President Trump is ruffling international bureaucrats’ feathers once again. The Trump administration announced over the weekend that the United States is pulling out of the United Nations’ Global Compact on Migration.
The announcement came just two days before a U.N. conference on migration was set to begin in Mexico. While many are calling this a sign of American isolationism, administration officials maintain the compact threatens U.S. sovereignty. And they’re not wrong.
The U.N. migration talks first began back in April, the product of a political declaration in September 2016 that all 193 members of the U.N. General Assembly signed to address the ongoing problem of refugees and migrants. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants essentially states that the U.N.’s 193 member states intend to end all mistreatment of refugees and migrants, including “xenophobia.” Part of that declaration included a commitment to ensuring that migrants and refugees have access to jobs and education, wherever they wind up.
Trump administration officials tried to make clear that their decision to pull out of the Obama-era compact is not about dismissing concerns about refugees and immigrants. The U.S. representative to the U.N., Nikki Haley, whose parents emigrated to America from India, said in a statement that “America is proud of our immigrant heritage and our longstanding moral leadership in providing support to migrant and refugee populations,” but that America’s “decisions on immigration policies must always be made by Americans and Americans alone.”
The Trump administration also did not say it wouldn’t cooperate with the U.N. on migration issues. In fact, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was explicit on this front.
Why Turn to the UN for a Humane Migration Strategy?
For many, however, it’s difficult to comprehend how America could walk away from talks to help in the humane treatment of migrants at a time of stunning mass migration, especially in the wake of unrest and war in the Middle East. Yet it is that very crisis that casts doubt on international agencies’ ability to handle such things.
The New York Declaration states that all 193 countries are “determined to address the root causes of large movements of refugees and migrants.” But that’s exactly what the body couldn’t or wouldn’t do for the Syrian civil war. The U.N. watched as Bashar al Assad slaughtered his own people and did nothing but host a series of impotent talks in Geneva that only bought the Assad regime and its Russian and Iranian partners time to triumph in that war. It also caused a flood of refugees headed for Europe.
The New York declaration goes on at length about the principles and commitments for respecting the universal human rights of refugees and migrants. Yet we have watched over the past year as the migrant crisis has reached a horrifying apogee in Libya. In the last couple of weeks, reports have emerged of a modern-day slave trade in the failed North African state that relies on the flow of migrants, human traffickers, and government detention centers for migrants who have tried to cross the Mediterranean. In the end, the principles espoused in the declaration with such moral conviction amounted to exactly nothing.
Why a Country Might Want to Stay Out of the Pact
In the eyes of foreign officials and the American Left, however, the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the U.N. compact is yet another sign of Trump’s xenophobia and of the “true” underlying bigotry of all who support him. They are calling it yet another sign of American isolationism.
However, rather than pillorying the United States, foreign agencies — and especially Europe — ought to examine why a country like America might have concerns about sovereignty for immigration policy. Although everyone is quick to blame the recent rise of populist nationalism in Europe on racism and xenophobia — and there’s certainly some of that going on — there’s been little talk among European elites about the role the European Union has played. That body’s disregard for national sovereignty among its member states has pushed voters across the continent to support politicians who want to take decision-making power about things like immigration back from Brussels.
Since the beginning of the migrant crisis in 2015, the E.U. has tried to mandate refugee and migrant quotas to member states. Meanwhile, Europe has been overwhelmed with the largest mass influx of peoples since the end of World War II. It has done a remarkably poor job of handling the crisis, ignoring the calls of many sovereign nations, particularly in eastern Europe, for a halt to migration, at least temporarily. Those calls fell on deaf ears.
This has spurred a rebellion of sorts. Countries like Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic have simply stopped taking in refugees, causing the European commission to take legal action against them. Hungary and the Czech Republic had voted back in 2015 against the E.U. agreement, but lost. Poland voted for it; however, soon after, the Polish people put a new, right-wing political party into power and the country has since refused to cooperate with the quotas.
The migrant crisis has boosted populist and nationalist parties in Western Europe as well. The National Front party of Marine Le Pen got an unprecedented 33 percent of the vote in France’s most recent presidential elections. Germany’s far-right Alternative for Germany party, which gained seats in parliament for the first time in September, seems to be moving farther to the right. And, although the Brexit vote is often blamed on anti-immigrant sentiments, many Britons were fed up with their nation’s policies, especially immigration policy, being dictated from across the channel.
Sovereignty Has Become a Dirty Word
There is of course some history to consider here. Sovereignty became somewhat of a dirty word after World War I and II. It was then closely tied to nationalism, which was seen as the cause of so much of the twentieth century’s suffering.
The United Nations was supposed to deprive nationalism of oxygen. In exchange for ceding some national sovereignty, countries could rest assured that conflict and war would now fade into the mists of history. International bodies like the U.N. would prevent wars and conflicts from breaking out.
The European Union had a similar purpose. That body was meant to prevent another war on the continent, under the theory that if countries joined interests, they would be less likely to go to war.
But Europe threw the sovereignty baby out with the nationalism bathwater, such that now, the concept of sovereignty is making a major comeback—and in the process causing a lot of discomfort and understandable concern. However, as European leaders watch the rising tide of nationalism, their instinct is to do the exact opposite of what they ought to do if they want to prevent the European project from imploding. Rather than acknowledging that the E.U. overreached, and give European countries some control over their immigration policies, European elites are instead doubling down.
We Won’t Have What They’re Having
In light of this ongoing spectacle in Europe, it’s no wonder that the United States doesn’t want to submit itself, even if only symbolically, to U.N. dictates on something like migration.
Regardless of whether you are for or against restricting immigration (this author, for what it’s worth, is against it), every country has the right to retain and exercise its sovereignty, and not be bound by the ideological whims of international bureaucracies. It’s not that humane treatment of migrants is ideological. Of course not. But the idea that individuals have a fundamental human right to immigrate into another sovereign state and, once arrived there, rights to government-sponsored programs, certainly is ideological. America is under no obligation to make agreements of that nature.
Just as European elites refuse to look at their own role in sparking the populism that’s now spreading across the continent, many American politicians and the mainstream media are still reluctant to look at motivations other than racism for Trump’s presidential win and continued support. It might just be possible that Trump’s supporters are applauding the decision to withdraw from the U.N. migration compact, not because they hate immigrants, but because they are wary of ceding U.S. sovereignty for the sake of international virtue-signaling.
Maybe they also perceive that such compacts are unlikely to aid in any significant way the terrible plight of migrants and refugees around the world.