Migration in a Quickly Changing World

Tensions continue to rise in the face of mass migration

By Alise Jarvis and Matthew Nakamura

Globalization refers to the integration of nations around the globe. Whether economically, politically, or culturally, the world is continually witnessing this process every year.

For most of history, people groups were kept apart. With huge natural borders and no way to communicate across long distances, most civilizations stayed largely isolated. Now, however, travel is easier than ever. The ability to migrate away from a war or poverty-stricken nation has been a defining opportunity for millions in today’s global society.

Many nations won’t always welcome newcomers with open arms. Here, we’ll take a deeper look into two countries on distant continents. There are many similarities and differences between them. But both have much to teach us about the strain that countries can face when people try to permanently relocate.


Since the 1980s, Greece has become an important transit country for those migrating to Europe from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Many refugees seeking asylum from their turbulent nations view Greece as the gateway to the European Union (EU). As a result, many undocumented migrants have found ways to cross into Greece. 

In 2010, the majority of refugees migrating into Greece shifted from entering Greece at the Mediterranean Sea border to crossing the Greece-Turkey land border. As a result, there has been an influx of illegal migration into Greece. According to the European Court of Justice, 90 percent of irregular entries into the EU occurred at Greek borders. Many of these immigrants wound up stranded in the country. 

The height of the migration crisis occurred in 2015, when Greece was the main entry point into Europe for migrants and refugees. Since then, the EU has made Greece a buffer to stop or delay migration into the rest of the mainland. Thus, thousands of asylum seekers have found themselves trapped in refugee camps on the Aegean islands. This has put stress both on the migrants and on the Greek citizens. 

Tensions Rising

Asylum seekers have continued to journey to Greece this year, despite COVID-19. Italy and Malta, two other nations used by the EU as buffers, have closed their borders in response to the pandemic, preventing migration into their nations. This, and Turkey’s decision to send thousands of immigrants to Greece’s border, has caused the strain on Greece to rise.

Fotini, a woman who lives next to the refugee camp in Lesbos, stated in a New York Times interview, “When the Syrians started coming five years ago (2015), we gave clothes, we cooked for them, we bounced their babies… five years of solidarity, we can’t take it anymore. We want our lives back.”

In 2015, the Greeks were understanding and accepting of immigrants. But after five years, they have grown frustrated and strained. After caring for the tens of thousands of migrants in refugee camps, Greece has felt they have received little assistance from the EU. To make matters worse, Turkey has begun to send tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to the Greek borders. Greece has begun to respond with hostility.

Closing Borders

The new Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, has implemented a more rigid stance against migration into Greece. Most of the immigrants are Syrian war refugees leaving through Turkey to enter Europe. As a result, tensions with Turkey have risen. Yet, Turkey itself has 3.6 million Syrian refugees and desires Europe’s aid in the Syrian war.

Greece has sometimes been accused of turning away and expelling migrants. Though true, in the past it has been infrequent and sporadic. However, the number of incidents have risen during the pandemic. Professor Crépeau, a former UN special reporter on migrants’ human rights had this to say about Greece, “They’ve seized the moment. The coronavirus has provided a window of opportunity to close national borders to whoever they’ve wanted.” 

The Greek government has decided to shut down its borders. They have begun expelling asylum seekers, temporarily suspending their application for refuge in Greece. Additionally, citizens, tired of years spent caring for refugees, have begun rounding up new migrants of their own volition. There have been reports of violent encounters with migrants at the borders, however, Greece has denied this.

Since the 1980s Greece has become a major entry point for Eastern immigrants seeking asylum in Europe. While Greece had been open and accepting to Syrian refugees and other migrants, they have been generally unable to funnel them out of the country and into Europe. As a result, Greece has grown frustrated. Reducing immigration, Greece is enforcing stricter borders and is turning away new refugees. After years of helping those in need, Greeks have begun desiring a return to the normalcy of their own lives.

The United States

The issue of Mexican immigration to the US has been a hot source of contention over the past few decades, even as Trump struggles to complete “the wall.”


Welcoming Workers

At the end of the 19th century, migrant laborers started flowing in from America’s southern neighbor. During this time of industrial revolution, new job opportunities were opening up in the American Southwest. Also during this time, the pseudoscience of eugenics was used to label Mexican immigrants as good workers; they were seen as physically strong with a high endurance level.

Because of this, Americans have historically welcomed the immigration from below. For example, Mexico was exempted from the Immigration Act of 1924; the agricultural lobby argued that farmers needed the labor in order to sow and harvest their crops effectively.

Near the end of the 20th century, however, public perception of new additions to the melting pot began to change. A 1993 article from the New York Times conveys this shift in attitude, “Immigrants are now widely perceived as an economic drag on taxpayers, sucking up health, school, police and other services while spreading crime, dirt and disease.”

Since then, much of the American South has harbored increasingly negative feelings towards the Hispanic influx, especially those who find their way in illegally.

Increasing Dissent

Wayne A. Cornelius, director of Mexican-U.S. studies at UC San Diego explains, “The economy has created the reality and perception of a zero-sum game in which citizens see themselves as pitted against immigrants. They see the quality of life declining, the state government going bankrupt. They assume it is because too many people are flooding into the state.”

This hostility toward upward migration has led to all kinds of complex situations along the U.S.-Mexico border. And many of these situations have adversely affected relations between the two North American nations.

One incident in particular pitted the two legal systems against each other. In 2010, a border guard named Jesus Mesa Jr. shot a Mexican teenage boy across the border; Mesa claimed he was fulfilling his duties as a federal agent. However, the Mexican government wanted the shooter extradited so he could be tried in a Mexican court. The U.S. refused. Furthermore, in February of this year, The US Supreme Court ruled that the boy’s parents could not sue for damages.

Justice Samuel Alito explained how threats of national security due to illegal migration influenced the decision, “Unfortunately, there is also a large volume of illegal cross-border traffic. During the last fiscal year, approximately 850,000 persons were apprehended attempting to enter the United States illegally from Mexico, and large quantities of drugs were smuggled across the border.”

Both of Trump’s appointees joined Alito in the majority opinion. Indeed, the court’s ruling was consistent with the mindset of Trump’s immigration policy thus far.

Trump’s Policies

It’s no secret that Trump has been by and large an opponent of all forms of immigration from Mexico to the United States.

According to a Forbes analysis of Trump’s immigration policy, he has focused on reducing legal immigration without officially altering immigration laws. “By 2021, Donald Trump will have reduced legal immigration by 49% since becoming president.”

Furthermore, when COVID-19 hit, Trump used it as a reason to suspend entry into the United States.

A major piece of his 2016 campaign platform, President Trump’s Mexican-border wall has been pushed above all else in efforts to combat illegal immigration. This is in spite of the fact that most illegal immigrants don’t sneak in by foot, but rather fly in by plane and overstay their visas. Still, the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has been rushing to finish the multibillion-dollar project, especially since Joe Biden was elected president last month.

Biden’s Expected Policies

Biden has promised to overhaul many of the moves made by the Trump administration in his first 100 days. He looks to reinstate Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), which protects against deportation for those who arrived illegally as children. Additionally, he’s planning on restructuring the infamous ICE camps across the border and halting construction of Trump’s wall.

Moving Forward

The world we live in is fast changing. Nations around the world are becoming more and more connected. One way they do so is through the migration of people from one nation to another.

While some nations have open arms toward those moving in, others push them away. Still other nations, like Greece and the U.S., began welcoming in newcomers, only to feel that their own way of life was threatened, resulting in policies reducing immigration.

As we look ahead to the future, there are many questions, regarding the new immigration policies that have been set forth by Greece and the United States.

Will this trend of reducing immigration in Greece continue? As Turkey grows tired of holding millions of Syrian refugees in their borders and tries to alleviate this number by sending the migrants to a closed-off Greece, what will happen to the refugees? Will another nation step up? Or will they find themselves drifting between nations?

Will changes in policy affect the U.S.-Mexican relations for the better? Biden has promised to increase the refugee admittance cap that Trump lowered significantly. Will the influx of working hands lead to a boom in the economy? Or will the American South harbor even more resentment, like the Greeks did when overwhelmed with outsiders?

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