Causes, Conflict, and Policy Solutions

Migration : Causes, Conflict, and Policy Solutions - Irene Rivera Calderón


Migration is one of the most contentious and relevant issues of our time, as evidenced by the increasing numbers of migrants and displaced persons and by inflammatory political discourse throughout the world. This paper discusses the underlying causes of recent migration flows and “crises,” such as the civilian-centered nature of recent conflicts, persistent underdevelopment, climate change, and political impasse that prevents conflict resolution and adequate management of migration flows. Further, the paper focuses on policy reforms to (i) tackle the root causes of migration and (ii) minimize the costs and maximize the benefits (both social and economic) associated with migration. Such policies include a pan-European approach to relocation to ease the burden on EU border countries, increasing legal avenues for migration in the US, and integration policies to preserve social cohesion. Taking a long-term view, the paper aims to present a balanced view of the challenges of migration and to summarize policy reforms anchored upon recognition of the extensive human costs – and unrealized benefits of – one of the most defining issues of our era.


Despite the fact that migration is almost as old as humanity itself,1 and obviously helped shape societies throughout the world, few topics are as contentious or as relevant today. Migration is a fact of life for many of those who hail from the world’s poorest countries – at least for those lucky enough to survive often dangerous journeys. Meanwhile in many advanced economies, particularly in the United States and the European Union, anti-immigrant fervor is contributing to the rise of populist politicians. The rising number of migrants and increasing focus on migration reflects multiple trends, including the civilian-centered nature of recent conflicts. The overwhelming failure of developed countries to respond to influxes of migrants – and to manage the integration of existing migrant populations – has added fuel to the fire in Brussels and Washington alike. However, along with climate change, migration will be a defining issue of our era. This generation has a unique opportunity to implement sensible policies that (i) tackle the root causes of migration and (ii) minimize the costs and maximize the benefits associated with migration. Doing so successfully will require almost unprecedented levels of international as well as public-private sector cooperation, in a time when many developed countries are exhibiting little appetite for international engagement. Still, policymakers have no choice but to work toward sustainable, long-term solutions. The failure to do so can only lead to more deaths on the Mediterranean and every other human smuggling route, increased fragmentation in the US and the EU, and lost opportunities to benefit from the orderly movement of ideas, technology, and labor. The remainder of this paper explores (i) the types and underlying causes of migration, (ii) future trends likely to impact migration, and most importantly (iii) suggested policies to promote the sensible management of migration. 

Types of Migration and Underlying Causes

International institutions that work on migration issues typically distinguish between two broad categories of migrants, based on each group’s perceived reasons for migrating. “Voluntary” or “economic” migration usually refers to population movements spurred by economic reasons, when people “choose” to migrate in search of better livelihoods. “Forced” migration refers instead to population movements stemming from violent conflict, persecution, or other situations that oblige people to seek refuge elsewhere.2 Per the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“1951 Convention”) and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees (“1967 Protocol”), a “refugee” is a forced migrant “who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.”3 Internally-displaced persons (IDPs) constitute a third and important category, referring to people who have not crossed international borders but were nonetheless forced to leave their place of origin due to conflict, environmental degradation, extreme poverty, etc.4

While these distinctions are important for framing the debate on migration and targeting policies to address various causes of migration, it is much more important to recognize the blurred nature of the divide between voluntary and forced migration as well as internal movements of people.  After all, how “voluntary” is it to move from a place that offers no viable means to provide for one’s family? Would someone who truly had a “choice” knowingly risk death for an improbable shot at prosperity? The complex reasons that lead people to migrate often make it difficult to draw a clear distinction between voluntary and forced migration, which in turn makes it difficult to identify and provide adequate protection to refugees as required by international law.5 The term “mixed migration” denotes migration flows that include both “forced” and “voluntary” migration.  

Migration that takes place within legal channels (often indicative of voluntary migration, except in the case of some asylum-seekers) is referred to throughout this paper as “orderly migration,” per the terminology used by the International Organization for Migration.6 Some examples of this include students pursuing degrees in other countries and skilled workers granted work authorization. As implied by the preceding discussion, however, the main cause of voluntary migration is underdevelopment and lack of economic opportunity in many countries, which often leads to migration via unauthorized and sometimes dangerous channels. Such international movements, which take place outside the established legal frameworks for migration, are instead referred to as “irregular migration” and are the primary focus of the forthcoming discussion.7  

Despite decades of growth in emerging economies, few countries have advanced from low-income to middle- or higher-income status, and gaps in wealth and overall well-being remain large.8 In particular, job creation has not kept pace with growing working-age populations in much of the developing world, and wages remain lower than in developed economies despite years of growth.9 Additionally, fast economic growth in low-income countries is actually leading to increased migration, since more people now have the economic means to migrate, and gaps between rich and poor countries remain quite large.10 The following paragraphs present examples from various regions to illustrate the complex causes behind voluntary migration.

The United Arab Emirates offers an interesting example, given the open economic and labor policies that have led it to become one of the most migrant-dependent countries in the world.11 Migrants to the UAE hail primarily from lower middle-income South Asian countries such as India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, and many are employed as domestic workers. Poverty and lack of economic opportunities in South Asia have led millions to take advantage of the UAE’s temporary guest-worker program, called the Kafala Sponsorship System. This system has drawn criticism in recent years due to alleged human rights abuses against domestic workers.12 The fact that people continue to migrate despite accusations of worker abuse only serves to illustrate the complex nature of economic migration movements and the precariousness of the situation, which leads people to move regardless of such warnings.  

Migration from Central America to the United States constitutes another example of the complex forces behind migration. Both political instability and poverty have driven migration to the US over the last few decades, primarily from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.13 Initially driven by civil wars in the late 1970s and 1980s, current migration from these countries reflects two harsh realities: these countries remain among the poorest in the region,14 and they are also some of the most violent places in the world.15 Even though many consider Central American migrants in the US to be economic migrants, the Obama administration recognized that endemic violence in certain Central American countries had reached extreme levels and that some migrants fit the definition of refugees and should be granted asylum.16  Once again, the combination of economic hardship and violence – often a vicious, reinforcing cycle – highlights the difficulty in drawing clear distinctions between voluntary and forced migration movements.  

As noted above, forced migration usually results from violent conflicts such as civil wars, and often leads to loss of national protection that warrants refugee status determination. While there are sometimes legal avenues to migrate from forced migration situations, most forced migrants and refugees must initially move through irregular, often difficult and/or life-threatening channels. The most relevant contemporary example is the large outflow of migrants fleeing Syria’s brutal civil war, now entering its sixth year, which has resulted in almost 5 million refugees.17 Many Syrians have crossed the Turkish-Syrian border, often attempting to reach Europe afterward.18 Iraq and Afghanistan, ravaged by over a decade of war, are also heavily represented among those trying to reach Europe.19 Dadaab in Kenya – the largest refugee camp in the world – hosts hundreds of thousands of Somalis because decades of conflict have rendered their country essentially a failed state. 

The situation in Syria, where government forces repeatedly and brazenly target civilians, highlights why the population of concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has reached the unprecedented number of 65 million – civilians are no longer collateral damage in conflicts. In perhaps the clearest example of loss of national protection and the changed nature of conflict in the 21st century, the Syrian military deliberately targets men, women, and children in rebel-held parts of the country as part of its military strategy.20 Additionally, the protracted nature of modern conflicts (of which Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan are again prime examples) constitutes another reason why the population of concern to UNHCR has increased. Modern Afghanistan, for example, has hardly known peace. 21 And in Somalia, civil strife, famine, and al-Shabab’s reign of terror have lasted for so long that an entire generation of children has been born and raised within the confines of Dadaab.22 Finally, climate change has also contributed to the increase in the population of concern to UNHCR.  For example, some experts have cited climate change as a contributing factor to instability in Syria23 and the Sahel region of Africa, owing to desertification and drought.24 

The Need for Better Management of Migration

Conflict, underdevelopment, and climate change will continue to affect us for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, history suggests that people will find ways to move while the underlying causes of migration persist, regardless of efforts to stop it. No wall can be high enough, no border patrol sufficient; as long as there is demand for migration, people will find creative means and routes.31 It is therefore in everyone’s interest to implement sensible policy solutions to manage migration flows in a way that (i) minimizes the human and economic costs associated and (ii) maximizes benefits for both sending and receiving countries.  

Beyond the obvious need to reduce the human toll of irregular movements, migration can (if properly managed) offer economic and social benefits to sending and receiving countries alike. The harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric that currently plagues political discourse in Europe and the US overlooks important points: migrants offer significant opportunities to stimulate the economies of both Europe and the US. Firstly, Europe faces a troubling demographic picture: an aging population threatens productivity and the viability of healthcare and pension systems.32 In the US on the other hand, immigrants typically work in jobs that Americans are unwilling to perform33 and are particularly important for sustaining the agricultural industry.34 Both Europe and the US thus stand to gain substantial benefits from better integration of migrants into specific industries and locations. Furthermore, studies have shown that overall, migrants tend to contribute more in taxes than they receive in social benefits.35 Still, both the EU and the US would benefit from bringing unauthorized workers into the formal economic sector and expanding their respective tax bases.36 Finally, although the social and cultural effects of migration cannot be measured as directly as the economic benefits described above, the interaction of multiple cultures has clearly helped shape modern American culture, particularly in its large and diverse urban centers. In Europe as well, demographic changes due to immigration are redefining traditional ideas of what it means to be European.37 This presents unique challenges as described below, but can also present unique opportunities for cultural enrichment.   

For sending countries, migrant communities abroad often represent a vital source of capital.  Importantly, remittances constitute a significant source of income for the families left behind in many sending countries.38 Beyond remittances, sending countries can also benefit when migrants return home with additional skills gained abroad. The effects on human capital are again harder to capture, but studies indicate that the positive benefits can be significant for countries where migrant populations are returning from abroad. One positive example at the intersection of social, cultural, and economic benefits, are studies documenting the positive effects on entrepreneurship among returning migrants in places as diverse as Mozambique and rural China.39 Similarly for sending countries, the opportunities for cultural enrichment stemming from increased international engagement are hard to measure. Still, one can find examples of migration contributing to changing cultural norms in unambiguously positive ways. An extreme example is the case of female genital mutilation, a dangerous practice in parts of Africa. Although the practice continues to be documented even among immigrant communities in the industrialized world, a 2005 UNICEF report documented how migration is helping reshape social conventions that lead to such harmful practices.40 

Despite these benefits, however, it is imperative to recognize the economic and social costs of migration in order to devise effective policies to minimize them. Downward pressure on wages given increased labor supplies is an obvious issue – although it is important to remember that in many cases, immigrants do not compete directly with receiving-country populations because they tend to work in other industries.41 Nonetheless, industrialized countries are still reeling from the devastating effects of the recent financial crisis, and employment levels have not recovered. Europe faces particular challenges with extremely high youth unemployment in certain countries (e.g., Spain and Italy).42 In the US, technological change and other factors have limited employment opportunities for low-skilled workers – an issue that President Donald Trump capitalized on during his campaign by blaming unauthorized immigrants.43 For sending countries, on the other hand, “brain drain” effects can hinder development, particularly in countries were persistently poor conditions discourage return migration.44  

In addition to the economic challenges of migration in a time when developed countries themselves experience financial duress, social costs from migration can be high and can impact both state and human security. The failure to integrate migrant populations into society can lead to increased social frictions and, in the worst of cases, to radicalization among immigrant communities. This is particularly evident in Europe right now, where countries have struggled to identify and to contain terrorist threats stemming from migrant communities.45 This is less prevalent in the US, which has higher violent crime rates generally and where Caucasians are more likely to commit violent crimes such as mass shootings.46 Nonetheless, high-profile devastating attacks in recent years have fueled fears that immigrants pose a security threat to both the state and its citizens. These attacks include the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing (perpetrated by a naturalized Chechen refugee), the 2015 San Bernardino shootings (perpetrated by an American couple of Pakistani descent), and the 2016 shooting (by an American of Afghan descent) at an Orlando nightclub – the deadliest mass shooting in US history. 

Importantly, we must also remember the human security threats to migrants themselves as an important social cost of migration. This can range from dangers and abuses during the journeys (often facilitated by criminal smuggling networks),47 to lack of legal protections from workplace abuses for migrants working in the underground economy.48 All of this underscores the need for effective policies to minimize the costs of migration to states and migrants themselves. As recent events in Europe and the US demonstrate, human and state security are inevitably intertwined: the failure to manage migration in a way that preserves social cohesion is now threatening the daily functioning of our societies. 

Towards Better Policies for Migration Management

Respect for universal human rights should lie at the core of global efforts to manage migration. All migrants – regardless of whether they are irregular migrants, voluntary or forced, refugees or IDPs – should be treated with dignity and respect per the principles set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. During times when the President of the United States has called Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “bad hombres,” and the potential next president of France has compared Muslims praying in public to Nazi occupation,49 it is more important than ever to remember that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…”.50 In addition to respect for universal human rights, the fundamental principles enshrined in the legal framework for the protection of refugees should also govern migration policy reform. Chief among these is the principle of non-refoulement, which holds that no one can expel or return a refugee against his or her will to a territory where he or she “fears threats to life or freedom.”51 In addition, the 1951 Convention states that its provisions must be applied to all without discriminating on the basis of sex, age, disability, sexuality, etc., and that refugees should not be penalized for migrating through irregular channels, given that this is often unavoidable when seeking asylum. The 1951 Convention also establishes standards for the treatment of refugees (including access to work, education, the justice system, and documentation) which states should respect and promote via their asylum and integration policies.52 The following sections discuss policy measures that could aid in the management of voluntary, forced, and mixed migration, keeping in mind the principles described above. 

The EU has a clear need to amend the Dublin Regulation, which requires asylum applications to be processed in the first EU country that migrants reach (even if their intended destination is usually Germany or Sweden). This places a disproportionate burden on primary receiving countries such as Greece and Italy. Even though so-called “Dublin transfers” to the first country of entry have been suspended in the face of recent influxes, countries such as Greece and Italy are still responsible for registering and determining the status of hundreds of thousands of migrants in their territories.53 More importantly, the financial burden of border controls, maintenance of temporary camps, and processing of asylum applications falls almost entirely on the border countries – which also happen to have the weakest economies in the EU.54 As many observers have pointed out, the March 2016 agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of migrants is only a temporary solution, and one that raises serious concerns over the possibility that Turkey will not provide adequate protection to people with legitimate asylum claims.55 

The EU thus needs policy reform to ensure adequate burden sharing. This could be achieved by setting quotas for resettlement (and possibly establishing fines for countries that choose to opt out), and creating an EU-wide border control force and processes together with a common budget.56 In addition, the EU needs to establish uniform procedures for processing asylum applications, determining the status of asylum-seekers, and for the treatment of migrants in the interim – all of which currently vary greatly among member states.57 Importantly, as well, the EU needs a pan-European approach to refugee relocation, resettlement, and integration. This means conducting needs assessments at a macro level throughout the EU, to identify the specific places and industries where Europe stands to gain the most from additional workers, given the demographic deficit that will imminently weigh on its health and pension systems.

“Yes, Europe is slow. It is painful. It has deep incisions like the withdrawal of a member state… [But] where Europe — in global competition, in protecting our external borders or migration — faces issues together, it must find answers together. No matter how arduous and tough that is.” -German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s 2016-2017 New Year’s address, in the wake of an attack perpetrated by a Tunisian asylum-seeker that left 12 people dead at a Berlin Christmas Market. 58

The need for a common European approach to manage migration – one that ensures adequate burden-sharing, uniform processes, and a pan-European approach to resettlement – is clear. Unfortunately, however, it faces an uphill political battle due to the complexities of the EU experiment. The principles of strength through unity vs. national sovereignty were bound to result in a difficult balancing act. In the wake of recent terrorist attacks and prolonged financial strain, however, public opinion seems to be tilting toward national sovereignty at the expense of European unity. The “Brexit” vote, the vote against pro-EU Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi, and the apparent ascension of the anti-EU French far right all point to public sentiment turning against the European project. If these trends hold, the possibility of implementing EU-wide migration policy reform seems remote. The possibility that Chancellor Merkel could lose upcoming elections – due largely to public anger at her relatively open stance toward migrants – could deal a final blow to such hopes. Nonetheless, those who believe in a united Europe (and its ability to tackle common challenges) might find hope in the outpouring of support that has defied the hateful rhetoric and anti-globalization push.  From Lampedusa to Lesbos and other places in between, private citizens are galvanizing to support migrants, and volunteer organizations such as Proactiva Open Arms are tackling this humanitarian crisis in the absence of political will.59   

The situation in the US is unfortunately similar with hateful anti-immigrant rhetoric now endorsed at the highest levels of government. Given the country’s particular history of immigration and the large number of unauthorized migrants in the US, it is also crucial to develop practical policy reform. In the interest of social cohesion and basic human rights, lawmakers should create a legal pathway to citizenship for law-abiding residents with deep ties to their communities. This is particularly urgent for people who were involuntarily brought to the US as children, have grown up in the country, and have little ties to their families’ countries of origin.60 To engage in large-scale deportations as the President has vowed, without consideration of existing social ties and family history, would not only be cruel and logistically difficult: it risks igniting social tensions in a country were Hispanics constitute the largest ethnic minority.61 As an alternative policy measure, the US should reassess its involvement and financing of the “war on drugs” in Latin America, which contributes to the violence and instability that fuel migration.62

Both the EU and US should also consider three additional policy avenues. The first is increasing legal pathways for migration, which currently overwhelmingly favor high-skilled workers.63 Increasing legal pathways to migration (including for low-skilled workers) could reduce reliance on irregular migration routes. And if properly designed (i.e., on the basis of rigorous data analysis) such policies could target work permits to industries and geographic locations that would benefit the most. In addition, both the US and EU should promote policies aimed at fostering sustainable development in poorer countries.64 Increased funding for foreign aid is a clear example of a step that industrialized countries can take to this end, as is supporting the budgets of international institutions engaged in development work. The US and EU should also lead efforts to combat climate change. 

Along with policies to promote safe and orderly movement of people, migrant integration needs to be at the top of policymakers’ agendas in both the US and EU. A country’s ability to integrate migrants into broader society is essential for minimizing the economic, social, and security costs of migration, and thus maximizing its benefits.65 For example, studies have identified a strong correlation between integration policies and the public’s perceived level of threat from immigrants. While correlation does not imply causation, this is consistent with the idea that inclusive integration policies have potential to minimize perceived threats (thus promoting social cohesion), while the opposite is true of exclusionary policies.66 However, unlike other policy areas where many experts agree on what needs to be done (e.g., develop pan-European migration framework or provide a path to citizenship for immigrants brought to the US as children), there is likely no specific “one-size-fits-all” integration “recipe,” since countries have had different (and longer vs. shorter) experiences with migration.67 Nonetheless, there is broad recognition that integration is a “multidimensional process” involving access to education, healthcare, labor markets, etc., and that failure in one aspect is tied to outcomes in another.68 Additionally, civil society and international organizations have recently given increased attention to integration policies around the world, leading to increased efforts to study best practices and gather data to aid policymakers.69 While a review of the merits of different integration measures is beyond the scope of this paper, it is essential to highlight that policymakers (particularly in the US and EU) must devote significant efforts to developing integration policy suitable for each country. Such efforts should of course be grounded on the increasing body of research regarding what has worked (or not worked) in other places in the past. 

Additionally, the international community as a whole must take several steps to improve the management of forced migration and refugee situations. At the institutional level, international actors can take various measures to improve global management of migration and refugee crises, particularly within the UN system. This should include taking formal steps to manage the impact of climate-induced migration. One possibility would be to expand the refugee definition in the 1951 Convention to include people who lose national protection as a result of climate change (e.g., as in the case of island nations that will likely cease to exist due to rising sea levels). Such measures should be accompanied by new processes and resources allocated to assist people displaced by climate change, even if they do not fully lose national protection. 

Observers frequently note that, when the UN Security Council issues a resolution condemning an action or conflict that could lead to population displacements, it rarely supports these measures with a clear mandate for action or resources to support peacekeeping operations.70 One possible (albeit difficult) option might be to amend the UN Charter to require such resolutions to include a clear mandate for action, an action plan, and an allocation of resources to further the aims of each resolution. 

Coordinating humanitarian operations, which often involve peacekeeping forces from multiple different countries as well as military forces, has also proven a challenge.71 Here the UN could benefit from harmonizing the training provided to peacekeeping forces among member states. The UN should also establish clear policies and procedures to govern the interaction between peacekeeping and military forces, which could reduce tensions, improve coordination, and increase predictability in peacekeeping operations. Additionally, the large amount of international institutions and agencies (both within and outside the UN system) involved in humanitarian intervention and crisis management has also presented coordination challenges during previous crises.72 The recent integration of the IOM into the UN system is a welcome development in this regard, since it should contribute to smoother information sharing and collaboration between the various entities involved in managing migration and refugee crises. Similarly, the cluster approach to managing conflicts has improved predictability and coordination during crisis response.73 

Perhaps the most needed change – and the most difficult to achieve – is reforming the Security Council system that allows any veto-wielding member (collectively the “P5”) to singlehandedly derail efforts to seek political solutions to conflicts. Although the introduction of the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) concept was an encouraging development, the Syrian conflict has demonstrated that R2P is only useful when Security Council members are already in agreement.74 The Director-General of the UN in Geneva is among the experts who have called for restructuring the UN Security Council.75 Among the many proposals to amend the Security Council and the veto system, however, the only point of agreement seems to be the near-impossibility of reforming the system, as it would require the unlikely acquiescence of the P5.  Political scientist David Bosco, for example, argues that the veto system is impossible to change; and that a less-than-effective Security Council in its current state is better than no Security Council at all, which he considers the only other possibility.76 Others acknowledge the difficulty in reaching an agreement, but argue that the US should nonetheless call for abolishing the veto. Such a measure would elicit widespread support among the non-veto wielding UN members, and put the “onus of obstruction” on the P5 states that oppose it.77 The UN General Assembly has discussed potential reforms to the veto system, with proposals including abolishing the system, restricting the use of veto power, and expanding permanent membership and granting veto power to new members.78 This paper takes the position that the P5 should commit to seriously assessing the issue and reaching an agreement. Even if the P5 cannot agree to abolish the veto, establishing limitations to its use would be an improvement, and opposition to such reforms would likely draw international condemnation that could influence behavior in the long term.

Budget shortfalls within the UN system, particularly UNHCR, constitute an additional institutional obstacle to managing migration.79 Member countries thus need to recognize that the work of such agencies in responding to humanitarian crises and refugee situations is not only a moral issue. Ensuring the protection of refugees, including successful resettlement or return, can promote conflict resolution and reconstruction and lower the chances of radicalization among victims of conflict. Therefore, providing adequate funding for the work of these agencies should be a priority.  The private sector also has a role to play in providing funding to support the successful operations of UNHCR and other important international agencies. 

Finally, the international community, led by the UN, UNHCR, and civil society groups should work to increase public awareness of migration issues. Such a publicity campaign must aim to debunk the myths commonly associated with migration, and educate the public with well-supported facts and figures regarding migration. If public opinion constitutes one of the main impediments to sensible policy reform, then governments, international institutions, and civil society have an urgent responsibility to educate the public on the realities faced by migrants, the benefits that could be reaped form more effective management of migration, and – importantly – the damaging consequences we will face in the case of inaction. Once again, Director-General Møller of the UN office in Geneva has highlighted our failures in conveying the realities of migration, and called upon the international community to remedy this. 

To conclude, this paper has largely focused on policy reforms that could be undertaken by the US and EU because these entities have the most resources, and could thus make a large positive impact if politics did not stand in the way. However, it must be emphasized that the developing world is currently doing most of the work – with many less resources – in confronting the worst humanitarian crises of our era. This is most evident in the cases of Lebanon, Jordan, and Turkey, all emerging economies that are nonetheless housing the overwhelming majority of displaced Syrians,80 and in the fact that Kenya has housed the world’s largest refugee camp for the past two decades. The industrialized world would thus do well to remember its own times of need in devising migration policies that are pragmatic, yet anchored upon our common humanity. Scenes of Hungarian police forcibly removing Syrians from Austria-bound trains, for example, served as a powerful reminder that Hungarians themselves sought refuge in Austria as little as 60 years ago. In keeping Germany’s doors relatively open, Chancellor Merkel has shown true leadership informed by historical perspective, even if her policies face increasing pressure in the months to come. And regardless of who sits in the Oval Office, the Statue of Liberty will continue to stand tall in New York harbor, the engraving on its pedestal reminding everyone of the United States’ true history: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.”81 It rests on this generation of policymakers to reform our institutional and legal framework for migration in line with these values. This will be difficult, certainly, but not impossible; for possibility in the face of challenge is, after all, perhaps the most quintessential of American and European values.  

Irene Rivera Calderón grew up in Vega Baja, a small coastal town in Puerto Rico where she first became interested in migration and development issues. Prior to the Puerto Rican debt crisis of the past several years, which has begun to reverse migration trends in the region, Puerto Rico was an important destination for Dominicans and Haitians fleeing poverty and violence via dangerous maritime routes. She is currently a first-year international development concentrator at SAIS Europe, focusing on finance and development. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 2012 with a BA in international relations and minors in economics, Chinese, and international development. Prior to attending SAIS, she was an Associate at Promontory Financial Group in New York City.