration from their citizens while resettling refugees in locations where they will be adequately cared for and able to integrate into more willing communities. In addition, this “pay or play” model could help balance the costs of resettlement and integration, rather than concentrate it in a few beleaguered countries.

4. Discourage undocumented immigration by providing easier legal pathways: In order to deter undocumented immigration, governments should look to streamline the legal immigration process wherever possible. If would-be immigrants had a greater chance of securing legal status in a timely manner, it is likely that many would choose the safety and security that comes with authorized immigration over the risk of crossing illegally. Although this cannot be viewed as a panacea to the undocumented immigration issue in many countries, it can be assumed that easier pathways to immigration could discourage undocumented crossings, allowing governments greater knowledge of and control over who is within their borders. With this control comes the ability for greater government regulation of immigration, both in benefiting from the revenue generated by immigrants and by developing a more comprehensive national security view.

5. Understand and address host community fears of immigrants: In order to truly develop impactful policy to mitigate anti-immigrant sentiment, governments must first gain an accurate understanding of reasons behind anti-immigrant sentiment in their societies. Although academics have been studying motivations behind resistance to immigration for decades, their results are often not communicated well to politicians and communities. This not only prevents such studies from having an impact on community building, but also does not allow for widespread comparison of the results to the issue in practice. For example, individuals may say they oppose immigration on the basis of economics and fear of job loss, but in reality perceive immigrants to be a cultural threat. Until the varied reasoning behind anti-immigrant sentiment can be accurately identified and addressed, attempted relief efforts will be futile, as governments continue to offer economic stimulus to fix what could be a cultural problem.

6. Limit idle immigrant hands through employment opportunities: Law enforcement officials have found that a lack of purpose can be a factor in criminal activity, and can also reinforce feelings of loneliness and isolation. This is symptomatic of the struggle faced by some migrants, particularly refugees, to obtain work authorizations. Whenever possible, governments should allow for expedited access to the labor market for migrants, at least for part-time work. Giving individuals the ability to work and contribute to their host societies can avoid such feelings of worthlessness or isolation that could devolve into harmful behavior. Workforce integration is also a key way for governments to integrate adults into society, much like immigrant children are often integrated through schools. More emphasis needs to be placed getting older teens and young adults integrated into the workforce, to help ensure their place as functioning, contributing adults in their new communities.


International Delegation in Austin, TX (Source: FNF).

The Forum on the World Economic Order would like to thank the expert participants for their insightful contributions and commitment to the program, as well as the discussion partners in Washington, DC and Austin, TX for their willingness to share their professional expertise and engage in dialogue on migration and immigration.




Courtney Flynn, Program Associate, Forum on the World Economic Order, Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom.