Editorial: Barring the gate comes with moral pitfalls
New Hampshire is more than 2,000 miles from the border between Texas and Mexico that was illegally crossed recently by tens of thousands of children from Honduras and other Central American nations. Nonetheless, earlier this month, news broke that the Granite State was hosting 13 of the unaccompanied children, a figure that has since risen to 24, the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement said.
The children’s appearance raises legal and moral questions faced not just by the United States but every well-off nation. Is each human being the resident not just of a nation but the world? Are nations fortunate enough to be safe, livable and prosperous obligated to allow those fleeing famine, war or flood to enter and stay? Should the same rules apply to those fleeing not potential or probable death but a lifetime of grinding poverty?
This year, some 100,000 illegal immigrants crossed the Mediterranean Sea to get to Italy. In Spain, floods of immigrants from Africa throw themselves in waves against barbed wire fences and overpower border guards in their quest to make it to northern Europe. Thousands of Asians have drowned in attempts to take refuge in Australia. Some migrants are fleeing violence and war, others pursuing economic opportunity.
Climate change promises to increase illegal migration. On a recent trip to Mexico to sign a climate change agreement, California Gov. Jerry Brown said: “We can see how some are fearful of children walking across the border. What will they think when millions of people are driven north from the parched landscapes of a world degraded by intensifying climate change?”
In one Texas city, the arrival of a large number of the foreign children sparked public protests. In New Hampshire, a conservative website published a call for Gov. Maggie Hassan to protest the “federal encroachment on New Hampshire’s sovereignty” allegedly caused by the arrival of the children.
Demands for even tighter border security were issued. Calls sounded for the expeditious deporting of the children, most of whom were reportedly fleeing gang violence, rape, forced prostitution and other horrors of societies where civil order has all but collapsed.
In the long run, the only hope of stemming the flood lies in helping their home nations defeat gangs, rebuild their economies and mitigate the impact of global warming.
The native populations of most of the world’s developed nations are shrinking, not growing. To prosper economically and care for their aging populations, those nations, the United States included, need immigrants. Increasing the number of immigrants allowed to enter legally would meet the need, but in a world on track to reach a population of 9 billion three decades from now, it won’t stop illegal immigration.
Developed nations can’t accommodate all who wish to live in them without straining resources or perhaps changing irrevocably. But can the residents of a nation besieged by those fleeing flooded lands, growing deserts or genocidal madness bar the gates without becoming barbarians themselves? These are questions that, while the numbers arriving illegally remain manageable, the citizens of well-off nations need to ask.