Headlines from the Portland Press Herald report that asylum seekers from Africa and Central America are arriving in “droves,” overwhelming Portland city services. It seems that Maine is unique and now famous for its generosity, providing benefits that no other state provides.

But fewer than 22 percent of asylum seekers nationwide are found eligible for refugee status. From 2011 to 2016, the denial rate for applicants from El Salvador was 82.9 percent; Honduras, 80.3 percent; for Guatemala, it was 77.2 percent; Angola 67.7 percent; and for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 43 percent.

Despite the claims of refugee advocates, 95 percent of migrants move for economic reasons, not violence, according to The International Monetary Fund. Due to the overwhelming number of applications, it takes nearly two years before applicants learn if they meet the requirements to stay. During this two year period, they will largely rely on Mainers to support them.

But the big question is, will those who don’t meet refugee status return home? Or, will they join the illegal population, purchase fraudulent documents to get jobs and maybe have a citizen baby, which entitles them to many benefits, including housing and Medicaid? And then lobby for amnesty and citizenship? There is a pattern there.

Since Democrats control both legislative houses and the governorship, Maine will probably increase benefits and legal aid to help the current situation. Seems reasonable and humane. Another pattern.

So, what is next?

Maybe it is time to rethink refugee/asylum policies.

In the book “Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World,” Alexander Betts and Paul Collier, experts on refugee displacement, recommend a new response to failed states. While the media focuses on individual asylum applicants and their personal stories, 25 million people are currently crossing international borders looking to move into a new country.

When rich countries give citizenship to a handful of lucky winners, they create problems — for themselves and the sending nations. These policies invite migration, especially from educated professionals — the people most needed to rebuild failed states. Our policies have also led to a staggering problem with refugee fraud, with implications for human trafficking victims, as well as national security. The Obama administration, in Operation Fiction Writer, brought charges against multiple immigration law firms for coaching refugee applicants in phony stories.

The current system was created after World War II. Shocked by the rejection of Jews trying to escape Hitler, lawmakers at that time wrote refugee laws allowing individuals to apply for asylum and make the case they were “fleeing for their lives” due to persecution from their government. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, in 2017 only 7.5 percent of refugee applications submitted for resettlement were deemed “urgent” or “emergency.”

Nevertheless, many people have compelling reasons for leaving a failed state besides a threat to their lives. Collier and Betts call for an international response, creating “economic zones” in contiguous countries with similar language, culture and religion, through development assistance and trade deals to promote economic growth for both migrant and host populations. Neighboring states have provided the lion’s share of support over the years, just as Turkey accepted millions of Syrians. And neighboring states provide the best location for the majority of refugees who will eventually need to return and rebuild their country.

The rebuilders truly need and deserve America’s support. That plan also entails the best use of U.S. tax dollars — helping more people at less cost — and removing the financial incentive for human trafficking gangs and the danger in long travels.

Quoting Paul Collier: “The fate of refugees does not really depend on whether a few thousand more come to the rich societies. What matters is what happens to the millions.”

Refugee policy should provide safety to a limited number of people who are targeted for persecution by their government on account of their race, religion, nationality, etc. But refugee policy was never intended to help people move from another country so they could earn more money, or escape problems like domestic violence, crime and political corruption.

Everyone needs to do the work of putting their own country in order. Migrants from Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras might take a look at Panama and Costa Rica to see the changes they need to make. People aren’t leaving those countries.

Jonette Christian is a member of Mainers for Sensible Immigration Policy. She lives in Holden.


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