The United States came perilously close to acceding to two international agreements that would have been devastating to our nation's ability to set, and enforce, its own laws and rules on matters of migration and refugee policy, before the Trump administration formally withdrew from the process.
My colleague Nayla Rush wrote extensively of the dangers to our sovereignty, not to mention abandonment of common sense, that would have been inherent in accession to the agreements, which were the Global Compact on Refugees and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here). She accurately described them as a "nesting doll of commitments" that would inevitably draw our nation further and further from the capacity to maintain control over our own future on matters so fundamental as who should be allowed to enter and remain, and who should be denied entry or be removed.
Typically, liberals and "global citizens" panned the administration's decision to withdraw, but, unlike many other more inherently domestic aspects of immigration, refugee, and asylum matters, they had no basis on which to try to get it overturned through lawfare in the courts. They ridiculed the notion that, had the United States moved forward with signing onto the compacts, we would be rendering even our own Supreme Court second fiddle to faceless bureaucrats in some distant and little-known UN organization.
But we already see evidence that this is happening in the approximately 13 months since the compacts were approved. The UN Human Rights Commission has just ruled that climate change and environmental conditions are bases for claims to refugee status — even though the original Refugee Convention and subsequent protocols say nothing of the sort — and that therefore nations attempting to remove individuals who advance such claims are in violation of the principle of non-refoulement (non-return) that obliges nation-states to permit refugees to remain within their borders.
According to a media report:
[T]he committee's 18 independent experts acknowledged that "environmental degradation, climate change and unsustainable development constitute some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy the right to life."
"This ruling sets forth new standards that could facilitate the success of future climate change-related asylum claims," committee member Yuval Shany said.
What, one wonders, makes them "independent experts"? A sinecure on an obscure international committee?
Furthermore, stop and consider the far-reaching consequences of these experts' articulation of the problem: particularly "environmental degradation" and "unsustainable development". Suppose that some tin-pot despot in a third-world country and his corrupt cronies are so determined to enrich themselves at the expense of their nation, its natural resources, and its people that they are the primary causes of unsustainable development or environmental degradation? Is allowing the entire populace of such a country the right to emigrate to wherever they choose the proper response to the despoiling of an entire country?
Then there is the niggling question of subjectivity. What constitutes environmental degradation sufficient to trigger the right to claim refugee or asylum status elsewhere? What about unsustainable development? How exactly do you quantify those things? And who decides?
And, of course, I've left for last the bogeyman in the closet — climate change. There is still a debate, whether one likes it or not, about its existence, extent, and how much is man-made rather than cyclical. Who is going to deal with that issue in the context of global migration? Do these 18 Solons get to decide for the world (or, at least, that portion of the world that was short-sighted enough to sign on to the compacts)?
It's time to breathe a sigh of relief at the U.S. withdrawal from those compacts, although at the risk of sounding alarmist, there is always the possibility of a new president backtracking on the Trump White House's withdrawal, and once again sucking us into that "nesting doll" of international commitments that Rush so presciently described.