The Refugee/Immigration Dilemma

It seems to me….

But then I came to the conclusion that no, while there may be an immigration problem, it isn’t really a serious problem. The really serious problem is assimilation.” ~ Samuel P. Huntington[1].

Politicians frequently intentionally fail to differentiate between an immigrant and a refugee. A refugee is a person who has fled his or her own country of nationality or habitual residence, and cannot return due to fear of persecution by reason of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, and is unable or unwilling to avail themselves of the protection of that country or to return back to that country as long as that threat persists. The Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, to which the U.S. is a signature, is a United Nations multilateral treaty that defines who is a refugee, sets out the rights of individuals who are granted asylum, and the responsibilities of nations that grant asylum. All refugees taken in by the U.S. are fleeing their homes out of fear for their lives and have undergone an extensive vetting process prior to admission. It would be immoral and not in keeping with basic American beliefs to turn our backs and not grant them assistance.

An immigrant is a non-native person who comes to a foreign country with the intent to permanently settle there for a variety of possible reasons including a lack of local access to resources, a desire for economic prosperity, to find or engage in paid work, to better their standard of living, family reunification, retirement, climate or environmentally induced migration, exile, escape from prejudice, conflict or natural disaster, or simply the wish to change one’s quality of life. While an immigrant chooses to leave his/her native country as a matter of free choice, a refugee flees his/her country out of necessity.

The recent Presidential executive order temporarily banning refugees from seven countries (Iran, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Yemen, and Somalia) while possibly legal, is as misguided and immoral as similar previous actions by other Presidents. Even if the order is legal, an issue the courts and Congress must decide, does not imply it is ethical.

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees of any country but Lebanon has by a considerable margin accepted the most as a percentage of population. While many, mostly conservatives, claim the U.S. accepts a significant total number of refugees, which in the past has been correct, we are not anywhere near the top ten nations as a percentage of population. In total numbers of refugees, even Canada is considerably more accepting than the U.S.

The most common rationale for restricting refugee entry is fear of terrorism but the statistical probability of someone in the U.S. being involved in a terrorist incident is sufficiently minimal that anyone with such fears would normally be considered paranoid other than for the fact that terrorism is basically a psychological threat rather than factual. The goal of terrorists is to provoke overreaction – so far they have been successful. Unscrupulous politicians, such as trump, have exploited the unsubstantiated fears of a fearful populous rather than providing an honest evaluation of that risk. There is a substantially greater threat from lifestyle threats (obesity, smoking, drugs…) or gun violence than terrorism. Someone has a far greater probability of winning a major lottery than of being involved in a terrorist incident.

There has not been a single terrorist-related incident within the U.S. perpetuated by someone from any of the countries named in trump’s ban while counties of 911 attackers (Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Lebanon) were omitted. Additionally, the ban obviously is not related to security since all recent extremist-related incidents have been committed by U.S. citizens or an individual granted entry under a spousal visa.

The vast majority of U.S. immigrants are ideologically benign and excellent citizens but as has been equally true for those immigrants preceding them – Irish, Italian, Polish, Slovakian… – are reluctant to assimilate fueling a conservative backlash now fearful of a minority lethal Islamic extremism. It is true that progress is not always progressive and occasionally requires time for acceptance.

Each year the President, in consultation with Congress, determines the numerical ceiling for refugee admissions. For Fiscal Year (FY) 2016, the proposed ceiling was 85,000, slightly higher than the about 70,000 a year average for the prior several years[2].

Over one-third of all refugee arrivals (35.1 percent, or 24,579) in FY 2015 came from the Near East/South Asia – a region that includes Iraq, Iran, Bhutan, and Afghanistan. Another third of all refugee arrivals (32.1 percent, or 22,472) in FY 2015 came from Africa. Over a quarter of all refugee arrivals (26.4 percent, or 18,469) in FY 2015 came from East Asia – a region that includes China, Vietnam, and Indonesia.

More international immigrants, about one-in-five migrants (19 percent) live in the U.S., more than in any other country in the world. As of 2015, the United Nations estimated that 46.6 million people living in the U.S. were not born here; nearly four times the number of the world’s next largest immigrant destination – Germany, with about 12 million immigrants[3].

Compared with other countries receiving immigrants, the share of the U.S. population that is foreign born is modest with only about one-in-seven people living in the U.S. (14 percent) having been born in other countries. About one-in-five people in Canada (22 percent) are foreign born, nearly three-in-ten people (28 percent) in Australia, and an even higher percentage in some Persian Gulf countries such as Qatar (75 percent) and United Arab Emirates (88 percent).

The U.S. immigrant population is not as diverse in origin as those of other countries and roughly one-in-four (26 percent) immigrants in the U.S. come from just one country: Mexico. The U.S. has a score of 91 on a 1-to-100 diversity index. Denmark and the UK have some of the highest immigrant diversity scores (both 97) followed by Canada at 96.

The U.S.-Mexico migration corridor is the world’s largest with about an estimated 12 million people living in the U.S. having been born in Mexico as of 2015 though recent estimates show that more Mexicans are now leaving than coming to the U.S. The second largest corridor consists of an estimated 3.5 million Indian national migrants living in the United Arab Emirates.

Republicans overall were more likely to mistakenly view immigrants as a “burden” to the U.S. than as a “strength”[4]. Roughly six-in-ten (62 percent) white non-college Republicans viewed immigrants as “a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing, and health care”. Half of white non-college Republicans (pre-Presidential 2016 election) said they would be more likely to support a candidate for the Republican nomination who wants to deport all immigrants living in the U.S. illegally. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, 52 percent incorrectly believed the nation had made the changes needed to give African-Americans equal rights, while 39 percent said it had not.

The immigration problem in Europe is very different than in the U.S. where the so-called “first world” faces a huge problem with more and more displaced people from zones of war and upheaval seeking asylum and a better life[5]. More than 1,500 people, many being transported by human smugglers, have drowned or gone missing in the Mediterranean on their way to Europe from North Africa since the start of 2015. The problem is reaching agreement on what can humanely be done to prevent so many human beings to not be just ignored, left to drown, or be killed in zones of appalling upheavals.

Smuggling is not the cause of migration. It is rather the symptom of an unfulfilled demand for migration that can’t find other safer and legal routes. For someone seeking asylum and international protection, crossing a border without authorization is often the only way for them to legally claim asylum. Not every migrant is a refugee.

Refugees are encountering a Europe that was already fatigued and disunited even before their arrival, weakened as it had been by years of the euro crisis, frequent disagreements between Germany and France (once the motors of European unification), and anxiety over the special wishes demanded by Britain and the threat of Russia’s aggressive stance in the east[6]. Immigration policies are among the most controversial issues in Europe and right-wing populism is on the rise seemingly everywhere; nationalist tendencies have emerged as a frequent specter since the very beginning of the refugee crisis.

No two countries have exactly analogous politics but common threads run across Europe[7]. The unifying dynamic appears to be the interaction of financial insecurity and the cultural detachment of governing elites from the governed. On to that canvas is then projected the threat of terrorism brought into the political domain by refugees from predominantly Muslim countries. A long malaise in continental liberal democracy is beginning to feel more like decline; illiberal democracy is already thriving in Eastern Europe.

In October, the ultra-conservative Law and Justice party swept aside a centrist government in Poland, raising fears among the country’s liberals of a lurch towards Orbán-style[8] Christian nationalism. Phlegmatic commentators counsel against panic explaining the result as a backlash against an exhausted incumbent class by poorer Poles, mostly in small towns and villages, to whom the bounty of post-Communist market transition has not cascaded down.

Even in Scandinavia, the amicable dialog between conservative and social democratic modes of liberalism has been disrupted by rightwing populists.

In Great Britain, before the terrorist attacks in Paris, it seemed the Brexit debate would hinge on economics. The “leave” camp would say prosperity depends on unshackling themselves from the dead weight of a low-growth, high-unemployment Eurozone. The “remain” side would say that jobs and investment rely on membership of the huge trading club in their corner of the globe. But the lens of British politics shifted its focus from the economy to security. When that template was applied, EU membership was either the necessary mechanism for coordinated anti-terror policy – sharing data, cross-border arrest warrants, and intelligence cooperation – or it was an unlocked door through which jihadism enters in refugee garb. In the end, the perceived sense of security won.

People suffering do not need things handed to them, they need, just as we all do, the prospect of a decent life via a voluntary social contract. Someday, hopefully, the world will come to accept that. Someday – but not yet.

That’s what I think, what about you?

[1] Samuel Phillips Huntington was an American political scientist, adviser, and academic who spent more than half a century at Harvard University.

[2] Refugee Processing Center.

[3] Connor, Phillip, and Gustavo López. 5 Facts About the U.S. Rank In Worldwide Migration, Pew Research Center,, 18 May 2016.

[4] Smith, Samantha, and Carroll Doherty. A divide between college, non-college Republicans, Pew Research,, 1 March 2016.

[5] Sigona, Nando. What the EU must do now to halt this tragedy on its shores, The Conversation,, 20 April 2015.

[6] New Fences on the Old Continent: Refugee Crisis Pushes Europe to the Brink, Der Spiegel,, 4 March 2016.

[7] Much of this is taken from an article by Behr, Rafael. As Le Pen rises Europe’s liberal dream is disappearing in front of our eyes, The Guardian,, 9 December 2015.

[8] Viktor Orbán is a Hungarian jurist and politician who has twice been Hungary’s Prime Minister. His social conservatism, soft Eurosceptic nationalism, constitutional reforms, and advocacy of what he calls “illiberal democracy” have attracted domestic and international criticism.


About lewbornmann

Lewis J. Bornmann has his doctorate in Computer Science. He became a volunteer for the American Red Cross following his retirement from teaching Computer Science, Mathematics, and Information Systems, at Mesa State College in Grand Junction, CO. He previously was on the staff at the University of Wisconsin-Madison campus, Stanford University, and several other universities. Dr. Bornmann has provided emergency assistance in areas devastated by hurricanes, floods, and wildfires. He has responded to emergencies on local Disaster Action Teams (DAT), assisted with Services to Armed Forces (SAF), and taught Disaster Services classes and Health & Safety classes. He and his wife, Barb, are certified operators of the American Red Cross Emergency Communications Response Vehicle (ECRV), a self-contained unit capable of providing satellite-based communications and technology-related assistance at disaster sites. He served on the governing board of a large international professional organization (ACM), was chair of a committee overseeing several hundred worldwide volunteer chapters, helped organize large international conferences, served on numerous technical committees, and presented technical papers at numerous symposiums and conferences. He has numerous Who’s Who citations for his technical and professional contributions and many years of management experience with major corporations including General Electric, Boeing, and as an independent contractor. He was a principal contributor on numerous large technology-related development projects, including having written the Systems Concepts for NASA’s largest supercomputing system at the Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. With over 40 years of experience in scientific and commercial computer systems management and development, he worked on a wide variety of computer-related systems from small single embedded microprocessor based applications to some of the largest distributed heterogeneous supercomputing systems ever planned.
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2 Responses to The Refugee/Immigration Dilemma

  1. auntyuta says:

    If someone’s place of residence has been constantly bombed and his source of living and income been destroyed, a number of close relatives and friends killed by constant bombing and terror attacks, and he seeks for himself and his family asylum in another country, is he classed as a refugee, an immigrant or just as an asylum seeker? And does he and his family deserve to live in another peaceful country where he is able to look after his family? Should he be able to get help by another, peaceful country? And if not, why not?


  2. lewbornmann says:

    While a refugee almost always can be an immigrant, an immigrant is not necessarily a refugee. It is difficult to understand how anyone cannot be sympathetic and accepting to those fearing for their and their family’s safety; fleeing their homes to escape persecution or death leaving behind all they possess and everyone they know. The insensitivity and lack of empathy of those wanting to shut the door to those in such need is beyond understanding.


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