Three Ways to Help Solve the Immigration Crisis

Professors from The Fletcher School offer strategies that would help migrants, refugees, and host countries
A man carries his sleeping three-year-old son past a migration check point. Tufts professors talk about strategies that would help migrants, refugees, and host countries.
“The only way to effectively reduce irregular migration is to give people some hope of regular migration,” said visiting professor of international law John Cerone. Photo: AP
June 18, 2019


Displaced by war, famine, and other hardships, migrants make perilous journeys across borders and even oceans in search of safety and economic opportunity. Yet in many cases, today’s more than 255 million migrants have been met with hostile political rhetoric, overcrowded camps, and limited options. Are there better ways to respond to those seeking refuge around the globe? These professors at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy say yes—and offer advice to reduce tensions between migrants and residents of host countries.

  1. Boost Legal Migration

As arguments over building a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico led to a partial federal government shutdown last winter, visiting professor of international law John Cerone outlined his thoughts on reducing illegal migration in a Tufts video recorded in January.         

“The only way to effectively reduce irregular migration is to give people some hope of regular migration. Give them the opportunity to migrate pursuant to law, through regular legal pathways.

“The United States can create more work visas for people to work in areas of the U.S. labor market where there currently are shortages—for example, in the agriculture or elder-care sectors.

“By and large, these are jobs that Americans are not signing up to do. And labor is needed in these areas. So, permit migrants from elsewhere to come to the United States and work in these fields.

“This means more people will be entering through regular migration than through irregular migration. Regular migration avoids the problem of bolstering organized crime. Regular migration creates greater transparency. It allows for proper security assessments. It’s a win-win situation.”

  1. Reduce Disease Fears

Refugees and vulnerable migrants are often stigmatized as carriers of infectious disease, and both public health policies and politicians’ rhetoric can increase anxieties, according to research conducted by adjunct assistant professor Nahid Bhadelia, J99, F04, M05, and Ian Johnstone, professor of international law and interim dean of The Fletcher School.

It’s true that refugees and vulnerable migrants are more likely than other people to acquire diseases and suffer worse outcomes, because they tend to come from areas with limited health care, live in crowded conditions while migrating, lack adequate nutrition, and experience disruptions in medical care, according to Bhadelia and Johnstone’s research. But studies have not shown that these groups pose any additional risk of transmission of communicable diseases.

Linking asylum-status approval—and the threat of deportation—to infectious disease surveillance may dissuade migrants from getting needed tests and treatment. Health-care professionals must be able to operate independently from immigration authorities. Photo: ShutterstockBhadelia and Johnstone argue that governments can help reduce fear of migrants and improve public health by re-thinking the way they deliver health services and raising awareness in host communities. They presented their findings to a workshop of health and migration officials in Geneva in November. Here are a few of the recommendations that came out of the discussion:

Separate infectious disease screening and health services from migrant and refugee application outcomes. Linking asylum-status approval (and the threat of deportation) to infectious disease surveillance may dissuade migrants from getting needed tests and treatment. Health-care professionals must be able to operate independently from immigration authorities.

Deliver health services to migrants and refugees in a culturally sensitive way. Inter-governmental organizations, working with NGOs and governments, should develop sensitization-training programs for front-line health professionals and community health workers. Holistic health screening rather than screening for infectious disease alone can reduce the possibility of stigmatization.

Raise awareness among local officials and community leaders as well as central governments. Overcoming the stigma associated with infectious disease requires creative education and communication efforts at all levels. School officials have an especially important role to play in stemming fears that migrants and refugee children will infect children in the host population. The same is true for local media.

  1. Recognize Migrants’ Vulnerability

When a caravan of migrants was making its way through Central America to the United States to seek asylum last fall, President Donald Trump said that Middle Eastern terrorists were probably hiding within the group’s ranks. He later acknowledged that there was no evidence to support his claim, yet he had already painted the group as a threat. The real reason that migrants travel in groups, though, is because they are vulnerable, said Karen Jacobsen, the Henry J. Leir Chair in Global Migration at Fletcher, in a recent article on The Conversation. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Central Americans in the caravan, like hundreds of thousands of people who flee the region each year, are escaping extreme violence, lack of economic opportunity, and growing environmental problems, including drought and floods, back home.

“Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico have some of the world’s highest murder rates. According to Doctors Without Borders, which provides medical care in crisis zones, 68 percent of the migrants and refugees it surveyed in Mexico had experienced violence. Nearly one-third of women were sexually abused.

“Whether crossing Central America, the Sahara Desert, or the mountains of Afghanistan, migrants are regularly extorted by criminals, militias, and corrupt immigration officials who know migrants make easy targets: They carry cash but not weapons.

“Large groups increase migrants’ chance of safe passage, and they provide some sense of community and solidarity on the journey, as migrants themselves report.”

Heather Stephenson can be reached at