Once again, President Donald Trump is raining on an international parade.
Representatives of 164 countries gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, this week to sign the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration. The agreement is the result of years of negotiations by U.N. bureaucrats and was motivated in large part by the depressing spectacle of millions facing hardships and death as they sought to escape conflicts in Africa and the Middle East. Those promoting the pact regard it as the first step toward better treatment for migrants and refugees, and more cooperation between nations when it comes to the movement of these populations.
But missing from the ranks of the signers was the United States. While President Obama was an enthusiastic supporter of the idea, the Trump administration made clear its opposition to the document last week in a lengthy statement. Only 14 other nations stayed away from the shindig in Morocco where outgoing German chancellor Angela Merkel implicitly rebuked Trump by saying, “The pact is worth fighting for. It’s about time that we finally tackle migration together.” Merkel (whose decision to admit a million refugees from the Middle East has helped galvanize the debate about immigration in Europe) seemed to pose the compact as an answer to Trump’s “America First” policy: Multilateralism is the way “to make the world a better place,” she asserted
Abuse of refugees and migrants should not be tolerated. But despite the high-minded rhetoric sounded in Marrakesh, and despite the fact that it is drafted as a “non-binding” agreement, the compact demonstrates that the defenders of “multilateralism” have no respect for the line between an obligation to respect the human rights of migrants and a right to cross borders regardless of the laws of the country being entered.
Sprinkled liberally throughout the document is language that implies rights of migrants, whether legal or illegal, to “family life,” privacy, legal identity, and even social services that have no basis in international law yet that could, in principle, override the laws of individual nations. Moreover, by recognizing migrants in this fashion — “regardless of their migration status” — the agreement blurs the distinction between refugees who are fleeing for their lives and those merely seeking entry to foreign nations for economic reasons.
The need for the compact stems from the outbreak of wars in Libya and Syria earlier in the decade as well as the continuation of bloody conflicts in the southern Sahara, Sudan, and the Horn of Africa. These wars drove millions from their homes and led some to attempt risky crossings of the Mediterranean in order to reach safe haven in Europe. Many died at sea or arrived onshore in bad shape. Those who stayed in camps in Africa or in the nations that were in proximity to Syria found themselves stateless and trapped in terrible conditions with little hope of improvement.
The compact recognizes that there is a difference between these refugees and economic migrants. But it is clearly an attempt to begin erasing this distinction — to begin recognizing migrant rights in the same manner as refugee rights were recognized via the 1951 Refugee Convention. The conflict along America’s southern border, where many seeking asylum as refugees are clearly migrants seeking economic opportunity, illustrates the problem with this approach: It undermines the rights of refugees who are legitimately seeking new homes out of necessity as well as those who seek to immigrate legally.
Further, the compact’s denunciation of intolerance toward immigrants fails to make any distinction between hate and reasoned arguments about issues such as the rule of law, defense of borders, and how much legal immigration is wise for any particular country — let alone opposition to illegal immigration. Its spirit is rooted in intolerance for advocates of sovereignty or critics of illegal immigration and open borders policies, and there is no recognition that mass immigration can bring with it a host of costly unforeseen problems. That’s something Germany found out when it was faced with the nearlyimpossible task of absorbing a million migrants from the Middle East without taking into account how doing so would affect their own citizens or the way it would fuel anti-Semitism.
As with much of the discussion about illegal immigration in the United States, the rhetoric in the Global Compact is rooted in compassion for migrants. But it’s not doing any favors for either migrants or their host countries to encourage migrants to think they can evade immigration laws in order to get wherever it is they want to go without benefit of legal permission.
The United States might have agreed to all this as a form of cheap virtue-signaling while understanding that it could refuse to do anything to implement the compact’s principles. But the Trump administration was right to call attention to its flaws and the inherent danger in signing on to anything that is a first step toward the erosion of national sovereignty.
To dismiss Trump’s opposition as xenophobic or racist is to misunderstand how efforts to override the rule of law and sovereign rights can create chaos. And chaos doesn’t help those in need. Blind faith in multilateralism, such as that championed by Obama and now Merkel, is no substitute for common sense. Those who wish to help refugees already have international mechanisms through which to do so. Rather than establish a compact that amounts to a not-so-subtle plea for more open borders, those who want to help migrants would do better to seek to aid, and transform the dysfunctional political and economic cultures of countries whose populations are fleeing. Encouraging more mass migrations will only lead to more suffering. Sadly, that is exactly what this non-binding global compact is most likely to do.