Was It Fair For Hillary Clinton to Criticize Europe’s Refugee Response?

Yesterday I posted a quickie survey that asked how many refugees the United States should be willing to accept each year. The response was sort of interesting. Nearly 60 percent of you thought the cap should be 500,000 or less. Among those who provided a numerical answer, the average answer was 300,000. However, a quarter of you thought there should be no cap at all and we should accept anyone who wants to come. Here’s the raw pie chart generated by Google Forms:

As usual, I had an ulterior motive for asking this question. A couple of days ago Hillary Clinton got a lot of flack from liberals for questioning Germany’s decision a few years ago to accept a large number of refugees from Syria:

In an interview with the Guardian, the former Democratic presidential candidate praised the generosity shown by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, but suggested immigration was inflaming voters and contributed to the election of Donald Trump and Britain’s vote to leave the EU.

“I think Europe needs to get a handle on migration because that is what lit the flame,” Clinton said, speaking as part of a series of interviews with senior centrist political figures about the rise of populists, particularly on the right, in Europe and the Americas. “I admire the very generous and compassionate approaches that were taken particularly by leaders like Angela Merkel, but I think it is fair to say Europe has done its part, and must send a very clear message — ‘we are not going to be able to continue provide refuge and support’ — because if we don’t deal with the migration issue it will continue to roil the body politic.

In 2015 Germany accepted 1.1 million refugees. This is about the equivalent of the United States accepting 4.4 million refugees.

I don’t want anyone to take my survey too seriously. It’s obviously just a casual thing. However, I think it’s fair to say that the responses are almost entirely from a left-leaning readership, and even at that a solid majority thought the US shouldn’t take in more than half a million refugees in a single year. Adjusted for population, Germany took in nearly ten times that many.

I don’t want to comment at length on this. I just want to put these numbers out there, since they aren’t obvious and most people don’t know them—but they are the numbers that motivated Clinton’s response. The point of this is fairly mundane: if Germany accepted nearly ten times as many refugees as even a liberal audience in the US would be comfortable with—and about 50 times as many as the US actually takes in—it’s hardly unreasonable for even a liberal politician to suggest that this produced a widespread and formidable backlash.

In other words, this isn’t Hillary Clinton suggesting that we need to adopt a demagogic Trumpian approach to refugees in order to beat the Trumpists. It’s Hillary Clinton suggesting that there are limits, even for liberals who believe in a far more compassionate refugee policy. Based on your responses to my question, I’d say that most lefties agree with her. But there’s no way to know that unless you also know the actual numbers at issue.

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THE TRUTH...

is the first thing despots go after. An unwavering commitment to it is probably what draws you to Mother Jones' journalism. And as we're seeing in the US and the world around, authoritarians seek to poison the discourse and the way we relate to each other because they can't stand people coming together around a shared sense of the truth—it's a huge threat to them.

Which is also a pretty great way to describe Mother Jones' mission: People coming together around the truth to hold power accountable.

And right now, we need to raise about $400,000 from our online readers over the next two months to hit our annual goal and make good on that mission. Read more about the information war we find ourselves in and how people-powered, independent reporting can and must rise to the challenge—and please support our team's truth-telling journalism with a donation if you can right now.

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