As a foreign correspondent who was able to cross national borders and chart thematic changes in whole regions, I look back on one of the most revealing moments -- before trying to deal with the most serious question facing us today.
In 2010, the American ambassador in the Sultanate of Oman warned me of the millions of boys coming out of the Arab universities with nothing to do, while only 4 percent of the world’s investment was going into the Arab world. “It’s what everyone in the region is privately talking about,” he said.
But everyone wasn’t DOING anything about it. The ultimately devastating Arab Spring soon followed.
Today I see another massive theme/change/threat throughout the developed world: immigration. Whether American, German, Danish, French, British, Italian, Canadian or Australian, the issue of immigration now stands as the No. 1 cause of social, political and economic, but mostly existential, alarm. We are on the edge of a cliff.
President Trump says the immigration problem is basically economic. No, it only has economic facets. The liberal community insists that the question is primarily social and that immigration control advocates are all or mostly racists. This is wildly untrue, and perhaps meant to be.
In these two groups we have what I call the Trumpian hard-liners and the liberal sentimentalists. But there are, in between them (thank God), the reasonables or the rationalists.
For years this group has constituted around 85 percent of Americans, and it stands squarely against the two extremes. It is for legal immigration and reasonable refugee resettlement, real enforcement of border controls, genuine efforts to assimilate new immigrants, and unsentimental self-interest in the numbers and types of new immigrants permitted to enter the U.S.
Lost in the discussion -- it was never even mentioned in a recent front-page anti-immigration reform article in The New York Times -- is the fact that many of our finest fellow citizens have repeatedly come out in favor of just such immigration reform, but with the realistic enforcement that has been so lacking.
In 1995, a federal commission on reform chaired by the enormously respected congresswoman Barbara Jordan, which came to be called the Jordan Commission, called for a “credible, coherent immigrant and immigration policy.” It advocated for a cut in family reunification, for the elimination of the diversity visa lottery and for an increase in the numbers of more skilled workers -- today’s “merit immigration.” In effect, it recommended almost every one of the issues called for by rationalists today.
Father Theodore Hesburgh, president of the University of Notre Dame, came out with nearly the same recommendations in the Select Commission on Immigration and Refugee Policy that he headed as early as 1978.
He revealed to me his forebodings in the early ‘80s during an interview on campus. “Immigration is one of the great sleepers in the world,” he told me. “Twenty years from now -- it sounds like science fiction, but it isn’t -- India may have bad harvests. ... Suppose a hundred million Indians put sacks of rice on their shoulders and start walking toward Europe. ... What do you do?”
That is exactly what the world faces today as hundreds of thousands of miserable, impoverished men and women from war zones in the Middle East -- and from simple poverty and oppression in Africa -- are desperately thronging the beaches of Greece, France and Italy, quite literally banging on the gates of the Western world.
It would have been so much easier to have dealt with the issue reasonably and rationally in those earlier days, but man hesitates and inevitably loses. Meanwhile, climate change, overpopulation, and shortages of food and water are adding to the pressure to bash down national borders.
So Britain, fearing being overcome by immigrants who do not share its culture or history, leaves the European Union. Germany struggles with a million foreigners suddenly invited into her land. France’s new liberal president immediately acts to control immigration.
Fareed Zakaria wrote recently in The Washington Post: “Societies can only take so much change in a generation.” He speaks of people’s fear of cultural displacement.
And that, of course, is it!
The problem is not economic; it is cultural. Europeans are not afraid of Muslims; they’re afraid of too many Muslims. Americans are not afraid of Mexicans or Salvadorans; they’re afraid of losing control of their country. Even Australians, with all those oceans around them, are terrified of Indonesians, Afghans and various and sundry islanders, not because Australians are racists, but because they feel these sad voyagers could threaten Australia’s existential security.
The answer here is actually quite simple for Americans: legal rights for the Dreamers, if only because it is we who caused their problem, plus the reasonable and rational immigration reform that great Americans like Barbara Jordan and Theodore Hesburgh have called for for years.
Can our supposed leaders, for all we give and trust them with, really not work that out for us?
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years)