Why Obama Doesn’t Need To Take Any Refugees

Ian Smith Immigration Reform Law Institute
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President Obama, our Emotional Blackmailer-in-Chief, has been on a tear this week casting shame on those political leaders who refuse to bring any Syrian refugees into their constituents’ communities. He accused a bipartisan group of governors of being hypocritical by (oddly) stating it that was “those folks themselves” who came “from families who benefited from protection when they were fleeing political persecution.” Although it’s unlikely any of the governors in question actually descended from refugees (immigrants and settlers, perhaps) the emotional blackmail was once again laid on thick over an American public rightly concerned about the 74 terrorist attacks foiled in this country since 9/11.

Unfortunately, it’s cold hard analysis, not moralizing, which most Americans are demanding right now and Obama should look to the proposed plan on the Syrian refugee question recently published by two migration scholars, Alexander Betts and Paul Collier. The highly constructive and pragmatic policy solution they offer entails not a single Syrian refugee coming over to America or even Europe. As they write, the nations of Europe dealing with their Camp of the Saints-style unarmed invasion need to “work harder to address the refugee crisis closer to its main source: Syria.” A development-based approach, not a “camps-and-boats approach,” they argue, would be both good for Syria and Jordan with the latter being able to actually take in more refugees than the 630,000 they already have.

As the scholars describe, a “reconsidered refugee policy” based on development zones in Jordan would “integrate displaced Syrians into specially created economic zones, offering Syrian refugees employment and autonomy.” Zonal development after all is “purpose-built for refugees” with the jobs they provide relocatable to post-conflict areas in peacetime. According to their plans, displaced Syrians could gain access to education, training, and the right to work (things they do not have currently) which the international community could encourage through financial incentives and trade concessions.

What’s key here is the benefits to both Syria and Jordan given their particular situations. The authors foresee “two types of businesses” being set up in the zones: “international firms that would employ both Syrian refugees and Jordanian nationals” and “Syrian firms unable to operate in their country of origin” perhaps permitted to employ refugees only. With enough international help therefore, “Syrians would not be in competition with Jordanians for existing jobs”; their presence would actually be “jobs-generating.”

Addressing the job displacement concerns of host-nation Jordan is crucial here and it aligns with Collier’s previous works in which, unlike most migration scholars, he discusses mass immigration’s negative effects on both the receiving and sending countries. Although Jordanians worry that taking in more refugees would destabilize their urban areas and depress their labor markets, the authors argue their approach would “align the interests” of Jordan, a perennially struggling economy without a manufacturing sector, with the needs of the refugees. In short, the right developmental incentives could aid both peoplesurging Jordan, which already has large economic zones operating under capacity, to welcome even more refugees.

New sources of jobs for Syrians and Jordanians could come from international firms previously operating in Syria, like Royal Dutch Shell, along with now inoperable Syrian businesses themselves. Incentives to locate to the zones could come in the form of trade concessions or subsidies. There are already firms giving to the refugee camps in Jordan, the authors report, such as Hewlet-Packard; why not provide for longer lasting assistance?

The general idea’s not without precedent. Betts and Collier cite similar development-based approaches to refugee crises, including western Uganda, Burundi, Congo, Greece, and Mexico, the latter case involving thousands of incoming refugees from Guatemala in the eighties who were placed in the underdeveloped Yucatan Peninsula to both work toward the area’s agricultural development and improve their capacities for self-reliance before returning home.

Furthermore, such a plan would trigger more aid funding for Jordan. By incubating a Syrian economy in exile, the authors write, Jordan “could not only tap into resources designated by aid and development organizations for humanitarian relief” but could also receive access to “assistance designated for peacemaking and post conflict reconstruction in fragile state.”

Consideration of the host-nations (e.g. Jordan) when it comes to any type of immigration is apparently a blind spot for Obama. Like most Western nations, the U.S. has a knowledge-based economy with both a shrunken manufacturing sector and an agricultural sector already subsisting on public subsidies (including immigration subsidies like the H-2A agricultural guest-worker program). We’ve already seen the effects of relatively unskilled Middle Eastern refugee-immigration and they’ve been shocking with over 90 percent of them on some type of welfare program many years after their arrival. Considering that Jordan’s more labor-intensive economy already needs developing along with factors like the lack of cultural distance between Jordan and Syria (which Betts and Collier emphasize), it would appear that Jordan’s far better suited than the US for additional Syrian refugee migration.

Additional options and details are missing, however, from Betts and Collier’s proposal. They don’t broach replicating the zones in Turkey or Lebanon, presumably because they don’t feel it’s necessary, although this isn’t clear. Also, half the “refugees” coming into Europe are coming from countries outside of Syria; how to deal with them? Then there’s the elephant(s) in the room. The culturally and geographically closer nations of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, or Bahrain are not only flush with wealth but they already host hundreds of thousands of foreign temporary guest-workers. Replacing temp-workers with refugees would seem to be merely an administrative exercise.

It’s these types of hard-headed considerations, the scholars’ proposal included, which a true leader is supposed to make. And right now the nation demands true leadership.