By Joseph Hammond*
HAVANA TIMES – Migration, mass movements of the desperate and the dispossessed from north and central Africa, from Syria-Iraq’s wars, from the subcontinent, is both Europe’s biggest problem and its most misunderstood. Angela Merkel’s reelection only underscores this point.
When nearly one million Syrians sought shelter within the borders of the European Union in 2015, two things became clear to German officials: they couldn’t say with certainty where the asylum seekers really came or if refugees had registered under different names for the sake of getting financial aid multiple times.
Adding to the confusion, people other than those from the war-torn Syria had posed as Syrian refugees, throwing away their passports while en route to Europe. Only later, with the help translators and natives from Syria, the German government was able to distinguish between legitimate refugees to be protected under the Geneva Convention and economic migrant.
As the migration crisis continues—and it is a crisis because even Europe’s vast wealth cannot feed and house the many millions who seek to come indefinetly—it is now painfully obvious that the old answers no longer suffice. New policies are needed for this new age.
As European Union governments grope for solutions, some suggest doing the same old things in new places. They suggest building migration centers in North Africa to house the refugees in place and deter smugglers, who take the travelers few remaining valuables in payment for dangerous trip in leaky raft.
This idea is controversial both in Europe and in Africa, albeit for different reasons. Europeans fear the centers would become inhumane slums while African government fear that they would become bases for crime and sedition. Yet, even if this highly controversial measure could be applied, the central problems remain: how to ensure the identity of migrants and to avoid double or triple counting?
Still others suggest blocking all asylum seekers for some time. This is as realistic as holding back the sea, as Canute tried.
Perhaps it is time for Europe to look across the Atlantic at Canada and the U.S., where different migration solutions have been tried.
Canada admits migrants according a point system, rewarding education, work experience and investment income. As a result, it has attracted some of the best educated and wealthiest people in the world, including Hong Kong Chinese, Indians and South Africans. By contrast, Europe evaluates asylum seekers based on their suffering, attracting those who have endured torture and persecution. In theory, Europe’s way rights the world’s wrongs. In reality, Canada’s migrants create jobs and pay taxes while Europe’s tend to consume more services.
In the United States immigration policy has in many ways reversed under the current administration. A rhetoric that has sought dramatic limits to immigration has been backed up by action. In 2016, 15,479 Syrian refugees were resettled in the United States. Only 3,024 were allowed in during 2017. So far only 11 have been let in this year. The Trump administration has failed to convince congress of the need to build a border wall with Mexico but, it has deployed National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexican border.
Despite the president’s talk of walls and deportations, other new approaches have sprung up. Consider that, on any given day, the U.S. is housing some 400,000 illegal migrants in grim detention centers ringed with chain-link fences. Each detainee costs the U.S. government more than $100 per day to shelter, feed, clothe, clean, treat and guard. Most could legally be released if they could post a bond, ranging between $5,000 and $50,000, but they have no assets and no income so the bond remains a polite fiction.
Now two Verona, Virginia-based entrepreneurs, Mike Donovan and Richard Moore, are changing that cruel reality. Their private company, Libre by Nexus, contracts with bail bonds outfits to post the bonds for that have been jailed due to their immigration status. Those interested in the program are informed Libre by Nexus that it is a private company not part of the government or ICE and if they enroll in the program they will be wearing a GPS device.
When they are released, a Libre by Nexus staffer, who speaks their language, picks them up and takes them to a restaurant
The program participant is often scared, they often don’t speak the language they may not even have family in the States. Helping the program participant requires a relationship of trust. The meal allows the two parties to cement the relationship to establish trust to treat them with kindness and show humanity and respect to them. Often rare commodities for someone who has just spent weeks or months in custody.
Libre by Nexus often sends a car to carry them to all of their government-ordered hearings and legal meetings. For these services and monitoring, Libre by Nexus charges a monthly program payment. Libre by Nexus does not set the amount of the bonds, federal judges do. Libre by Nexus maintains a 24-hour call center, staffed with speakers of Spanish, Portuguese, French and several African languages, to assist migrants in their transition to living in the U.S.
The benefits are dramatic. Currently, Libre by Nexus has helped, freed, and tracked over 28,000 people—saving the federal government more than $100 million. The social benefits are even bigger. Thousands of families have been reunited, allowing children to grow up with their parents beside them, not jailed awaiting a distant hearing that could send them out of the country and out of their lives. On average, children with fathers present tend to avoid gangs, crime, drugs and teen pregnancies. Once freed, virtually all Libre by Nexus program participants find legitimate jobs, adding to the economy as they navigate the immigration bureaucracy.
Still, there are critics. Human-rights groups say Libre by Nexus is taking unethical advantage of immigration trends and that the GPS tracker is humiliating stigmata.
“What’s the alternative?” asks CEO Mike Donovan, “a dangerous and dirty prison cell? What do the critics want, to let these people suffer in chains and never see their children grow up?” Besides, no court or government official has ordered anyone to hire Libre by Nexus; everyone joins the program voluntary.
Most Libre by Nexus program participants have no trouble explaining the GPS tracker to co-workers without embarrassment. Indeed, Libre by Nexus in large part has grown through by word-of-mouth. Until Libre by Nexus most individuals in immigration cases did not have an option to leave their prison cells ahead of their court dates.
Donovan, himself a former prisoner, says he designed his start-up on the basis of his own unhappy experiences with the prison industry.
He understands firsthand the pain and frustration of incarceration as well as the joy of freedom, even with an ankle bracelet. One Libre by Nexus success story, a Spanish-speaking pastor, said he would “gladly wear ten bracelets to avoid one more day in prison.”
*Joseph Hammond has written several reports and commentaries for Havana Times.