In her October 22 New York Times opinion piece, “Angela Merkel Was Right,” journalist Michelle Goldberg praises the German chancellor for her bold 2015 decision to resettle about 800,000 Syrian refugees. Experts like former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson who predicted doom and gloom for Germany after Merkel threw open the borders were wrong, Goldberg wrote. Merkel, on the other hand, was correct, and now because of the refugees’ contributions, Germany is a better place.
High on the list of Merkel’s triumphs, Goldberg wrote, was the new, more vigorous labor force that refugees represented. Bonus: the Syrians, continued Goldberg, would boost Germany’s stagnant population growth. Goldberg’s sub rosa message is that if the U.S. followed Germany’s example, adding more refugees would revitalize the domestic economy. Moreover, Goldberg suggested, since Syrians have so seamlessly integrated into German society, Afghan evacuees might do the same and thus help end U.S. divisiveness.
Not all went as smoothly as Goldberg suggested. In the years immediately following Merkel’s decision, crime in Germany spiked. Statistics related to violent crime showed that, in 2017, 10.4 percent of murder suspects and 11.9 percent of sexual offense suspects were asylum-seekers and refugees. Many migrants formed gangs and perpetrated some of the most heinous imaginable crimes.
Beyond the considerable societal challenges that refugee resettlement often brings, timing for the accepting country must be factored into any decision to admit large numbers of foreign nationals. In 2015, Germany wasn’t undergoing a continuous wave of illegal immigration as the U.S. is today. As of late October, an estimated 1.7 million illegal aliens from more than 160 nations were detained at the Southwest border. Most will eventually be admitted to the U.S. population, and rewarded with employment permission.
The federal government will have its hands full dealing with the multiple needs of under-educated, low-skilled, non-English speaking foreign nationals without adding thousands more refugees, asylees and evacuees. The federal government has already failed dismally to cope with the estimated 11 million, possibly as many as 20 million, illegal immigrants. Another large caravan is headed toward the border, and determined to get past what is now only token protection.
Unlike Germany, a largely well-run country, the U.S. is and has been politically dysfunctional for decades. Germany has a successful on-the-job training record, while the U.S. has mostly abandoned training employees and offering trade school education. Unions have been decimated. Workers are poorly paid and generally treated even worse. These failures also argue strongly against adding a new population that would further put U.S. citizens at a labor market and public education disadvantage.
Goldberg is doubtless sincere in her recommendation that the U.S. adopt a more welcoming system to accommodate a higher refugee total. For Goldberg and other refugee advocates, they suddenly have a unique chance to lead the way on compassionate resettlement. The Biden administration’s State Department recently agreed to let private groups of five individuals form sponsoring units that could, for a 90-day period, be responsible for resettling Afghan evacuees. The sponsors will be expected to provide for the evacuees’ basic necessities such as clothing, groceries and household furnishings, as well as assist with processes to access federal, state and local benefits, and introduce the evacuees to the local community.
The congressional wealthy who have throughout their careers voted in favor of higher refugee intake could and should also step up to the plate. Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT) have consistently voted for higher refugee resettlement totals. They’re among Congress’ richest legislators, multimillionaires all, each of whom have multiple homes.
The flaw in the so-called “sponsor circles” is that the guardianship period lasts only 90 days, insufficient time for Afghan evacuees or other refugees to accustom themselves to American life. Most refugees need assistance for many years; eventually, the responsibility to provide for them will fall on voiceless state and local taxpayers.
In the end, despite interim, partial solutions like the sponsor circles, the federal government must develop a refugee program consistent with the public’s wishes, its ability to integrate new arrivals, and maintain a sustainable, stable future. A haphazard evacuation of tens of thousands of unvetted Afghans doesn’t meet that definition. Americans want to help Afghans, but the evacuees’ presence was thrust upon them. The elite and the wealthiest are better prepared to provide immediate assistance than others. Let them be the first among Americans to set an example; others will follow.