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Cotton, Pompeo Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal “What We Learned in Scandinavia About Migrants”

September 27, 2016

What We Learned in Scandinavia About Migrants
Wall Street Journal
By: Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Congressman Mike Pompeo (R-Kansas)

We recently visited Norway and Sweden to understand more about the European migrant crisis. What we saw provides important lessons for the American immigration debate.

More than 1.5 million people have relocated to Europe over the last two years. Many are refugees from Syria, Iraq and other war-torn lands. Many are simply economic migrants leaving poorer nations. This mass migration has strained European societies and upended European politics with populist insurgencies.

Though economically and demographically similar, Norway and Sweden have adopted sharply different approaches to the policy and politics of immigration, and have reaped sharply differing outcomes.

Starting in 2015, Norway adopted an immigration policy it has termed "strict but fair." The Norwegians agreed to accept 8,000 migrants from other European nations, though they weren't obligated to do so.

Norway also established measures to stop uncontrolled migration. It imposed new border controls featuring a border fence, increased waiting periods for residency and deportation of ineligible migrants. It also reduced migrant benefits to match those offered by its neighbors. Norway even advertised in foreign nations, warning that migrants who do not face war or persecution will be deported.

The result? Asylum applications in Norway fell 95% between the last quarter of 2015 and the first quarter of 2016.

Norway is far from hardhearted. It has welcomed refugees for decades and its foreign policy prioritizes conflict resolution and humanitarian relief. But Norwegians understand that an open-border policy would strain their resources, disrupt the integration of other recently arrived immigrants, and undercut the legitimate desire of Norwegians to preserve their nation's culture and character.

Also significant: Norway's political system has effectively accommodated a broad spectrum of views on immigration. The Progress Party, the traditional home for immigration skeptics, has won the second- or third-largest share of seats in the Norwegian Parliament since the 1990s. Rather than shun Progress, as has happened to similar parties in many European countries, mainstream leaders welcomed it into the political debate and, eventually, into the governing coalition. As one government leader explained to us, "In Norway, we discuss every issue and concern. Nothing is out of bounds."

Contrast this with Sweden's approach. Sweden threw open its doors in 2013, offering Syrian refugees permanent residency. Asylum applications from across the world-not just Syria-spiked. Sweden has since received more than 280,000 migrants, and counting. That is by far the most migrants per capita of any EU nation and akin to the U.S. adding the population of Michigan. These migrants are disproportionately poor, young, male, undereducated, conservatively Muslim and possess virtually no Swedish-language skills.

This radical policy occurred with little debate because political correctness pervades Sweden. They even have a term for the phenomenon: åsiktskorridor, or "the opinion corridor." Any questions about the economic, fiscal and cultural impact of an immediate influx of migrants clearly lay outside the corridor; asking them could result in accusations of xenophobia or racism.

But these questions are real and they reflect legitimate concerns for the Swedish people. Because conventional political parties didn't respond to public concern, a controversial immigration-restrictionist party, the Sweden Democrats, more than doubled its vote share in the 2014 elections and became the third-largest party in parliament. The left and the right refused to work with the Sweden Democrats, creating a hamstrung minority government.

Faced with growing public dissatisfaction, the Swedish government finally relented and imposed border controls and other restrictions this summer. But not before committing more than 7% of its 2016 budget to migrant services, with costs set to steadily increase. No one knows where the new money will come from, where many of the recent migrants will live or work, or what the ultimate social impact will be.

Sweden's failures have been repeated in Germany, France, Austria and elsewhere. Immigration was the key issue driving British votes to leave the European Union

The parallels to the U.S. immigration debate are clear. For years, a bipartisan elite consensus has favored the mass immigration of unskilled and low-skilled workers into America coupled with the legalization of millions of illegal immigrants already here. Only one thing has stopped these elites from their desired immigration policy: Two-thirds to three-quarters of Americans consistently oppose any increase in immigration.

Immigration is the central issue of Donald Trump's presidential campaign. He saw legitimate concerns about stagnant wages, low workforce-participation rates and lower levels of immigrant assimilation. He also understood that our own "opinion corridor" of political correctness largely ruled these topics out of bounds. When conventional leaders would not address their concerns, it's not surprising that Americans turned to a new voice.

One need not support Mr. Trump to acknowledge these reasonable concerns of the 14 million Republicans who voted for him in the primaries and the tens of millions who will vote for him in November. These voters are not xenophobic or racist. They simply want the priority of America's immigration policy to be the economic and social interests of American citizens.

Norwegian leaders responded to similar concerns and their country is safe and stable. Swedish leaders didn't and their country faces economic, social, and political upheaval. There is a lesson here for American elites.