Could Israel’s ‘Good Neighbor’ Policy Work for the Migrant Caravans?

Amid the controversy of President Trump ordering 5,200 active-duty soldiers to deploy to the United States’ southern border, tension has once again peaked politically. The Trump administration’s decision has come as a caravan of over 3,000 migrants from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala begins arriving at the Mexican-American border to claim asylum. Democrats have been quick to highlight images of women and children among the caravan, and have echoed the claims that the caravan is composed of families fleeing violence and poverty that must be offered entry into the United States. Meanwhile, Republicans have taken a hard stance against the thousands of unknown individuals, arguing that national security must be our nation’s primary consideration and that the caravan should be unreluctantly turned away. Once again, this country is seemingly at yet another impasse.

Little attention has been paid though to a small country several thousand miles away that seems to face a similar dilemma: Israel.

A country of only 8.7 million people with an area just smaller than the size of New Hampshire, Israel is the only industrialized country adjacent to Syria amidst their civil war. Having been involved in eight wars, two intifadas, and a series of armed conflicts in the country’s 70-year history, Israel is all too aware of the risks associated with bringing in unknown refugees. As thousands of Syrians continue to flee to their northern Golan Heights border, Israel has to decide how it is going to respond.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made it perspicuously clear that Israel would not open its northern border, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) began providing tents, food, clothing, medicine, and humanitarian aid to the refugees as they amassed at the border, a mission they termed “Good Neighbor.” Further, as sick and injured Syrians approach the border for medical aid, after being screened by the IDF, the individuals are taken via Israeli ambulances to nearby hospitals for medical treatment and hospitalization before being returned to the border. Lastly, following the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Israel and Syria signed the "Agreement on Disengagement,” which created a demilitarized zone between the two countries in which the refugees are now dwelling. Israel has made it categorically clear that any attack on the demilitarized zone would be militantly reciprocated, and Israel has moved tanks, artillery cannons, and troops to their northern border accordingly. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has yet to violate the decades-old agreement, and a degree of military protection is thus additionally offered to the refugees.

The question is how applicable, or even humane, such a model is for the United States.

After all, Israel is 446 times smaller than America, and the U.S. is arguably far better equipped with vastly more resources to absorb refugees. Further, Israel is a nation constantly at war and lives in fear of bus-bombings, kidnappings, and intifadas. While fingers can be pointed at the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013 and at 9/11, the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks committed domestically in the United States are done so by those legally residing in the country.

Terrorism aside though, the United States does have valid concerns. For starters, in 2017 alone, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized over 62,000 pounds of cocaine, 361,000 pounds of marijuana, 50,000 pounds of methamphetamine, and thousands of pounds of various other drugs such as heroin and fentanyl.

In addition to drug smuggling, data from the U.S. Sentencing Commission (USSC) strongly suggests that illegal immigrants commit a disproportionate rate of crimes. While the exact of number of illegal immigrants in America is definitionally hard to quantify, the USSC reported that between 2011 and 2016, 31.5% of drug convictions, 42.4% of kidnapping convictions, and 7.5% of firearm convictions were committed by non-citizens. Lastly, an often unrecognized problem with illegal migrants is that they often send large portions of their income back to their families internationally, thereby removing the currency from domestic circulation and harming the national economy. From January to November of 2011, Mexicans living in the U.S. (many doing so legally) sent a record-breaking $21.6 billion to Mexico. Thus, while America may not face the same foreign terrorism risks as Israel, the deleterious effects on domestic drugs, crime, and the economy would be profound should migrants be allowed into the U.S. unvetted and unregulated.

Libertarians will additionally argue that, plausibility aside, the U.S. should not be involved in international affairs at all, and all the more so those that would incur a substantial cost to the nation while already in trillions of dollars of debt. To this argument I simply disagree on principle, and argue that the United States as a world superpower has an obligation to intervene when atrocities occur across the world. Despite all the things our government wastes money on regularly, feeding, sheltering, clothing, and medically treating men, women, and children fleeing violence and poverty is a cost not only justifiable, but ethically and societally obligational.

I draw the line, however, when it comes to putting American citizens at risk -- which is precisely what allowing the caravan to enter the U.S. would do. Therefore, I believe it is entirely appropriate to use Israel as a model for how the U.S. should respond to the thousands of refugees headed toward the border. Unequivocally offering food, shelter, and medical care is paramount while their home countries undergo their own struggles, yet doing so does not have to come at the cost of endangering Americans.

The degree to which these shelters are designed and constructed is frankly irrelevant for this conversation. While Israel hands out tents, I would be entirely happy to fund the creation of proper refugee housing units, staffing on-site physicians, ensuring that the occupants have running water, and providing fresh food daily. While some may argue that this is still not humane enough, this is not a permanent solution. It is a temporary means by which the United States cares for the needs of the refugees while their home countries are reformed. It is a model far from ideal, but one that meets the humanitarian needs advocated for by liberals while mitigating the risks enumerated by conservatives.