Europe’s Migrant Disaster Should Teach America a Lesson

Political up-and-comers like New York’s Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez might feel comfortable comparing Central American migrants to Jewish families fleeing Nazi Germany, as she did in a tweet the other day. But some elder statesmen in her party seem to know better.

Take Hillary Clinton, who surprised a lot of people last week when she told a British newspaper that “Europe needs to get a handle on migration.” She said the Continent’s leaders should make clear that they are “not going to be able to continue to provide refuge and support” to any and all who want to come. Border chaos fuels anti-immigrant populism, be it in the U.S. or Europe—and she should know. During the 2016 campaign, Mrs. Clinton’s focus was making the Mexico border more open rather than more secure, and she believes that’s one of the reasons Donald Trump was elected president.

Delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture in South Africa in July, Barack Obama went further. “It’s not wrong to insist that national borders matter, [that] whether you’re a citizen or not is going to matter to a government, that laws need to be followed,” he said. Newcomers, Mr. Obama added, “should make an effort to adapt to the language and customs of their new home. Those are legitimate things, and we have to be able to engage people who do feel as if things are not orderly.”
Right now, the situation on America’s southern border is anything but orderly, and Europe is a cautionary tale for Democrats who think national boundaries are passé. In his recent book, “The Strange Death of Europe,” British journalist Douglas Murray explains how the Continent became a prime example of how to mishandle cross-border migrant flows. The Arab uprisings and Syrian civil war displaced millions of people from mostly Muslim countries. Many fled to a Europe caught unawares by the numbers. When the migrants showed up in places like Greece, Italy and Norway, laws went unenforced. Refugee protocols were tossed aside. Vetting ranged from poor to nonexistent. Criminality was played down. And fake asylum seekers were indulged instead of deported.

Years before U.S. reporters were interviewing Central American caravaners as they headed north, the European press was traveling alongside migrants as they passed through poorer countries like Hungary to reach richer ones like Germany and Sweden. “The fundamental right to asylum does not have a limitation,” said German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2015, as the crisis was worsening. Would-be migrants from far and wide happily took her up on the offer. “Over the next 48 hours The New York Times reported a surge of migrant movement from Nigeria, among other countries, as people saw that a window of opportunity had opened for citizenship in Europe,” writes Mr. Murray.

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Even when European officials determined that a migrant had no legitimate asylum claim, he often was allowed to stay. Left-wing activists strenuously opposed deportation for any reason. Word of lax enforcement spread quickly and proved a major magnet for illegal immigration. Citing data from the European Commission, Mr. Murray reports that a majority of the migrants who traveled to Europe in 2015 “had not been asylum seekers but economic migrants,” who had “no more right to be in Europe than anyone else in the world.”

In her interview, Mrs. Clinton praised the “generous and compassionate” approach taken by some European countries to deal with the largest refugee crisis since World War II. But where was the compassion for the citizens of these countries who count on their governments to keep them safe? Norway was so concerned about the increase in reported rapes that followed a large influx of Muslim refugees that it began offering etiquette classes to new arrivals. The program, reported the New York Times, “seeks to prevent sexual and other violence by helping male immigrants from societies that are largely segregated or in which women show neither flesh nor public affection to adapt to more open European societies.”

The same officials Mrs. Clinton lauded also made their countries more susceptible to acts of terror. The man who in July 2016 carried out Germany’s first Islamist suicide bombing was a Syrian refugee and failed asylum seeker. Shouldn’t a country’s immigration policies prioritize the welfare of its citizens?

The good news is that America’s troubles on the southern border pale in comparison to what Western Europe has experienced. The bad news is that the situation on this side of the Atlantic continues to worsen. The president’s anti-immigrant agenda is as well-known as it is misguided, but he’s right to take the caravan situation more seriously than Jim Acosta of CNN does. Mr. Trump wants the U.S. to learn from Europe’s recent mistakes, while too many Democrats seem hell-bent on repeating them.

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