In a world that has gotten much smaller, how we treat migrants will play an outsize role in defining the influence of liberal democracies.
Vladimir Putin’s heinous attack on Ukraine has brought war to Europe’s doorstep. In the early stages of a humanitarian relief effort expected to cost billions of dollars, approximately 500,000 Ukrainians have sought refuge in neighboring nations. Whether or not the conflict crosses borders, it is clear a 21st century Cold War has begun at a time when we are seeing record numbers of people forcibly displaced across the globe.
Tens of thousands of Ukrainians will end up in nationalist countries such as Poland, Hungary or Austria. Countries that generously welcome Ukrainians after having recently barred refugees from the Middle East and beyond. Chancellor Karl Nehammer of Austria, for example, recently said, “It’s different in Ukraine than in countries like Afghanistan. We’re talking about neighborhood help.”
Poland’s deputy interior minister, Maciej Wąsik described Ukrainians as “real refugees” in need of help and that the Polish government “absolutely won’t say no to helping them, in line with the Geneva conventions.”
In light of the fact there are over 82 million forcibly displaced people in the world — not counting the Afghan evacuation, much less the crisis in Ukraine — this is an opportunity to learn from history and make for a better future.
As I describe in Crossing Borders: The Reconciliation of a Nation of Immigrants, realizing the United States was in a global fight between communism and democracy, President Eisenhower came to see immigration policy as part of a broader strategy for how the United States could extend its values across the world. On a parallel track, however, his administration deported some 1.3 million undocumented Mexicans via “Operation Wetback.”
One action a demonstration of the best of the United States; the other, a blot on our history.
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