The news from dover came as no surprise to immigration experts. It was just a particularly horrible instance of a regular event: more than 2,000 deaths of illegal immigrants trying to break into the European Union have been documented since 1993. The danger is that the public outrage will be channeled in the wrong direction. Says Stephan Beichel, an immigration lawyer in the town of Nagold, southwest of Stuttgart: "To try to solve this problem by introducing more police controls is like Don Quixote tilting at windmills." The problem is not just Europe's geography, open to the East and riddled with points for clandestine entry. It is also the magnetic force of Europe's economic opportunities, which, demographers have shown, pulls strongest in the poorest countries. Migrants from these places will get here one way or another. Yet the only concerted response from Europe's leaders, in Portugal last week for a European Council meeting, was to "intensify cooperation to beat such cross-border crime."
It is time to acknowledge Europe's need for these immigrants. Most of them find work that Europeans no longer want to do: harvesting asparagus, cutting meat, minding children.
Granted, there are parties in every country ready to pounce on any increase in foreigners, but there are also indications that the public is ready to resist such demagoguery. Germany's Christian Democrats' campaign in spring elections in North Rhine-Westphalia against a government plan to allow in 20,000 computer experts failed to persuade voters, and was attacked by traditionally conservative entrepreneurs who need those workers. Time-limited work permits like those proposed in Germany mandate close controls to make sure foreign workers leave again—or doom them to illegality if they don't. But they offer one moderate course to square the needs of immigrants to earn—and to send home billions in remittances—with those of Europe's employers. Another course is to expand the possibilities for non-E.U. members to set themselves up as self-employed, as long as they can show an ability to make more than welfare payments would offer them. There are already agreements along those lines for citizens of the candidate countries for E.U. membership.
Such approaches would help Europe build a rational immigration policy based on economic reality rather than some vague cultural threat.
It would do better to welcome more immigrants legally than to continue to act shocked when they're smuggled in.
—By JAMES GRAFF/Brussels