Lifting the Refugee Burden
Americans have become increasingly alarmed by events in Europe. The euro crisis was averted, but euro zone economies continue to face sluggish growth. Political parties throughout the continent question the legitimacy of the European Union, while Great Britain ponders whether to separate itself completely. These would be enough to create the impression that the transatlantic community is being pulled apart.
Add to this the stress from the refugee crisis. This is a test not only of Germany’s capacity to deal with the challenge of integrating thousands of migrants, but also of its leaders’ commitment to an open society and the rule of law that have formed the basis of Europe. With the rise of anti-EU, anti-immigration, and anti-austerity politics, the potential failure of European institutions to effectively handle these challenges and maintain its core values is of great concern to the United States.
The American electorate’s view of Europe’s migration crisis today is a reflection of our historical experience. We continue to have heated debates over admitting more highly-skilled immigrants, reducing illegal immigration, and legalizing the more than 11 million unauthorized immigrants already in the country. Other lingering issues such as bilingual education, an overloaded immigration court system, and migrant’s access to basic services, however, does not prevent hundreds of thousands of individuals and families from finding legitimate work and contributing to the “American way of life.”
In response to the refugee crisis, the U.S. has pledged to expand the number of refugees from all countries it will admit from a ceiling of 70,000 to 100,000 over the next couple of years. American strategy in Syria has been to seek a managed transition from President Bashar al-Assad while destroying the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the United States remains the largest humanitarian donor (just ahead of Germany) contributing a total of $4.5 billion dollars and reaching over 6 million Syrians since the start of the crisis—without which more refugees would doubtless have made the treacherous journey to Europe.
Europe’s crisis, however, is generally not high on the agenda for most Americans fixated on the raucous 2016 presidential election, terrorism, and relations with China, Russia, and the Middle East. The U.S. public’s view of the refugee crisis also reflects our domestic political debate. Approval of the Obama administration’s recent decision to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees splits along partisan lines. The evangelical Christian community is skeptical, while a majority of most self-identified Catholics or Protestants approve of the decision. Yet according to the most recent Pew Research Center poll on this question, a third of American respondents say the U.S. is doing enough to help Europe while nearly half of the respondents said that the U.S. should do more.
Last month, President Obama discussed the refugee crisis directly with Chancellor Merkel. He praised her leadership and announced his plan to convene a summit during the U.N. General Assembly in September to secure additional commitments from world leaders. As a majority of Americans feel that the United States bears some responsibility for the crisis, Europe can expect more assistance from America in the years ahead.
Parke Nicholson is the Senior Research Associate at AICGS. He was a participant in the Koerber Stiftung’s Munich Young Leaders (MYL) Program at this year’s Munich Security Conference.