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The EU reduced illegal migration by almost 90% in 3 years.

How they did and lessons for the US

There have been several immigration policy victories for President Trump this summer.

In July, the Supreme court voted 5-4 that Pentagon funds can be used for the wall. On the same day, the U.S. finalized a landmark deal with Guatemala, which (if it takes effect) will make that nation a “safe third country” for most asylum seekers. This means that immigrants from Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and elsewhere who claim asylum in the US can be sent back to Guatemala instead.

Then Mexico’s Foreign Minister, Marcelo Ebrard added icing to the cake for the Whitehouse. He announced that the 45-day trial to use Mexican National Guard soldiers for border enforcement resulted in a drop of “Northward Migration by 36.2%”.

After two years of struggling to get federal funding for a border wall, the administration appears to be taking a more comprehensive approach. Instead of focusing on one issue itself (the wall), they have directed their attention on several lesser-known and more politically viable deterrents. Surprisingly, they may have actually learned some lessons from the European Union with how they handled their own recent migration crisis.

The European approach

Much like the US, the EU has been overwhelmed with unchecked migration in recent years. For Europe, this spiked with the 2015 “migrant crisis” which the UNHCR described as the largest influx of unregulated human traffic “Since WW2”. In that year alone, EU Member states absorbed 1,000,573 (known) migrants by Sea and another 34,000 via a land crossing from Turkey. July 2015 was their busiest single month ever recorded- with 107,500 migrants captured crossing the Mediterranean.

As public opinion largely shifted, Europeans acted with surprising decisiveness.

Europe was forced to find a more comprehensive solution than a physical barrier. Although over 800 miles of Walls and Fencing were erected along the EU’s right flank (mostly in Eastern European countries like Slovenia, Macedonia, Hungary, and Bulgaria)- the lion’s share of migrants were getting into Europe via the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. This simple geographic difference, along with a thousand political obstacles, meant that a collective border wall was never really an option.

The result was policies implemented over a three-year period which have been so successful, that the European Commission is now openly bragging about it. Although external factors such as the war in Syria played a role, these solutions have still been largely credited with reducing migrant numbers to just 134,000 in 2018. While still high, that represents a near 90% decrease over 3 years. This was more humanitarian (number of migrant deaths along the Mediterranean route dropped significantly) and cost-effective. It was also more politically viable- and all without a wall.


How did they do it?

Recognizing that there was no silver bullet type solution to their problem, the European Commission began chipping away at the issue wherever they could. They started focusing on deterrents along the entire illegal migration route. To that end, The European Commission touts 23 newly established readmission agreements and “practical arrangements” with 23 separate nations of “origin and transit”. European Countries deployed soldiers to partner with AU (African Union) troops in securing lawless migrant transit corridors in North Africa. Then they began prosecuting human smugglers and vastly expanded their border force.

Along with the stick came the carrot, and the EU also funded humanitarian programs designed to incentivize migrants to stay in their home country. Unlike US assistance to Latin America however, Europe provided much of its aid in strategic relation to the migrant issue. They gave generously but expected genuine cooperation from African partners in exchange.


Timeline of implementation

Nov 2015- Valletta Summit on Migration. European and African leaders meet in Valletta, Malta and begin establishing solutions to the crisis. The EU launches the 3.6 Billion Euro “Trust Fund for Africa” made to “address the root causes of irregular migration”. It swells to include 188 programs specifically designed to deter would-be migrants by addressing issues in their home countries. In exchange, AU members pledge support in securing transit routes.

February 2016- Europol European Migrant Smuggling Center was formed as a special task force to target smugglers.

March 2016- The EU Finalizes a deal with Turkey. “Irregular Migrants” will simply be returned to Turkey (the prime transit country, much like Mexico to the US). In exchange, Istanbul gets $6 billion to take care of migrants and Syrian war victims living temporarily in Turkish territory. Arrivals to Greece drop 97%.

October 2016- European Parliament votes to create a collective border and coast guard agency- Frontex. This shared security force quickly deploys an additional 900 border agents to support overextended agencies like the Italian and Greek coast guard.

Nov 30, 2017- Joint AU-EU-UN migrant task force established to address the migrant transit corridor through Libya.

July 2018- The EU proposes offering funds to AU member countries in exchange for setting up “disembarkation platforms” in “Countries of Transit”, primarily Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Libya. These centers would prescreen migrants for eligibility on Asylum and other predetermining factors- long before they arrive in Europe.

By repositioning their migrant strategy -from defensive to offensive- they helped solve their own domestic issues as well as tackled a humanitarian crisis head-on. This was more pragmatic and publically accepted. Although critics accuse the European Commission of simply outsourcing their dirty work and blocking migrant flows in dangerous places like Libya, few can argue that hundreds of less annual migrant deaths are a bad thing.


By Comparison, US policy has relied on a single deterrent of last resort

America’s southern border in 2019 is at a very similar “crisis” threshold. If status quo policies were left in place, illegal migration to the US was ramping up to numerically surpass Europe’s worst period by the end of this year.

The number of apprehensions at our southern border steadily climbed through the spring to 99,290 in April and then spike to 132,880 in May. Much like it did in Europe, the sheer volume of unregulated migrants is overwhelming government agencies, communities, and has become a political football in Washington. Although Mexico’s new enforcement policy took effect in June -reducing numbers to 94,897 that month- illegal crossing remains high.

US Foreign Assistance to Latin America has been similarly generous to European programs deployed in North Africa. American aid, however, appears to have done little to deter the American migrant crisis. The US provided $1.7 billion to the region (along with the Caribbean) in 2017. Frustrated with steadily increasing illegal migrant numbers, the Trump administration cut that to $1.1 billion in 2018 (and by a further $450 million this year). Unlike the recent Tarif threat to Mexico however, this appeared to do little in getting governments in the northern triangle to act.

That may be in part because remittance money from migrants in the US already far exceeds trade levels between the states and the northern triangle. The Pew Research center estimates that in 2017 alone, immigrants from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras (both legal and Illegal) sent home a whopping 16 billion dollars in remittance earned in the US! With that type of money fueling the regional economy, there is little incentive for Governments in those countries to change the status quo.

Additionally, if international asylum laws continue to be openly exploited than a physical barrier is almost a moot point.

As Senator Lindsey Graham recently lamented, the wall will do little because “they want to get caught”.

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Previously published in Frontpage Magazine, Soldier of Fortune, and was a 2017 finalist for the Kurt Schork Award in International Journalism.

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  1. A major shout to the European Union (EU). (never thought I’d say that)
    They have updated their Immigration laws and secured their borders.

    It seems the EU citizens have decided they want to remain European and not become a culturally extended version of some illegal immigrants former country.

  2. Thank you for reading Steve. I was also surprised how decisively the EU acted on this issue. This was just what they did as a collective body. Individual member states were deploying their own resources as well. Migration is still open just more effectively regulated.

  3. Victor, a well written & informative bit of information.

    The single thing that struck me was the number of times ‘they’ worked together for a mutual benefit. They realized that no one country alone could not solve the problem they all shared. They worked through differences so that each sovereignty was protected. A give and take agreement.

    Well, fellow Americans, you now have a prime example of what can happen if we spend our time concentrating on what ideas (solutions) have in common as opposed to what’ wrong with the other. I can say with confidence, “NO Republican or Democrat holds all the answers. Take heed, voter are paying attention!

    While our satchels may be filled with different ideas, we can still travel the same road and discuss it on our way to a shared goal.

    Really, Congress, do the Europeans love their countries more than you love ours?

  4. Thank you, Jan.

    I agree that both sides of the political aisle need to work more effectively on this issue!

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