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What really keeps our leaders up at night

A deported migrant hanging a cross on the US-Mexico border wall. Guillermo Arias/AFP/Getty

The diplomats who craft Western foreign policies might be preoccupied with Russia and China, says Gideon Rachman in the FT, but what their political masters are most worried about is immigration. As one Biden staffer puts it: “If we lose the next election, it’ll be over the southern border not Ukraine.” US officials are bracing for a surge this week as Title 42 – a pandemic-era policy allowing authorities to swiftly expel unwanted arrivals – finally expires. As many as 13,000 would-be migrants are expected to cross from Mexico every day from now on, double the current number. In Europe, almost 40,000 refugees have crossed the Mediterranean already this year, and those numbers will only rise with the calmer summer seas. In Britain, a promise to “stop the boats” is one of the government’s five main pledges.

The problem for political leaders is that for all the pressure to “do something”, there is a shortage of realistic solutions. The right talks up walls and deportations; the left mutters vaguely about economic development and “safe and legal routes” for legitimate asylum seekers. In practice, none of it works, so governments of all stripes end up quietly paying off buffer countries like Mexico and Turkey to act as “unofficial holding pens”. Not only does that hand enormous leverage to distasteful figures like Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, it also just displaces the problem. A real solution will include countries all along migration routes, and involve a delicate, boring combination of diplomacy, law enforcement and “targeted development”. “Walls make better headlines, but worse policy.”