Immigration is Donald Trump’s signature issue. With regard to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Venezuela, the United States could be doing much more to help the nation’s 30 million people. Trump finds himself in an awkward position: on the one hand, he (along with his Brazilian and Colombian counterparts Jair Bolsonaro and Ivan Duque) has been a tireless foe of Nicolas Maduro’s increasingly dictatorial government and has stood with the Venezuelan people (90% of whom oppose the Chavista movement). On the other hand, he has to serve up the proverbial “red meat” to his base, a cornerstone of which is his tough-on-immigration stance.
Before we discuss exactly what the United States could or should do, it would behoove us to approach the matter from a pragmatic perspective. We can not take in everyone. Millions of Venezuelans would like to escape the tyranny of the Maduro regime for the economic and social freedoms of the United States. For a variety of economic and budgetary reasons, an “open borders” approach is simply unfeasible. However, American civil society should have a vigorous and spirited discussion regarding our policy towards Venezuelan immigration.
Immigration in many ways is the defining issue of our time. As Hillary Clinton astutely noted recently, “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message — ‘We are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ — because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.”
Yes, the rise of populism is certainly of concern to Western leaders of center-left to center-right tendencies. Merkel’s decision to take in over a million refugees in the wake of the Syrian Civil War was highly controversial, and came with considerable political fallout. Roiling the body politic is in many ways putting it mildly.
When it comes to questions of immigration, it is reasonable enough to consider as a primary factor the ability of the immigrants in question to be self-sufficient upon arrival. The ability of said immigrants to speak the language, find gainful employment, adapt to American culture and values, and participate in our institutions. Of course, an entirely different (and critical) dimension is humanitarian aid and need.
Donald Trump should dramatically ramp up the number of refugees and political asylum seekers, but with clear and targeted goals. We can not take in millions of Venezuelans over the course of 2019, but we certainly can do more than take in 90,000…(a number that has been throw around by the Trump administration).
Venezuela once was the economic envy of South America: waves of immigrants flocked to cities such as Caracas, Valencia, and Maracaibo as the Venezuelan economy boomed. A flood of Colombians arrived…as well as Arabs and Chinese, and workers from across the entire Latin American region. Now…these immigrants are fleeing Venezuela in droves, thanks to decades of socialist ineptitude, mismanagement, and corruption.
Venezuela has a highly educated and skilled workforce. For now, our immigration policy should be targeted primarily to professional Venezuelans. Like our Canadian brethren, it would be wise to consider a point-based system that prioritizes such skills as English language proficiency, work experience, and higher education attained.
In the meantime, we should work extensively with the Brazilian, Colombian, and Peruvian governments to shelter and feed the millions of Venezuelan refugees who have sought relief in such cities as Cucuta, Bogota, Lima, Manaus, and Boa Vista.
Guaido has set a deadline of February 23 to allow the Venezuelan military to let American and Colombian aid arrive. Maduro has consistently refused all international aid, and has placed extensive physical barriers along borders. February 23 could result in escorted military incursions into Venezuela in order to force aid into the country, in conjunction with Guaido.
The good news for Venezuela’s hapless 30 million is this: the world has finally woken up to the brutal tyranny of Maduro and his corrupt cronies. He will not be president at the end of 2019, and this is become increasingly apparent, even to him and his inner circle. More and more of the world’s countries (and virtually all of its democracies) will recognize Guaido as interim president until free and fair elections can be held.