Event recap | The Migration Challenge in the U.S. and Europe Compared

Pia Orrenius, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and James Hollifield, academic director of the Tower Center, sat on a panel moderated by former journalist Lee Cullum discussing migration in the U.S. and Europe compared Feb. 28. Orrenius opened the discussion with a series of graphs to put the issue of migration in perspective on both continents.

Illegal border crossings and asylum applications spiked dramatically in the European Union in 2015 with most migrants coming from Syria and Afghanistan. Germany received the most applicants by an overwhelming margin, while Sweden received the most per capita.

These trends in Europe starkly contrast immigration to the U.S, where the only type of immigration that is increasing steadily is student visas. Illegal border crossings are down to levels last seen in the ’70s. Orrenius also noted that while applicants for asylum have been increasing, the amount of refugees accepted has remained stable.

“I don’t see the crisis,” she said of U.S. immigration.

Orrenius also pointed out that while the U.S. has 700 miles of wall built across it’s southern border, Europe has never had walls. Now countries like Hungary are trying to build them.

Immigration is a new phenomenon in Europe.”We are an immigrant nation — there’s no question about it,” Hollifield said. “This is not the case for Europe.”

If the United States faced the refugee crisis Germany is continuing to face it would be like 4 million people showing up on our shores, Hollifield said. German Chancellor Angela Merkel assumed Europe would follow her lead and share the burden of the refugees, but she was mistaken. The crisis has gotten out of hand in Germany and acts of terror have increased dramatically with seven occurring in 2016 alone.

Cullum switched the discussion to President Trump’s crackdown on immigration, specifically looking at the immediate repercussions of his travel ban that is now held up in courts. She used the narrative of Henry Rousso, a French holocaust historian who was detained 10 hours at the Houston International Airport for no apparent reason. Rousso was traveling to the U.S. to attend and speak at a symposium at Texas A&M University.

“How is this serving our nation?” Cullum asked Hollifield.  He didn’t have an answer, but Hollifield argued Rousso was detained because of his birth place — Egypt, even though it was not one of the seven nations listed in the ban.

America seems to be in the middle of a wave of heightened anti-immigrant sentiment. The sentiment stems from economic frustration and perceived cultural threat. Fears that are largely groundless, according to Hollifield and Orrenius. For example, the CATO Institute found that there is a one in 3.6 billion chance of being killed by a a foreign-born terrorist in the U.S. Yet, President Trump justified his ban by claiming people are pouring in from “dangerous countries.”

Cullum closed the discussion with this final thought: The rally around free enterprise is being replaced by a rally around sovereignty. “It’s something we’re all thinking about,” she said.