About Our Guest
David Leblang is Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia as well as Faculty Associate at the Miller Center where he is J. Wilson Newman Professor of Governance. He is also Professor of Public Policy at UVA’s Batten School for Leadership and Public Policy. David Leblang has served as Department Chair of the Department of Politics since 2010. Among other things, he specializes in international political economy and international immigration. Professor Leblang served as consultant to the International Monetary Fund, the Director to Finance and Economics of the European Commission and the Department of Defense. His work has appeared in numerous journals inclusive of International Organization, The American Political Science Review, World Politics and The American Journal of Political Science. In 2006 with William Bernhard he co-authored Democratic Processes and the Financial Markets. He presently serves on the steering committee of the International Political Economy Society and is also editor of SSRN’s International Political Economy’s Migration eJournal. Before his arrival at UVA in 2008, Professor Leblang taught at William and Mary, the University of Colorado and the University of North Texas. He was a visiting scholar in the European Commission’s Directorate of Economics and Finance. He has also been the recipient of research grants from the National Science Foundation. David Leblang has written on the politics of economic growth, the causes of currency crises and the connection between elections and economic expectations. He is currently working on two extensive projects—one of which examines the origins and ramifications of international migration.
Jan Paynter: Hello. I’m Jan Paynter and I would like to welcome you once again to our program Politics Matters. Today we are very pleased to welcome back to the program Professor David Leblang, Chairman of the UVA Department of Politics to discuss the economic impacts of worldwide migration, taking as our focus the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Welcome back to the program, Professor.
David Leblang: Thanks for having me.
Jan Paynter: A prominent example of problems resulting from widespread European refugee crises focus on Germany and we’ve eluded to this. Germany has been much in the news as Angela Merkel’s initially welcoming and humanitarian response has begun to produce resentment and significant backlash as we know. Your colleague, Professor David Martin, has written a transient piece examining Merkel’s policy missteps entitled What Angela Merkel’s New Refugee Policy Misses and in it he notes five points that I thought were very important to discuss. One, the major cost incurred by receiving communities. We’ve talked a little bit about that. Transient countries such as Hungary that are ill equipped to handle logistical burdens. Mechanisms to restrain the refugee flow as he sees it are often inhumane. Then we have the issue of security risks as a result of poorly managed checkpoints. And finally, as many of us know well, fearmongering parties exploiting the situation for electoral advantage. Now his solution, as you know, is to set up processing in the first asylum countries and then move them to approved countries instead of sending them through without proper security clearance; ie. to strive for cooperation as you mentioned between EU countries in order to set up an orderly quota resettlement departure model therefore targeting immigration flow to states in need of economic boosts which would be helpful. What are your thoughts on David Martin’s analysis and possible solution?
David Leblang: So I think David’s hit it right on the money when he thinks about these five points and where Merkel has had missteps. One of the real challenges is trying to deal with or manage a migration crisis of this magnitude at the time when it occurred. So if we go back prior to the summer of 2015, Europe was dealing with a very different problem and that was the problem of the sovereign debt crisis that was occurring across southern Europe. So you had Greece and Spain and Ireland and Cyprus and Portugal, all of which had to reschedule and renegotiate the terms of a bailout of their sovereign debt. And so during the proc…during the time when this is unfolding, you had a large amount of migration. It wasn’t a crisis in the sense that people are talking about now but you had a lot of migration that was moving from Southern Europe into Northern Europe and a lot of that migration was comprised of individuals who had arrived in Southern Europe from North Africa as a result of the Arab Spring and the Syrian Civil War. So you had a lot of individuals that were already in motion within Europe when the refugee crisis occurred. So you have Angela Merkel who is trying to manage a few different things at the same time. She’s trying to manage her labor markets which were being…I don’t want to say overrun but were being challenged by the influx of Southern Europeans. You have now the influx of refugees who most…by most accounts people thought were coming primarily from Syria and they were well-educated, highly educated, middle class or above only to learn a month or two months after the fact that it wasn’t 100 percent Syrians. It was maybe 65 percent Syrians and then there were Iraqi refugees, Afghanis, Southern Africans from different crisis or conflict torn regions that were also at the same time trying to enter Europe and get to Germany. So she’s trying to manage a number of different problems at the same time that she’s got to negotiate with the two political parties. She’s the leader of a coalition not a single party and so she’s got to deal with intraparty competition and intraparty squabbling over what to do with the refugees on the back of having to manage that interparty negotiation because Germany had come to the aid of Greece three times.
Jan Paynter: She has a very formidable task. It’s astonishing.
David Leblang: Yes, pretty amazing the set of crises that have confronted Europe just in the last 18 months.
Jan Paynter: It is. Yeah, interesting you raise the issue of where they would be settled because one of the political issues that has come to the fore has to do with some 30 governors who have signed onto the idea that they will not accept Syrian refugees and in fact, as we discussed on the break, they are not entitled to make that decision. That is a federal decision and goes back to stipulations having to do with the 14th Amendment. But… So there’s a great deal of misinformation out there I think and also a great deal of gendup fear.
David Leblang: I think that’s right and yet it is interesting to see when governor’s think that they make national policy and they don’t. At the same time, governors are acutely aware of the fact that they have responsibility for what occurs within their states and the federal government in the views of some of these governors has dropped the ball when it comes to protecting the border, especially if you ask governors from southern states. So it cuts both ways when you think about who has the responsibility legally and then socially to implement different kinds of policies. But at the end of the day, the governors don’t have the authority, certainly not the legal authority and I would argue they don’t have the moral authority to exclude anybody from residing in their states. Where they do have authority, and this is something that is important to recognize, is starting in and about the middle of the 2000s—so 2005, 2006—states began to enact a large number of policies to deal with illegal or undocumented migrants. So the requirements having to do with what kinds of documents individuals would need in order to qualify for in-state tuition or to get a driver’s license. You remember the hubbub surrounding E-Verify and workplace enforcement, raids by the Immigration and…by Immigration and Customs Enforcement or ICE. Those sorts of regulation and stipulations differed state by state because that is where state legislatures and governors have authority when it comes to the governance of documents that are issued by the state. But again, that pertained to individuals who had entered the country illegally. If we’re talking about Syrians or if we’re thinking about refugees or immigrants who have entered legally, then what we said a moment ago is exactly correct that governors do not have the authority to override who… They don’t have the ability to decide who gets in and who gets access to citizenship rights or rights according to anybody else who’s living in your state.
Jan Paynter: Well, this is an interesting time to be having these discussions because as we know the Supreme Court is going to take up a challenge to what some people see as Obama exceeding his authority in wanting to accept four million or five million parents of children who are born here and are U.S. citizens. Many people want to see that the families remain intact, that obviously was part of his thinking, but they will…the Supremes will make this decision, they’ll get it in April as I understand it and by June they’ll have a decision. So that’s going to be a very interesting ruling.
David Leblang: It’s interesting for so many different reasons. The timing is fascinating when you think about the fact that we will be deep in the midst of a presidential campaign and if the Supreme Court says no, this will be a huge boon to the Democratic party because one can easily imagine that this is an area where they will rally and motivate some of their base who may otherwise not feel like they need to turn out in this election and again, it’s conjecture whether they will or not, but it certainly will be a rallying cry if the Supreme Court says no. At the same time, if the Supreme Court says yes, one could easily see the Democratic candidate coming out and saying, ‘Look, this is what the Democratic Party has already done and will continue to do for you.’ So I think the timing on the part of the Supreme Court is a win for the Democrat…for the Democratic candidate.
Jan Paynter: That’s interesting.
David Leblang: I think the Republicans probably would have been far better off if the Court had declined to hear this appeal.
Jan Paynter: That is fascinating because a lot of people would think of it in reverse which is that if it’s a defeat so to speak for the President you would assume that that would bolster the candidate’s claims on the other side. That’s quite interesting.
David Leblang: It might bolster their claims but it’s not going to empower the electorate to turn out.
Jan Paynter: I see.
David Leblang: Right? So again, both parties look for an area to rally those individuals who may otherwise not have an inclination to turn out. And this is why…going back to this question of Obama’s executive order, this is where I think the domestic electoral politics of immigration are really fascinating. I can’t think of another issue that has been so heavily politicized during a political campaign whether we’re talking about the present campaign or the last three or four presidential campaigns. Immigration has been an important electoral issue and then nothing happens. And I cannot think of another issue where that pattern occurs. I’m part of a project over at the Miller Center where we’re focusing on the first year of a presidential administration and so we’re looking at all the different sorts of things that presidents can and have to do during their first year and one of the issues that I’m involved in looks at immigration and again, I’m of the opinion that presidents are more likely than not to just punt on immigration when it comes to building a coalition with the legislature. So I would argue and expect that we will see if any immigration policy gets passed by the next president, it will be via executive action.
Jan Paynter: It’s so interesting because in reading I’ve done for this program, over and over again economist after economist certifies the idea that immigration, acceptance of refugees, is a net positive for the country and yet the perception coming from politicians and among the populace for a variety of reasons that we touched on is quite different.
David Leblang: Well, but part of it makes…part of it is the same sense that we can make when economists come out and say there is no downside to international trade so that we should open our borders to international trade because the empirical evidence and the theoretical models all say that everybody is…everybody when we think about this at the country level, all countries are made better off by engaging in a free…in free trade of commodities and likewise all countries are made better off if we open our borders to the free mobility of individuals. Where things differ is when we think about the distributional consequences within the country. So increasing immigration or increasing trade, all us equal, increases economic welfare and GDP and economic growth in the United States. The question is, how is that growth distributed?
Jan Paynter: Distributed, yes.
David Leblang: And whenever we think about any policy change there’s going to be winners and there’s going to be losers and what we see during political campaigns is you see policymakers, politicians I should say are trying to figure out the policy issue that is going to rally the constituents that they want to rally.
Jan Paynter: Well, exactly and as we spoke about on an earlier program, the end result of gerrymandering is often you need a very narrow slice of the populace to push through the legislation that you want.
David Leblang: That’s correct. Yeah, it has made electoral politics interesting in the sense that… Well, again, if we think not just about presidential politics but if we think about House races, what is it, something like 90 percent of all House seats are uncontested.
Jan Paynter: Exactly.
David Leblang: Some ridiculous number like that and so if you think about the kinds of issues that policymakers need to appeal to, it’s issues that will make sure that they can get those safe districts and make sure that they don’t lose a large enough or too large of a portion of the marginal districts. It’s just like the electoral college in the United States when you think that there’s only a handful of states that a party needs to win in order to win the White House and you think about why you don’t see…why you see a lot of political advertising in Virginia or Florida or Ohio but there’s probably no political advertising in California or New York or Texas because those states are solidly Democrat or Republic so the candidates don’t have to appeal to the voters in those states. Democrats aren’t going to spend their time in Texas, Republicans aren’t going to spend their time in California or New York. They’re going to spend all their time in a handful of states because they win those states because they win those states and they win the election.
Jan Paynter: It’s precisely why nonpartisan judges really should be presiding over this process so the districts are fairly apportioned. It’s a subject that we’ve discussed on this program a number of times. I think actually on both sides of the aisle people are frustrated by this but it doesn’t seem likely to change any time soon.
David Leblang: Well, because elected officials want to stay in office.
Jan Paynter: They want to stay in, exactly. Exactly. And winning the seat is a little bit like getting the effort prize when you’re a kid. It doesn’t necessarily signify a lot.
David Leblang: When the rubber hits the road, are you going to be in favor of reform that puts your seat at risk or are you going to be in favor of maintaining the status quo so that you can push forward and push through the policies that you and presumably your constituents believe in?
Jan Paynter: One of the things that I thought was interesting is Obama’s tightening of the visa waiver program, partly in response to pressure. I think partly out of genuine concern having to do with security risks. Do you think that this will do anything to increase the level of security with the idea that as we talked about earlier it would be a heavy lift for a terrorist to wait one, two or three years to come in with all the restrictions on Syrian refugees and the hoops they have to jump through, might be a lot easier to come through Europe more freely under the program. So will this have a positive effect on security in your view?
David Leblang: Individuals, especially after what happened in Paris and after what happened in San Bernardino, people are scared and so any sort of effort that the President or policymakers make with an eye towards claiming that it’s going to make individuals safe, hopefully that has the effect of making them feel safe. Whether in point of fact it actually has a measurable or demonstrable effect, it’s very difficult to prove because the counter factual is what would have happened had you not strengthened the visa waiver program. And in point of fact, there’s almost no instance… In fact, I recall hearing only of one instance where a resettled refugee was involved in anything that in any way, shape or form was connected to international terrorism.
Jan Paynter: Oh, yeah, there’s just one. Absolutely.
David Leblang: And I think…again, if memory serves, that instance had to do with alleged financing or money that was being transferred to a terrorist organization.
Jan Paynter: It was unproven.
David Leblang: That’s my recollection. But that’s the only allegation I know of so the idea that’s being fomented or that is fomenting, the idea is one that is being…that is gaining political purchase again for political reasons as we’ve discussed. It becomes a political football during a campaign season but it is not something that, again if we look at the evidence and we look at the data, there’s any relationship to what’s happening…what’s happened on the ground. The one other instance I can mention is the Boston bombers. My recollection of that episode was those…the Boston bombers, their parents had come in as refugees but they had grown up here, they’d been settled, they’d gone to school. They were American. They just hadn’t been born in the United States. So again, the idea here is that Obama or I think any president would do what they can to try and make Americans feel more secure whether it has an effect… I’m skeptical because there just wasn’t a problem to begin with. And circling back to something you raised when you asked the question, the way that the United States processes refugees, it’s not as if we are going to hypothetically say, ‘Well, let’s let in 25,000 or 100,000 more refugees.’ They’re not all showing up in February or in March, they’re not showing up in six weeks. It’s going to take one, two or three years depending upon how many different screenings and how long the backlog takes because they’re screened by DHS and the FBI, sometimes the CIA. The screening is fairly intense.
Jan Paynter: Well, another thing that I find very interesting and you raised the issue of perception versus reality, there’s…fear has such a strong impact on economic matters and right now it feels as though that is driving…it’s driving our country to some extent, it’s certainly driving the markets, having to do with other issues but after the Paris attacks there was such tremendous fear of the other.
David Leblang: Think about who the other is. Think about the immigration into the United States in the early 20th century when there was the fear of the Catholic. So it wasn’t fear of a different skin color, it was a fear of somebody of a different religion, the fear that they were going to answer to the Pope and not to the president.
Jan Paynter: And we’re back there actually.
David Leblang: Right.
Jan Paynter: Entirely afraid…the idea that…and I guess this gets me quite exercised when I hear people saying, ‘We will only accept Christian refugees.’ That is astonishing to me given our constitution and the founders’ positions on that.
David Leblang: And again, to most people we see that just as…that that’s political posturing because it is technically impossible. You can ask somebody…you can have them take an oath but if you believe that somebody is going to… If somebody’s going to be a criminal or somebody’s going to be a terrorist, what’s going to prevent them from lying on that oath? How are you going to test and see whether somebody is a Christian or not? Do you need to get a letter from their priest or from their minister in order to allow them into the United States? Some of these proposals are laughable in the extreme because you think…there’s no way that you can ascertain this. Is the question we’re only going to take refugees from primarily Christian or Catholic or Protestant countries? Well, that presumes that the individuals leaving those countries and claiming asylum are Christian or Catholic or Protestant or Jewish or what have you so the idea that there’s a religious litmus test is…again it’s preposterous not just for normative and moral reasons but just in terms of the technicality. You could not carry it out.
Jan Paynter: Well, and we have seen examples of Christian terrorists, we’ve seen examples of people having a view of Christianity that sanctions murder in certain cases in a clinic against a doctor. Is that…
David Leblang: Yitzhak Rabin was killed by Jews in Israel. So no religious or ethnic group has a monopoly on violence either against their own countrymen or against others.
Jan Paynter: That’s why it seems an extraordinary test to put people to.
David Leblang: Remember Timothy McVeigh and again we can talk about terrorist incidents, homegrown terrorists that we see in every country. Not all… I don’t know if it’s the majority but a large number of terrorist incidents are carried out by individuals…are carried out by people who were born and raised or are members of that political community.
Jan Paynter: It’s true and there is a lot of…when they looked at immigrants, sometimes second and third generations posed statistically greater risk and you would have thought just the opposite—that they were here, they were assimilated, they went to school, they had friends. Not necessarily. So it’s very hard to work that out. And we talked earlier about the fact that Germany may in fact suspend the Schengen of rule which allows people in the EU to travel across 26 countries and that would indeed perhaps spell the end of the EU in many people’s views. Thank you very much for being here today. It was a true pleasure and a great learning experience for all of us.
David Leblang: Thank you for having me.
Jan Paynter: I want to conclude our conversation today by referencing a recent Washington Post article which stresses that short term thinking is the enemy of a positive result for host countries. Likewise, Simon Nixon of The Wall Street Journal observes that long term success is strongly dependent on the political support from migrant or refugee absorption. Politics will continue to play a critical role in determining the outcome of the Syrian refugee crisis affecting the lives of countless human beings. Politics matters. Thank you at home for joining our conversation. If you would like more information concerning the topic under discussion today, we invite you to take a look at our website at politicsmatters.org. We will be posting a number of books, articles and relevant links on many of the issues under discussion today there for you. You will also find a complete archive of all prior Politics Matters programs which you may watch in their entirety at any time. We will be posting extended versions of the interviews online on our site as well and will continue to be adding more content. As always, we are very interested in hearing from you with ideas, questions and concerns for future programming. We encourage you to email us at email@example.com. We are on PBS WVPT on the second and last Sunday of every month at 11:30 am. Thank you again and until next we meet, I’m Jan Paynter and this is Politics Matters.