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What do Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson have in common?
They both have come up with extreme solutions to deal with illegal immigrants coming across their borders. And they both have met with strong opposition even from their friends.
Abbott tried to seize control of immigration policy by having Texas inspect every truck coming from Mexico until that country would slow the cascade of immigrants. Business and trade groups strongly opposed his policy as supply chain problems multiplied while trucks backed up for miles.
Eventually, he retreated after receiving assurances from neighboring Mexican states that they would slow the flow. His success may turn out to be more political than real. He faces reelection this year, so at least he may benefit.
Johnson’s government reached an agreement with Rwanda, a distant African country, to send there by charter flights the illegal immigrants picked up on British beaches. His own officials were stunned by the cost, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, at the top of the Church of England, flatly condemned the move.
The British arrivals come across the English Channel after passing through France. Brexit took the United Kingdom out of the European Union, so it lacks any special influence with the French.
Unlike the U.K., the U.S. has a special relationship with Mexico through the three-way trade pact linking the two countries and Canada. But it provides little more cooperation than Johnson gets from France. About 1.7 million immigrants have been turned away under anti-COVID rules.
Economic hardship and political repression have caused waves of immigration into Europe and America. Britain and the U.S. are among countries seen as providing a free society and economic opportunity, and they have become the goal of migrant populations.
The advocates of low barriers to immigration believe that a nation benefits from the addition of new cultures and that immigrants can expand the economy. Those defending borders worry about threats to their national culture and traditional politics and possibly heavy new demands for public assistance.
The result has been political paralysis. Faced with a crisis demanding resolution, governments have been unable to resolve immigration issues, allowing the situation to deteriorate.
Trade has seemed to provide the kind of openness that is disputed when it comes to migration. The World Trade Organization lowers barriers and allows a relatively free flow of goods. In theory, trade brings prosperity and wealthier nations are likely to prefer commerce to conflict. Prosperity should remove a major cause of migration.
This faith in the political power of trade has not worked. The close trade relationship between Britain and Europe brought benefit to both sides, but not enough to overcome British objections to unlimited immigration from fellow EU members. Those objections were a major reason for Brexit.
Beyond that, the WTO was meant to be open only to free market countries that could not game the system. China and Russia were admitted to encourage them to move toward open markets more rapidly. The resulting prosperity was expected to make them less of a threat to peace.
But both have stifled markets. China under Xi Jinping has returned the Communist Party to economic control. And Russia is letting its lust for Ukraine destroy its trade ties with much of the world.
In short, failing world trade cooperation and the unregulated flow of millions of people are linked and are growing more troublesome. They make the world less stable, less safe. Together, they may be the most pressing international issues.
Politicians in the U.S. and elsewhere accept inaction, apparently believing that the chaos is politically more appealing than compromise. Yet China’s expansionism, Russia’s attack on Ukraine, America’s and Britain’s problems at their southern borders are all evidence that matters are growing worse.
In recent months, Western countries have drawn closer in the face of increasing challenges from China and Russia. A stronger and larger alliance has emerged. Each nation has its own policies, but Ukraine now shows that each has a better chance of success through common action.
The West should deny Russia and China favorable trade arrangements and, if possible, expel them from the WTO. Right now, free trade yields those countries the cash to finance their expansion. They can no longer make the case that they deserve continued trade preferences to promote their development.
Countries are learning that immigration cannot be controlled at the border but must be slowed at the source. Having failed to deal successfully with refugees on their own, the countries of the newly revived Western alliance might now try to develop a common and, if possible, coordinated immigration policy.
The new shared sense of purpose of an alliance extending from Estonia to Australia could increasingly counter Chinese and Russian ambitions. It could start with immigration and trade.