Crisis within a Crisis: Immigration in the United States in a Time of COVID-19

Good overview by Muzaffar Chishti and Sarah Pierce of MPI on the cumulative impact of US immigration restrictions and related policies on COVID-19 (conclusion):

Relief for Some, But Not All

Once the severity of the health and economic crisis precipitated by the pandemic became evident, Congress passed—and the president signed—two emergency aid packages offering economic and other assistance. A far larger, “Phase 3” estimated $2 trillion-dollar package has been approved by the Senate, awaiting House action. It would provide important medical coverage for Americans who are uninsured and an economic cushion in the form of cash payments, extended unemployment insurance benefits, and other income supports for many impacted by the sharp economic decline and rising joblessness. But the aid package excludes a large section of the noncitizen population. For the medical benefits, the bill excludes even a substantial-share of green-card holders—those who have held legal permanent residence for less than five years. And the economic relief and tax rebate provisions exclude more than 4 million immigrant workers, typically unauthorized, who pay income taxes but use Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) instead of Social Security numbers to file their tax returns. Advocates had been able to get these provisions included in a House draft that ultimately was not considered; they undoubtedly will plan to push for these to be addressed in future coronavirus-relief legislation.

Immigrant advocates note that foreign-born workers, legal and unauthorized alike, not only constitute a sizeable number of those in critical occupations on the frontlines of fighting the pandemic, they also work disproportionately in non-salaried, nonpermanent jobs, living close to the margin. At the other end of the debate, some conservatives have argued in favor of reserving taxpayer funds for the U.S. born, and in particular object to including unauthorized immigrants. Yet excluding workers who are among the most vulnerable in society from critical safety-net benefits would compromise the effectiveness of the entire aid package and recovery from a virus that makes no distinction based on national origin, immigration status, or income level, experts have noted.

There are no parallels to the multidimensional challenges that the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the United States and the world in this globalized and economically interdependent era in which we live. The vast public health crisis and resulting economic freefall require a global response, and certainly a unified and robust national response where all institutions and individuals are responding to their fullest potential. A set of policies that intentionally or inadvertently discourages a subset of the population from fully participating—without fear or repercussion—in this war against the invisible enemy compromises the wellbeing and lives of all of us.

Source: new article

Coronavirus Is Spreading across Borders, But It Is Not a Migration Problem

Good commentary and analysis by MPI researchers:

Governments around the world have been dipping into the migration management toolbox to demonstrate decisive action in the face of a global pandemic. More than 130 countries have implemented border closures, travel restrictions, prohibitions on arrivals from certain areas, and heightened screening. These steps initially were taken to try to block COVID-19 from crossing borders and later as part of a raft of mobility restrictions seeking to mitigate further spread.

While these restrictions failed in their initial goal of preventing the breakout from seeping across international borders—the virus is now in every corner of the world save Antarctica—they may be more effective as governments shift their focus from containment to mitigation.

In a matter of one week, a handful of bans has given way to sweeping shutdowns of international travel, alongside aggressive interior restrictions on movements. Travel bans are a blunt tool to stem spread from one country to another (as authorities struggle to distinguish between affected and unaffected travelers), yet they are a logical part of the toolkit in the context of social distancing and restricting all forms of movement.

The Containment Phase

The pressure to wall countries off from the virus has been fierce; yet in a globalized world where millions of people cross borders on a regular day, hermetically sealing one country off from its neighbors to prevent the arrival of an airborne threat is next to impossible. First, borders are porous, so even the most sweeping legal restrictions will not prevent all crossings. At best, they may delay the arrival of the disease, but this benefit comes at an enormous social and economic cost—essentially grinding international ties to a halt at a time when cooperation to overcome a common threat (including by sharing medical knowledge and allowing health workers to circulate freely) is more critical than ever. And at worst, mobility restrictions may encourage deception (to elude both border and health screenings), which is highly undesirable in a public health emergency where it is paramount to identify and track those who are infected. Indeed, the World Health Organization (WHO) is clear that blanket travel bans from affected areas rarely achieve their goals.

The Wrong Tools for Containment?

The threat of a pandemic has spilled over into border closures in more recent history as well. Fear of Zika virus (2016), Ebola fever (2014), and H1N1 influenza (2009) all led to calls for tighter restrictions on international entries in a range of countries. Yet applying border controls to the spread of disease across international boundaries is like trying to catch water with a sieve. It has little chance of stopping all possible threats.

It is also unclear whether tools such as visa restrictions and prohibitions on certain categories of arrivals—designed to screen for bad actors”—can be adapted to address a very different kind of threat. Targeting nationality, for example, may be a blunt tool in the realm of public health; the Hungarian government banning Iranian asylum seekers, for instance, fails to account for those who may have been living in closed camps in Turkey for years. And airlines do not have systems in place to collect (and verify) even basic contact information that would allow individuals to be traced should they become infected. By some estimates, this technology is more than a year away.

In the containment phase of the novel coronavirus (before WHO acknowledged on March 11 that the new pathogen would likely spread across the globe) attempts to reduce the pool of people arriving from high-risk countries may have had limited effect for a number of reasons, including difficulties reliably screening people on entry. And curtailing some forms of mobility while allowing certain types of travelers (including returning citizens and diplomats) to cross borders—even as these groups, too, have been tied to spreading the disease—can undermine the whole purpose of containment.

Aside from failing to achieve their public health goals at the containment stage, these measures may also lead to unintentional perverse outcomes. Enacting blanket travel bans at the start of a crisis could potentially incentivize more travel from an outbreak zone to get around these hurdles. Under President Trumps proclamation, Chinese nationals can only apply for visas to the United States from another country; this could incentivize unnecessary travel to a country like Japan.

These measures simultaneously cast the net too widely (snaring some who are not a threat) and far too narrowly (missing those who are). But rather than improve passenger data or information-sharing, countries have been closing borders rapid-fire. The United States, for example, in early February banned the entry of certain arrivals from China and Iran. Colombia closed its border to Venezuelans, as well as to arrivals from Asia and Europe. And in an early precursor to more significant European border closures, Austria and Germany began imposing checks on trains and vehicles arriving from Italy in early March.

Weaponizing Fear

Bold measures taken in the name of containing the spread of disease across international boundaries are often fig leaves for broader aims: reducing undesirable” migration and curtailing the openness that has been blamed for uncontrolled movements of asylum seekers and migrants. Announcing the closure of the U.S.-Mexico border to nonessential travel, Trump described the border restrictions as necessary to stop “mass global migration.”

Other countries seeking curbs on immigration, Greece and Hungary, for example, have announced they will refuse to accept any asylum seekers for a month. And in some cases, governments have exploited public health concerns to expedite plans in morally gray areas. For instance, the Greek government has leveraged fears about the spread of coronavirus to justify its controversial plan to build closed” camps (essentially detention centers) for asylum seekers who reach Greek shores.

Yet even countries historically friendly to immigration are taking sweeping measures, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, for example, announcing that Canada would cease to accept asylum seekers from the United States at unofficial crossings.

Populist politicians who rail against migration are attempting to draw a clear link between migrants and coronavirus, in face of no evidence to support this. Italys former interior minister, far-right politician Matteo Salvini, traced his countrys outbreak, without justification, to the docking of a rescue ship with 276 African migrants in Sicily. And Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán declared: Our experience is that foreigners brought in the disease, and that it is spreading among foreigners.”

Migrants have long been scapegoated for the public health concerns of the day. Cholera was nicknamed the Irish disease” in the 1830s. Ellis Island screenings in the late 19th century would send people back for contagious diseases such as trachoma and ringworm. In the 1980s and early 1990s there was vigorous debate in the United States over whether being HIV-positive should disqualify prospective immigrants (a ban imposed in 1993 was not lifted until 2010). And today a definitional battle is taking place over COVID-19, with some insisting on referring to it as the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan flu.”

Nativist politicians across Europe and the Americas have found they can score easy points by casting the blame for societys ills on the other,” and by stoking moral panic for political gain. Fear is being weaponized. And these fears are taking root in fertile ground: facts are being questioned like never before, and todays social media environment is rampant with conspiracy theories (such as the idea that the coronavirus is a bioweapon engineered by the Chinese or even the CIA).

The Mitigation Phase and an Effective Way Forward

The actions, and in some cases bombastic rhetoric, around closing borders are taking public attention away from where it is better spent: measures that actually work to stop the spread of disease once it is in the community. In the mitigation stage, curtailing travel to limit human interaction may prove effective precisely because all other movements are similarly restricted under a larger social distancing strategy.

The mutual agreement between the United States and Canada to close their common border to nonessential travel, for example, is a logical extension of steps both countries are taking to encourage people to stay home. Some of the measures taken within the European Union, where several Member States have temporarily reintroduced border controls, are sensible extensions of domestic decisions to limit movement.

However, it is essential to implement these measures in ways that advance public health goals—which means not stopping at restricting travel, but aggressively testing, tracking, and limiting exposure. Enhanced screenings at airports that put large crowds into very close physical proximity for hours, as occurred recently at a number of U.S. airports, flouts these principles and increases the risk of transmission. Failing to obtain travelers travel and contact details (given the likelihood of asymptomatic transmission) or letting individuals come from high-risk destinations without any medical screening at arrival likewise may undermine any benefit gained from restricting movement.

Governments are under huge pressure to place the bulk of their resources on the most visible measures, including at borders. But these controls are only one piece of the puzzle. Many communities are already at risk of dire outbreaks (particularly those with individuals of precarious legal status who may fear coming forward to authorities or feel pressure to continue work despite symptoms), so these controls must be combined with other interventions. Among them, medical testing, limiting contact with exposed individuals, outreach to vulnerable populations, and ensuring everyone has access to medical care in the event of infection.

There also are broader philosophical considerations, including whether immigration enforcement operations, and widespread detention of asylum seekers and other migrants awaiting immigration hearings, may conflict with other public interest imperatives during this crisis. U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), for example, has wisely decided to temporarily suspend most nonurgent enforcement actions (committing not to arrest people at health-care facilities, for example). However, lingering fear and mistrust within unauthorized communities, and contradictory messaging from government authorities, may still keep people from seeking care.

Governments need to find a way to respond to legitimate public concerns without scaremongering, which risks eroding already weak public trust. And while a threat that has now reached global pandemic proportions has sparked a nation-first” approach in many countries, the solution to complex transnational challenges facing our societies must by necessity be an international one. Rather than focusing inward on protecting their own, countries should be reaching out to other countries—including those where the virus first surfaced—to help find solutions.

Source: Coronavirus Is Spreading across Borders, But It Is Not a Migration Problem

Trump’s hard-line immigration rule could disproportionately hurt Asian immigrants

Not the first article examining the likely effects on particular groups and likely not the last:

A hard-line Trump administration immigration policy that would deny immigrants residency if they are deemed likely to become a “public charge,” or need public assistance, could significantly affect the Asian American community.

The Department of Homeland Security rule, which was published in August, greatly expanded the definition of who is considered a public charge. Given the community’s use of certain social services, high rates of limited English proficiency, and heavy reliance on the family reunification system to come to the United States, immigration advocates fear that the rule would create serious barriers for Asian immigrants or those who wish to change their status.

Research from the Migration Policy Institute reveals more than 941,000 recent green card holders would have fallen under the Trump administration rule had it been in effect when they applied. Of those, 300,000 are from Asian countries.

A federal judge temporarily blocked the rule earlier this month, allowing a total of 15 days — which ends Friday — for parties to submit filings. The policy is currently enjoined and cannot be implemented by the administration, but it has already impacted many in the community who fear their use of public benefits could compromise their immigration status.

“The policy itself, the mere suggestion that the administration was considering the policy, has resulted in Asian immigrants and other immigrants pulling out of public benefits,” John C. Yang, executive director of the civil rights nonprofit Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told NBC News.

Yang added: “This [rule], to us, is just a made-up reason to exclude certain classes of immigrants.”

The current definition of public charge is rather specific. Those who would need cash assistance or institutionalized care would fall under the category. However the Trump administration’s expanded definition would include individuals who would need food stamps, Medicaid, and Section 8 housing. The administration rationalized the rule, claiming that “self-sufficiency has long been a basic principle of U.S. immigration law.”

Roughly 70 percent to 80 percent of Asian immigrants come to the U.S. through family-based immigration, which means they would be scrutinized under the Trump administration rule. Of the more than 420,000 green cards that were granted to Asian immigrants in Fiscal Year 2017, almost 40 percent were given to immediate family members, while more than 20 percent were given to family-sponsored waiting list registrants.

In some urban areas, the Asian American community experiences particularly high rates of poverty. In New York City, Asian Americans have the highest poverty rate compared to all other racial groups. The racial group has one of the fastest growing populations in poverty. Between 2007 and 2011, the number of Asian Americans in poverty grew by 37 percent and Pacific Islander poverty ballooned by 60 percent, higher compared to any other group. The national increase was significantly lower at 27 percent.

Almost 18 percent of those who participate in government assistance programs are Asian Americans. However those in the community already underuse social services, Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the New York City-based social services nonprofit Asian American Federation, said. Not only would underprivileged immigrants meet challenges in obtaining permanent residency, but Yoo said that the proposed rule would further intimidate them from utilizing public services.

According to the new public charge rule, immigrants would also be assessed on English proficiency. The Asian American population already has the highest proportion of residents who speak a language other than English at home. And more than one-third of Asian American and Pacific Islanders have limited English proficiency.

“The Trump administration has a very narrow view of what types of immigrants are so-called desirable in the United States and frankly it is a racist and xenophobic view,” Yang told NBC News. “That view is that only people who are desirable are already proficient in English, already have a certain level of wealth or high skills.”

Since the rule was proposed back in 2018, roughly 13 percent of immigrant adults are reported to have withdrawn their use of public benefits out of fear of risking their future green card status, according to a report by Urban Institute. Yang added that some individuals who would not be subject to the rule have actually pulled out of public services due to misinformation.

“It does not affect refugees. It does not affect existing citizens,” he said. “We don’t want people to be fearful of using public benefits when they are entitled to use them.”

Asian Americans have long confronted restrictive immigration policies tied to the potential use of social services. The first public charge rule in U.S. history coincided with the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. The two separate legal rules ultimately carried the same function.

“There’s an absolute linkage between the discrimination of Asians and public charge,” Yang said. “[The first public charge rule and the Chinese Exclusion Act] were rooted in the same thing: which was this notion that Chinese immigrants were coming into the country in numbers that were too large and that they were somehow deemed to be undesirable.”

Yang pointed out that since that time, public charge has been used to exclude other immigrant communities, including Mexican immigrants and those in the Jewish community.

Source: Trump’s hard-line immigration rule could disproportionately hurt Asian immigrants

Changing U.S. Policy and Safe-Third Country “Loophole” Drive Irregular Migration to Canada

Good in-depth study:

Nearly 50,000 asylum seekers entered Canada irregularly via land crossing from the United States over a two-year period beginning in spring 2017—contributing to a doubling in the overall number of asylum requests seen in 2016. Most make their way into Canada via Roxham Road, an unofficial crossing at an otherwise unremarkable country road along the New York-Quebec border.

The surge in asylum filings is the result of a few factors, perhaps most notably U.S. policy changes that have made the United States less hospitable and growing recognition of a “loophole” in the 2004 Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement (STCA). While the treaty was designed to manage asylum-seeker processing by requiring individuals to apply for protection in the first of the two countries entered, it allows those who reside in or transit through the United States to claim asylum in Canada if they enter between official ports of entry.

Box 1. Methodology

This article presents findings from semi-structured interviews with 290 asylum seekers from more than 50 countries, with a representative sample by country of origin. They had been in Canada from a period of only a few days up to two years. Interviews were conducted from December 2018 to October 2019. They took roughly one hour, and were conducted in the respondent’s language of choice at shelters and community organizations in Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa, and Montreal.

Recruitment took place using posters and communication through social workers and volunteers. Respondents were identified by their first name only, and offered the choice to use a pseudonym. No identifying or contact information was collected.

Interviews were also conducted with two dozen lawyers, social workers, civil servants, and personnel from government and law enforcement in Canada and the United States.

The majority doing so, according to research undertaken by the author and his research team, only briefly transited the United States before crossing into Canada. Around 60 percent of the 290 asylum claimants interviewed—from a diverse mix of countries including Haiti, Nigeria, Colombia, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)—had spent an average of five days before moving on to Canada. The remainder had lived in the United States for an average of six years.

The increase in asylum seekers has proven a politically and morally fraught issue for the Trudeau government in the lead-up to the October 21 federal election, offering opposition parties and civil-society groups on the right and left alike reason to criticize the centrist Liberals in power. It also has placed new scrutiny in Canada on the Safe Third County Agreement, criticized by conservatives for its role in fostering more asylum claims and on the other side of the spectrum by lawyers and refugee-rights advocates who question whether the United States remains a “safe” country.

This article, which draws from the first year of the “Understanding Emergent Irregular Migration Systems to Canada” research project, presents findings from interviews to explore asylum claimants’ motivations for claiming asylum, information sources, and experiences along their journey and after arrival. It also analyzes the effects of the recent arrivals on Canada, especially regarding the political implications. The goal is to fill a research gap by providing empirical evidence for the drivers of irregular migration to Canada.

U.S. Policy Change as a Driver of Migration to Canada

Increasing irregular arrivals to Canada may be attributed to many factors, including (mis)information spread about the STCA “loophole” through social networks and international media. Insights from interviews with asylum claimants suggest that U.S. policies are a major driver of irregular migration to Canada—though the relationship is not always linear. An increase in arrivals after change in U.S. policy is not unprecedented: discrepancies between U.S. and Canadian refugee determinations in the 1980s led to a “border rush” of predominantly Central and South American asylum seekers. The ensuing backlog in Canada’s asylum system led to the creation of the country’s Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) and motivated Canada to seek an STCA in the first place.

Causes of the Recent Uptick in Asylum Seekers

The Trump administration’s decision not to extend a long-standing Temporary Protected Status (TPS) designation for some 46,000 Haitians was the catalyst for the drastic increase in asylum claims in Canada in 2017. In April 2017, just 140 Haitians crossed into Canada at Roxham Road. The following month, the number increased to 1,355, and to 3,505 that June. Roughly half of the 6,500 Haitians who arrived during the April 2017 – June 2019 period examined, were U.S. residents, with the rest arriving from Haiti and third countries, particularly Brazil. Thus an announced U.S. policy change resulted in roughly 7.5 percent of all Haitians in the United States with TPS choosing Canada rather than risking deportation, moving to a third country, or remaining unauthorized in the United States.

Figure 1. Number of Asylum Seeker Claims on Roxham Road, April 2017-June 2019

Source: Data provided to the author by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) under a memorandum of understanding.

A commensurate number of TPS recipients from countries other than Haiti have not sought asylum in Canada, even as the Trump administration has also moved to end designations for Salvadorans, Hondurans, Nicaraguans, and others. The lack of similar movement may owe to a number of factors, including the fact that U.S. courts have at least temporarily blocked the upcoming terminations. Obama-era Department of Homeland Security (DHS) officials, advocates, and asylum seekers interviewed also noted that Latino immigrants are more politically organized and committed to resisting Trump administration policies.

Still, more than 300,000 people risk losing TPS in early 2020, and in an environment of hostility toward asylum seekers and unauthorized immigrants, more may aim to cross irregularly into Canada, particularly if it appears the courts will not continue being a brake on Trump administration immigration actions.

Table 1. Temporary Protected Status (TPS) Populations in the United States and Expiry Dates

Note: A grant of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) provides recipients protection from removal from the United States, as well as work authorization.
Source: D’Vera Cohn, Jeffrey S. Passel, and Kristen Bialik, “Many Immigrants with Temporary Protected Status Face Uncertain Future in U.S.” Pew Research Center FactTank blog, March 8, 2019, available online.

Beyond the initial rush of Haitians in mid-2017, many others have made the journey after being in the United States for only a short period of time. Roughly 60 percent of respondents used the United States only as a transit state, spending an average of five days. They learned of the crossing from a range of sources, often through social media, YouTube, or word of mouth. Some early respondents, mostly from Nigeria, were reticent to admit that they had planned to come to Canada, and said they had no knowledge of Roxham Road before arriving in the United States. These respondents also offered similar, almost verbatim reasons for asylum. The researchers thus revised their interview structure to focus on the source of information for the Roxham Road route. Several described purchasing asylum narratives from “story sellers” or “travel agents,” typically based on persecution for gender and sexual orientation. While these types of claims are long-standing, narratives also included Donald Trump’s anti-migrant pronouncements and the specter of family separation as the reason for spontaneous transit to Canada. Thus, decisionmakers in Canada must now contend with U.S. policy in assessing claims.

However, most respondents planned to use Roxham Road from the outset. “My husband had Canada in mind for years. He wanted to do it legally, like fill out the forms online. But once he heard about Roxham Road he decided to send us,” said Hadiza, a 39-year-old woman from Niger. “It was a difficult decision. It was me and three kids. My husband had to stay behind. He sent us first and maybe he can come later.”

For these migrants, the unlikelihood of protection contributed to their choice not to remain in the United States. Roughly 20 percent had been denied visitor or skilled immigrant visas to Canada but were able to obtain or already had U.S. visitor visas. Several, predominantly from the DRC, Angola, and Pakistan, said they obtained visas by bribing U.S. consular officials. Restrictive U.S. asylum procedures, more open visa regimes, and corruption thus impact asylum claims in Canada.

Roughly 40 percent of respondents had resided in the United States for a period of years, mostly unauthorized residents who had overstayed a visa or received a negative asylum decision. Unlike many who transited through the United States in days, this group explicitly stated that their reasons were directly tied to U.S. policies.

“This word ‘illegal’ is weird to me, even if I use it about myself,” said Derrick, a 22-year-old from Gabon. “Every day people tell you to go back to your country, that if you’re struggling you should just go. That’s not a life. I’m not a criminal, I don’t hurt people. I just want to work and study.”

Among respondents’ fears were the threat of workplace immigration enforcement operations or law enforcement status checks. The most common catalysts for the decision to use Roxham Road were that a relative or community member had been incarcerated or deported, or that they were running out of funds or appeals in lengthy U.S. asylum procedures. Several said they abandoned claims because of a 2018 policy to schedule new cases in immigration court before older ones, a “last in, first out” policy DHS implemented to deal with the rapidly rising Central American caseload. Regardless, most reported a growing fear from the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant discourse, more frequent discrimination, and anxiety about the fate of their children should they be apprehended. Finally, around 3,500 U.S. citizens had crossed the border during the April 2017-June 2019 period, according to Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), signaling the displacement of mixed-status households with unauthorized immigrant parents and U.S.-citizen children.

Many who arrived in late 2018 or in 2019 had actively researched Roxham Road, which had garnered significant media attention in 2017, often through online searches and conversations with community members, but considered it a last resort. Interview questions asked respondents who resided long term in the United States where Canada ranked among options including return to their country of origin, relocation to a third country, or move elsewhere in the United States, particularly a sanctuary jurisdiction. Most were incredulous about the notion of returning to their country of origin, but would have preferred to remain in the United States were it not for the Trump administration. Canada offered the simplest and safest option.

Transnational Border Crossers

Irregular migration to Canada rapidly became more transnational after receiving attention from mainstream and social media. By late 2017, Nigeria overtook Haiti as the top country of origin, and the number of nationalities diversified significantly.

Table 2. Top 20 Countries of Origin of Roxham Road Asylum Claimants, April 2017- June 2019

Source: IRCC data provided to the author under a memorandum of understanding.

For most who transited the United States over a short period of days, the decision to seek asylum in Canada has less to do with U.S. policy and more to do with finding a solution for a precarious situation. To take one example, many claimants who are considered Yemeni, Palestinian, or Sudanese in official data were born and lived in Saudi Arabia. “Saudi-ization” policies—aimed at increasing the share of native-born Saudis in the workforce—resulted in the termination of these workers’ residence permits. For Yemenis, this means risk of deportation to a country with which they have no connection and one experiencing a humanitarian emergency. Many Palestinians would be rendered stateless. Respondents coming from these types of situations relayed how their social networks were abuzz about the U.S. route to Canada as early as May 2017, offering a new means to fulfill pre-existing desires for mobility.

While those with financial means often fly to the United States, an increasing number, predominantly from Africa, undertook multimonth and even multiyear overland journeys from Brazil, through Central America, to the United States. This comports with global findings that the first people in irregular migration systems are often those with the capital to move quickly, while those with fewer resources take more precarious routes.

The less well-heeled or those unable to secure U.S. visitor visas recounted harrowing danger, including violence and extortion by state security services, criminals, and smugglers; capsized boats on the coast of Colombia; horrific experiences in the Darien Gap jungle in Panama; predation from gangs in Mexico; and waiting in dangerous conditions at the U.S. border. “The jungle in Panama was very, very hard. You’re walking past dead bodies. You spend ten days or two weeks. You have to walk through rivers, over mountains. There are snakes and bandits… You walk for days, from the time the sun comes up until it goes down, and you sleep wherever you lay,” said Naomi, a 22-year-old from Angola. “If a child dies, the parent leaves it behind. If your husband dies, you leave them behind. Because if not, it’s you who will be left behind. It was the most difficult thing I’ve ever done.”

(Mis)Information and Social Networks 

Social networks play a strong role in would-be migrants’ decision-making. In the case of Nigerian claimants, for example, Pentecostal churches play a key role planning travel and social connections once in Canada. Refugee claimants from Yemen, Colombia, and a range of African states receive detailed instructions from community members who have already arrived. Some respondents said U.S. aid organizations encourage people to move on to Canada after release from detention.

As in other irregular migration corridors, misinformation and rumors seem to have a strong influence. Whispers of impending enforcement actions in the United States served as a catalyst for several respondents. More often, rumors are spurred by minority-language media and are amplified and distorted through social media. These often have some basis in fact. Recent arrivals reported rumors that the Canadian border will be closed if the Conservatives win the October election, spurring people to hurry on their journeys.

When Trump announced a ban on refugees from certain Muslim-majority countries within days of taking office Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted: “To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada.” A number of respondents cited this juxtaposition as a prominent example that Canada was “saving” refugees from the United States. “I was hearing a lot of things about the Prime Minister of Canada. My friend told me they’re welcoming people there. And I thought ‘this is the place I’m supposed to go’,” said Bilal, 25, from Yemen.

It would be disingenuous, however, to claim a tweet was the direct catalyst for migration. The irregular movements to Canada instead owed in a broader sense to the erosion of protection and retreat from norms of asylum in the United States, against which people measured their chances in Canada.

Interviews illustrate that claimants had accurate information about the route, yet little knowledge of the asylum process in Canada. Respondents were surprised by the scale of the flow, wait times for hearings, not immediately receiving housing, and the difficulties in finding child care and work. And while only a few respondents said they would have made a different decision, interviews and DHS data suggest that over the past two years dozens or hundreds of asylum seekers had either returned to their country of origin or used smugglers to re-enter the United States.

A Surprising Lack of Criminality at the Border

In comparison to other irregular migration corridors—and indeed on other legs of the journey—there is remarkably little criminality at the U.S.-Canada border. The route existed long before Roxham Road made headlines. It generally consists of transit by bus or private car to Plattsburgh, New York, and taxi companies transporting people to the border. Individuals with large families or health issues, or those who fear interactions with U.S. immigration enforcement, use a network of private drivers. None of this activity amounts to smuggling under U.S. or Canadian law, and there is very little evidence of abuse while people move within the United States.

A small number reported intimidation by taxi drivers in Plattsburgh. In the early days, taxi companies overcharged for the 25-mile drive to Roxham Road. In May 2019, the New York attorney general convicted the owner of one company of systematically overcharging. This trend has abated, and most respondents relayed either no meaningful interactions or acts of kindness from drivers, who calm agitated people and explain the process at the border.

The most significant exploitation is in Canada, particularly by immigration consultants and lawyers. In several cases—in collaboration with agents in the United States—consultants from migrants’ national or linguistic community convinced individuals to come to Canada. Such consultants offer a “full-service” fee, including transportation to the border, access to a safe house in Canada (which is unnecessary), and promises to circumvent Immigration and Refugee Board (IRB) wait times (which is not possible). They then extract as much money as possible before abandoning claimants. Other respondents, primarily from Latin America, have reported lawyers charging exorbitant rates for paperwork that could be covered by legal aid organizations. As Nadya, a 35-year-old woman from Colombia, explained: “The agent charged us $1,500, and put us in touch with a lawyer in Canada, [who] said it was $6,000, then $1,500 each to get a work permit. He said could get us work and we could pay him back. Once we got to Montreal there was a group of Latino lawyers, [who] explained we would get free legal aid. We asked, ‘How much do we have to pay [for] a work permit?’ It’s then we realized he was trying to take advantage of us.” Finally, there is some evidence that Mexican and Nigerian claimants arrive owing debts for passage and are immediately recruited to work under the table for temporary labor agencies.

These types of exploitation pale in comparison to the abuse and danger reported along irregular migration routes elsewhere around the globe. Most interviewees reported positive experiences with Canadian officials and consider the system fair despite long wait times. Understood in a global context, claiming asylum in Canada remains a safe process.

Impacts on Canada

The backlog at Canada’s IRB, a tribunal that hears refugee claims, had grown to more than 79,000 cases as of August 2019, with average wait time of two years for first hearings. A 2019 auditor general’s report found that wait times could increase to five years by 2024 if the number of claims remains constant. The increase has strained shelter capacity in major cities, particularly Montreal and Toronto. Polling by the Angus Reid Institute suggests that while most Canadians remain in favor of welcoming refugees and asylum seekers, they overestimate the number of refugees present, see irregular migration as a crisis, and those entering at Roxham Road as “queue jumpers” or “bogus refugees.” Attacks on shelters and demonstrations against housing asylum seekers in Toronto, and far-right protests at shelters in Montreal and on the border in Lacolle, Quebec have occurred.

The opposition Conservative Party of Canada has accused the government of losing control of the border. In late 2018, the party took a page from the playbook of Europe’s far-right populists, claiming the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration would mean ceding sovereignty to the United Nations. The Ontario Progressive Conservative Party refused to cooperate with the federal government over shelters and housing for asylum seekers, and made the unprecedented move of canceling legal aid for refugee claimants, which is a crucial part of the asylum process. The goal was to foster chaos in the lead-up to the election and shift the burden to Quebec, a crucial electoral battleground.

It has also been expensive. After lobbying from the legal and advocacy community, the federal government announced CAD $26.8 million in funding to address the legal aid shortfall. The 2018 budget allocated $72 million for capacity-building at IRB, and the 2019 budget an additional $1.2 billion over five years. Providing shelter space for asylum seekers has cost cities somewhere in the range of $150 million. The political challenge is that effective policy requires administrative solutions, while critics can mobilize narratives of economic migrants gaming the asylum system as a result of uncontrolled borders.

The government has sought to balance capacity building with restrictive policies. In 2018 it created a new Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction, appointing a tough-on-crime ex-police chief from Toronto. It also changed the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act to prevent asylum shopping by denying access for people who previously sought protection in the United States, Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom. The change was roundly criticized by refugee-rights advocates and has caused significant uncertainty for both asylum seekers and the legal community. Officials interviewed on the condition of anonymity confirmed it is a pre-emptive measure in case of U.S. policies that might spur more migration, particularly in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

Loophole or Safety Valve?

Much of the asylum debate in Canada has been about closing the STCA “loophole.” The left-leaning New Democratic Party and many academics, lawyers, and refugee advocates have called for Canada to suspend the accord, on grounds the United States is no longer a safe country for asylum seekers. Amnesty International and the Canadian Council for Refugees are challenging its constitutionality. The Conservative Party has taken the opposite position, promising to extend the agreement to what has been long heralded as the “world’s longest undefended border.”

Applying the agreement between ports of entry would require vast new funding for federal police, who would be tasked with apprehending and detaining thousands of people. The result would create more criminalized smuggling markets, make migrants vulnerable to trafficking, create precarious undocumented populations, and push people to more dangerous routes. It would also fundamentally damage Canada’s global identity.

On the other hand, suspending the Safe Third Country Agreement would likely result in more asylum claimants, given peoples’ decisions have been significantly affected by ever-more hardline U.S. policies and rumors of more open Canadian ones.  Those arriving at regular ports of entry would still increase IRB backlogs. And the move would likely backfire politically, with voters potentially rewarding anti-refugee political platforms, as in Europe and the United States.

Restrictive policies are unlikely to stem the flow of people, and Canada has no leverage in negotiations with the White House over the STCA. Likewise, unilaterally suspending participation in the accord risks riling the U.S. government at a time when the Trump administration is limiting access to asylum and attempting to compel other states to take on the responsibility for hosting refugees.

While perhaps counterintuitive, the status quo with regards to the Safe Third County Agreement is a viable option. Roxham Road is well managed. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) conduct routinized security screening and first-line admissibility checks. The majority of interviewees took pains to mention they were treated humanely, in sharp contrast to experiences at other borders. Volunteers who monitor the crossing relayed that while there were instances of intimidating behavior by the RCMP in 2017, they are now rare because of the standardization of procedures, permanent infrastructure, and observation by volunteers. People arrive safely, and without criminal networks.

While politically fraught in the current context, Canada receives a small number of asylum seekers in comparison to other refugee-receiving countries. It has an established and well-funded settlement sector, and refugee-status determination procedures are largely fair. Staying the course until the 2020 U.S. elections would allow for capacity-building and long-term planning that bucks the global trend of reactionary policies in liberal democracies.


This article is part of a research project, “Understanding Emergent Irregular Migration Systems to Canada,” funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and hosted by the Centre for Refugee Studies at York University and the Global Migration Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, University of Toronto.

Countries Must “Future-Proof” Their Immigrant Selection Systems to Stay Competitive in a Changing World of Work

Another good report from the Transatlantic Council on Migration. Excerpt below:

The economic trends discussed in the previous section have important implications for immigrant selection systems:

  • ƒAdvanced skills, which will experience unprecedented demand, remain difficult forselection systems to assess. Labor-market analyses suggest there is likely to be a premium placed on identifying people with more advanced technical skills in areas such as data science and software development, and with the soft skills valued by the knowledge economy. The latter skillset ranges from strong social and interpersonal skills (including the ability to work collaboratively), to creativity and communication skills, to higher-level cognitive capabilities (including abstract and systems thinking). Because such traits can be applied across occupations, they can help equip workers to navigate fast-paced labor-market changes. However, evaluating advanced expertise and even more so, intangible qualities, poses a conundrum for selection systems that are used to assessing formal education and work experience (and which can even struggle with that task). Moreover, systems that rely on points to select economic immigrants may be able to prioritize these more intangible qualities, but they can ultimately only pick from the available pool of applicants—which limits the search for the “best” to the “best available.”
  • As jobs increasingly become decoupled from physical locations, demand for some skills-based mobility may change. Remote work and digital collaboration are reducing the importance of physical location to work, especially in sectors such as technology, giving firms more flexibility to decide where to create jobs. But location will remain important in many sectors, especially when it comes to business clusters and cities, and their “soft” infrastructure (such as universities and cultural activities), which provides the intellectual backbone ofinnovation.  At a lower-wage level, robotics may facilitate outsourcing, as cheaper workers abroad will be able to operate robots performing routine tasks in the high-income world, such as using drones to clean hotel rooms. While these trends could ultimately reduce some skills- based mobility, a more immediate result will be greater interdependence between immigration policies and firm location decisions; barriers to bringing people into the country could encourage companies to outsource jobs or open offices in other countries.
  • ƒIncreased freelancing and “gig” work at all skill levels may make the traditional employer sponsorship model less suitable for some forms of economic migration. The growth ofmore flexible and informal types of work points to a world where fewer people hold full-time, permanent contracts and instead work on a more short-term basis, potentially for more than one employer at a time (and even for employers in multiple countries). Immigration, employment, tax, and social security systems are not well-adapted to such non-traditionalworkers. Some countries are experimenting with ways to admit people on a more flexible basis, for example for short-term employment assignments or for freelance work. But moving away from systems built around the traditional employer-employee relationship would require a rethinking of how to enforce compliance with immigration rules, tax obligations, and employment standards, and how to evaluate the skills and experience of applicants in the absence of an employer sponsor.
  • As global competition for skilled workers heats up, countries will need to think strategically about how to attract and retain talent. Traditional destination countries arelikely to face growing competition for skilled workers from emerging economies and other new destinations, some of which have introduced their own points-based admission systems inspired by those of traditional immigrant destinations. For example, China introduced a new selection system for economic migrants in 2017 that uses a points system to evaluate candidates with a job offer, drawing on the experiences of Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, andothers, while South Korea introduced a similar “hybrid” program in 2017 to select skilled workers for the manufacturing, agriculture, and fishing industries. Emerging economies such as Chile, India, Mexico, and Taiwan are actively recruiting foreign entrepreneurs either with start-up visas or supportive infrastructure such as investment incentives, incubators, andaccelerators. And many large companies are establishing outposts in flourishing new tech clusters. In India, for instance, Gurgaon near New Delhi is a hub for Google, Facebook, booking. com, and TripAdvisor; and Pune near Mumbai is becoming an emerging fintech hub, with Western Union and the Technology Engineering Centre. Against this backdrop, governments will need to think carefully about how their selection policies and the rights they afford to immigrants will give their country the “edge” in both selecting and retaining immigrants.
  • Economic migration channels are just one piece of the broader immigration-policy puzzle. Ongoing mixed migration in many regions has reshaped the broader context for reforms to economic migration channels. Policymakers will need to balance efforts to bring in new skilled workers with continued investments in these recent arrivals. For many destination countries, especially in Europe, spontaneous mixed migration has transformed the conversation around immigration policy, fostering increasing skepticism among publics about the merits of immigration writ large and making dialogue over labor migration and selection (especially at the low-skilled level) increasingly complex.

Ultimately, efforts to rethink selection systems will increase the emphasis on the long-term goal of upskilling a country’s workforce. Since this project sits at the nexus of education, employment, social protection, and immigration policy, selection policies must be part of a whole-of-government approach that constantly adapts education and training systems to realize the potential of both existing and new workers (including spouses and immediate family members of selected migrants). It must also provide realistic options for people displaced by automation to retrain. Using these policy tools to build and maintain a workforce that gives an economy a competitive edge is not an exact science, since it depends both on what is economically needed and what is politically feasible. Governments must acknowledge growing unease about immigration and clearly communicating to their publics why some economic migration is still needed, even as they invest in integrating recent arrivals and helping them enter the workforce.

Source: Equipping Immigrant Selection Systems for a Changing World of Work

“Us” or “Them”? How Policies, Public Opinion, and Political Rhetoric Affect Immigrants’ Sense of Belonging

Interesting study by MPI with this counter-intuitive finding that citizenship policy was not a significant factor in national belonging in contrast to popular conceptions of nationhood which, of course, are reflected citizenship policies that emphasize attainable criteria with reasonable requirements:

Citizenship Policy: Do Fewer Restrictions Signal a More Accepting Society?

Boundaries of national membership exist in different forms—whether formal or informal—and are formulated by different actors, such as politicians or the majority population. Formal boundaries are official policies designed to define membership, such as citizenship, voting rights, or employment policies.

The foremost example is citizenship policy, which sets the criteria for who may become an officially recognized member of a particular country. The restrictiveness of citizenship policies varies considerably across Western nation-states as do the signals these policies communicate about the type of knowledge and behavior one must comply with to become part of the nation. To become a citizen of Austria, for example, one must have ten years of residency, be economically self-sufficient, speak German, pass a knowledge test on Austrian history and the principles of the democratic system, and resign any previous citizenship. In Sweden, none of these requirements applies, except for length of residency (and here it is just five years), and dual citizenship is allowed. Scholars often point to citizenship policy as a signifier of a country’s openness or closedness toward newcomers. In this way, it could be expected that immigrants would find it easier to belong in countries with more liberal citizenship regimes.

A 2016 study by the author examined whether the substantial variation in the citizenship policies of Western democracies matter for the extent to which immigrants to different countries feel national belonging. The study used data from 19 Western democracies collected during two different years (2003 and 2013), data from the Migrant Integration Policy Index, and survey answers from first- and second-generation immigrants about the degree to which they feel close to the nation in which they live.

Surprisingly, the study offered no evidence to support the hypothesis that citizenship policy affects immigrant minorities’ national belonging. Other experts have come to similar conclusions in their research on civic integration and multicultural policies: In two studies by Goodman & Wright and Bloemraad & Wright, despite substantial variation over time and space in the use of civic integration and multicultural policies, these policies did not appear to foster (nor hinder) immigrants’ generalized trust and perceived discrimination.

One potential reason for the lacking effect of citizenship (and other types of integration) policy is that it is composed of various requirements—such as length of residence, economic self-sufficiency, language skills, and resigning one’s previous citizenship—making it difficult for the individual immigrant to assess exactly how open or closed a given national community is. In addition, there may be great variation across immigrants in how difficult it is for them to live up to the demands. In other words, while one type of immigrant may find the host country’s citizenship policies exclusive, others may find it relatively easy to live up to them.

Popular Ideas of Belonging

Boundaries are not only defined in formal terms through citizenship or integration policies, but also more informally in conceptions of nationhood shared among members of a society. While these boundaries are not officially sanctioned, they are not any less powerful as signals of inclusivity/exclusivity. In particular, how majority nationals define the boundary of the national community likely affect everyday encounters with immigrant minorities.

In the study mentioned above, the author also analyzed the potential effects of popular conceptions of nationhood by using survey responses to measure the nonimmigrant majority population’s boundary drawing in the 19 countries studied.

The author found the criteria valued for being considered part of the national community clustered in two groups: ascriptive and attainable criteria.

  • Ascriptive criteria include being born in the country, having lived in the country for most of one’s life, having host-nation ancestry, and being of the host nation’s religion. These criteria are impossible to acquire if one does not have them in the first place. Of course, religious conversion is in principle a possibility but the fact that this criterion groups with the other ascriptive criteria suggests that most people consider religion a permanent trait of individuals.
  • Attainable criteria include language skills in the host country’s official language(s), citizenship, respecting the country’s laws and institutions, and feeling like a national. These criteria are possible to acquire, at least over time.

Figures 1 and 2 show the value of importance assigned to the two groups of criteria in each country in 2003 and 2013, using a 0-1 scale, where 0 means not important at all, and 1 means very important. As can be seen, the values vary quite substantially across countries while the within-country variation over time is rather small for most countries, suggesting that conceptions of nationhood are relatively stable over time.

Figure 1. Importance of Criteria Immigrants Cannot Obtain to Select Countries

Source: Kristina Bakkær Simonsen, “How the Host Nation’s Boundary Drawing Affects Immigrants’ Belonging,” Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies 42, no. 7: 1153-76.

Figure 2. Importance of Criteria Immigrants Can Obtain to Select Countries

Source: Bakkær Simonsen, “How the Host Nation’s Boundary Drawing Affects Immigrants’ Belonging.”

In contrast to citizenship policy, popular conceptions of nationhood have significant effects on immigrant minorities’ national belonging in the study. In particular, first- and second-generation immigrants’ national belonging is greater in countries where the majority population places high value on attainable boundary criteria, such as the United States, France, and Canada. In other words, boundaries can be positive when they signal to immigrants their being welcome to belong, upon having met a set of feasible requirements, such as acquiring language skills and respecting the country’s norms and laws.

Source: “Us” or “Them”? How Policies, Public Opinion, and Political Rhetoric Affect Immigrants’ Sense of Belonging

In Search of a New Equilibrium: Immigration Policymaking in the Newest Era of Nativist Populism: MPI

Relevant MPI report. Worth reflecting upon, even if the Canadian situation is quite different from Europe:

When faced with the growth of radical-right populism, mainstream political actors face a dilemma: respecting the democratic mandate of populists and treating them like any other political actor, or drawing a line in the sand by ostracizing and refusing to cooperate with them. Regardless, mainstream politicians need to reckon with how to respond to the forces driving support for nativist populism in the first place— deep concerns about cultural identity, rising inequality, pressure on limited public resources, deepening political polarization, and the politics of fear and resentment. In doing so, they will also need to grapple with how to build a new consensus on immigration. Points of reflection include:

  • ƒThe many benefits of running a tight ship on immigration policies. Governments need to rebuild public trust in the integrity and fairness of their migration-management system. Doing so will require minimizing immigration disorder and ensuring effective and orderly return procedures, while tipping the balance towards a more selective system that is better aligned with national economic and labor-market needs.
  • ƒThe challenges and crucial importance of communicating complexity. Policymakers need to think carefully about how to communicate their policy priorities and decisions, and the evidence that underpins them, to a concerned public. This includes speaking candidly about what the evidence does—and does not or cannot—say about hot-button issues such as immigration. This must be done in terms that can be readily understood by a wide audience of nonexperts and, when it comes to immigration, include an honest discussion of the benefits of a well-managed immigration system and the tradeoffs such a system can entail. These communications must also include concrete actions to address these emotive issues, especially in times of crisis.
  • ƒThe need to redress inequality by investing in communities. The rise of populism and nativism should serve as a wake-up call for mainstream policymakers on the importance of acknowledging and targeting disadvantage by adopting policies to redress the uneven costs of immigration, globalization, and economic crises. In striving to revitalize neglected regions, governments face tough decisions about whether to invest in costly social and economic development policies to help people stay—and attract new residents, especially immigrants— or to help people relocate to areas with more economic opportunities (at the risk of further shrinking the fiscal base of struggling regions).
  • ƒThe promise of employing a whole-of-society approach to immigration and integration issues. In an era of growing “welfare chauvinism,” with populists calling to limit access to welfare benefits to citizens, policymakers should confront head on the perception that immigrants benefit disproportionately from government programs and services. Research has also demonstrated the advantages of moving away from programs that target certain groups, such as immigrants, and towards robust services available to and flexible enough to meet the needs of all who qualify.

Ultimately, the rise of nativist populism should be understood both as a symptom and driver of political turmoil in Europe and the United States. Its rise is rooted in longstanding social and economic grievances and divisions that have been overlooked by mainstream politicians for far too long. Governments need to learn from their mistakes and respond much more proactively to manage these divisions—or risk seeing societies drift further apart and create a breeding ground for nativism and populism.


Applying Behavioral Insights to Support Immigrant Integration and Social Cohesion

People Leave Footprints: Millions More Unauthorized Immigrants Cannot Be ‘Hidden’ in Data Estimates

For data and methodology geeks, this analysis of different estimates of the number of illegal immigrants of the US is worth reading. But whether the more sound approach will be listened to in the current political climate is uncertain at best:

Amid the current roiling political debate in the United States around immigration, and particularly illegal immigration, there is little doubt that an academic article out today in PLOS Onecontending the unauthorized immigrant population is millions larger than has long been estimated will attract widespread attention.

It is deeply unfortunate, therefore, that this thought experiment from a team of academics who specialize in management studies is based on seriously flawed assumptions leading them to the conclusion that there were at least 16.2 million, and as many as 29.5 million, unauthorized immigrants in the United States in 2016.

This accounting exercise departs dramatically from the estimates generated independently by several organizations in and out of government, using variations of a method whose accuracy has been proven successful in a real-world setting. These estimates, tested against other datasets to ensure their accuracy, range from a low of about 10.8 million to a high of 12.1 million, the latter the most recent estimate from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Even researchers in immigration restrictionist groups have concurred there cannot be millions upon millions of extra unauthorized immigrants hidden in the United States, because, in short, people leave footprints that are seen in statistical records—namely in birth, death, school enrollment, housing, and other records.

We believe these new numbers represent at most an interesting academic exercise, but are ultimately greatly off-base and thus counterproductive to the public’s very real need to understand the true scope of illegal immigration and how best to address it.

Where This Thought Experiment Goes Wrong

While we welcome fresh thinking and creative new methods to estimate a population that is by definition difficult to count, the theory articulated in the article has serious flaws, as we explain here and in greater detail in a formal response, also published today in PLOS One. The journal’s editors invited us to write this response, after we served as peer reviewers for the article.

In brief, we believe that the method:

Fails to sufficiently account for circular migration patterns prevalent in the 1990s. Because the government did not estimate the rate of successful illegal border crossings in the 1990s, the authors apply 2005-10 DHS estimates of detection rates to the 1990s. These rates estimate how many people successfully snuck across the border for each person apprehended.

However, crossing patterns were very different in the 1990s than in the mid- to late 2000s. In the 1990s, many migrants crossed multiple times in the same year, or they came for just a year or two before permanently leaving. Back then, illegal crossers faced few consequences, so little deterred them from coming, leaving, and returning again. As border enforcement increased strongly over the 2000s, resulting in higher smuggling costs and growing consequences for illegal entry (and in particular illegal re-entry), people who crossed illegally tended to remain in the United States. Therefore, in the 1990s, far more individuals were apprehended repeatedly than was the case in the 2000s. Applying 2005-10 apprehension rates to the 1990s leads the researchers to overestimate how many people crossed the border illegally in the 1990s.

Separately, they also overestimate how many of those who came actually stayed, by applying departure rates from studies of immigrants overall—not just unauthorized immigrants—to border crossers. The result of both of these flawed assumptions: the authors vastly overcount how many unauthorized immigrants came and stayed during the 1990s. They conclude the unauthorized population numbered at least 13.3 million in 2000, while DHS put the total at 8.5 million. By overestimating the number who arrived in the 1990s, the researchers’ estimates into later years thus build on a shaky foundation.

Is misaligned with Census data. Demographers have long agreed that the decennial Census undercounts unauthorized immigrants. But the 13.3 million number is highly implausible. It would imply that the 2000 Census missed almost 5 million more unauthorized immigrants than demographers thought, for an undercount rate of 42 percent. That is well in excess of even the highest assessment of the Census undercount. When demographers compared the U.S. Census data to U.S. birth and death records and data from the Mexican Census on changes in the Mexican population, they concluded that the 2000 Census could have undercounted unauthorized Mexican immigrants by at most 26 percent—a far cry from 42 percent. Other assessments were far more modest, including one survey of unauthorized immigrants in Los Angeles, which found that just 10 percent said they had not taken the 2000 Census.

Allows mistakes to snowball over time. Beyond flawed assumptions, the authors also use a flawed process. While they begin with the widely accepted estimate of the size of the unauthorized population in 1990—3.5 million—their method for extrapolating its future size quickly falls apart. From the 1990 number, they estimate the size of the unauthorized population for the following years by adding in their estimates of each year’s illegal border crossers and visa overstayers and subtracting those who die, leave the country, or transition to legal status in that year. But in this accounting method, any error in estimating border crossers or those who leave the country—as explained above—gets compounded over time, leading their mistakes to snowball. By the time they build their estimate of the unauthorized population in 2000, their number is far higher than could be validated by any other means. And building from that highly questionable estimate for later years only leads to even higher, and more flawed, numbers for 2016.

What the Traditional Method Gets Right

The demographers who use the traditional method for estimating the unauthorized population—known as the residual method—start fresh each year, looking at Census data and government data on visas granted to legal immigrants. And then these demographers, who work independently at DHS, the Pew Research Center, and the Center for Migration Studies of New York, to mention the most notable users of this method that MPI also employs, double check their estimates against other sources: Data from Mexico, birth and death records, school enrollment records, and other datasets. In this way, traditional estimates have guardrails: They stay aligned with the best Census and administrative data available on immigrant populations in the United States.

The residual method was put to the real-world test successfully in the 1980s, with estimates generated with this methodology largely similar to the actual number of unauthorized immigrants who came forward to get legalized under a broad legalization offered in the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986.

It is also worth noting that while several organizations use the residual method, each has its own proprietary methodology for developing datasets on the unauthorized, and that while these have some variations, their results fall within the same relatively narrow range. That is a far cry from the 13 million swing that the Yale researchers generate in their exercise, depending on which of their assumptions they use.

Over several years, MPI carefully developed its methodology with demographers at The Pennsylvania State University’s Population Research Institute and Temple University. Together, we have been transparent about the assumptions undergirding our methodology, sharing them in leading demographic journals, through presentations at academic conferences, and inviting critiques from others in the field.

It is imperative for the public and decisionmakers alike to know how many unauthorized immigrants are in the country, so that we can determine the effectiveness of our immigration and border-control policies and make any necessary adjustments. Inaccurate, inflated estimates only serve to inflame and confuse the debate, and could lead to poorly designed and wasteful enforcement and policy overreactions.

How Does Immigration Drive the Success of the Radical Right in Europe? New Report Assesses the Record in Nordic Countries – MPI

Another relevant report from MPI:

Though elections in Austria, Germany and France in 2017 and recent electoral outcomes in Italy and Hungary have demonstrated the rising power of radical-right parties in Europe, the phenomenon is hardly new in most Nordic countries. Denmark, Finland and Norway have radical-right parties that trace their roots back to at least the 1970s. And more recently, the Sweden Democrats established themselves at the national level in 2010.

Even as the Sweden Democrats, Danish People’s Party, the Finns Party and Norway’s Progress Party have been a far cry from capturing a majority of the vote in recent elections, their rise has been accompanied by an observable shift in public attitudes toward migration. The result: a hardening of asylum and immigration policies over the last decade, especially since the European migration crisis began in 2015. Nordic governments have introduced—and in some cases loudly celebrated—policies to reduce family reunification, restrict access to refugee and other protected statuses and limit access to public assistance benefits for non-nationals.

A new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, The Growth of the Radical Right in Nordic Countries: Observations from the Past 20 Years, analyzes the rise and current dynamics of radical-right parties in Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

In all four countries, immigration has become a core policy area for the radical right. But as author Anders Widfeldt notes, the electoral success of such parties cannot be tied neatly back to shifting levels of immigration or to public opinion of immigrants. A web of other factors—including how the parties are managed and the personalities of their leaders—are also at play.

“The marriage of a populist economic agenda that prioritizes welfare support for nationals in need with deep skepticism of immigration has proven to be a potent recipe for success, though the exact formula that parties adopt varies,” Widfeldt writes.

In responding to the radical right’s growth in popularity, mainstream political parties have taken three main approaches: co-opting radical-right policies in a bid to win over their opponents’ voters, accommodating the parties in government or isolating them by excluding them from governing coalitions. Yet, the author notes, there is little consistent evidence of which of these approaches (if any) are effective. And just as immigration is likely to remain high on the political agenda, radical-right parties are likely to continue to influence migration policy debates.

Read the report here:

It is the second in a Transatlantic Council series, “The Future of Migration Policy in a Volatile Political Landscape.” As governments in Europe and North America grapple with growing skepticism about immigration and a rise in populism, the Council examined whether and how this new political reality has changed immigration policymaking.

Additional reports will be published over the summer and collected here: