Event Summary: Illegal Immigration by Sea

April 11, 2024


The Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) hosted a panel discussion entitled ’Illegal Immigration by Sea’ on 11th April 2024 addressing the issue of maritime illegal immigration in the Caribbean and the Mediterranean. This time, three member organizations of the International Network for Immigration Research (INIR) explored the challenges that destination countries are facing as a result of the increasing flows of illegal seaborne immigration.

Viktor Marsai, Director of the Budapest-based Migration Research Institute (MRI) highlighted that due to geographical reasons European borders are relatively easily accessible both by land and sea, which significantly shapes the immigration landscape of Europe. He stated that European countries swiftly constructed physical barriers in response to the sudden surge of arrivals by land after the ’Arab Spring’. However, given the multitude of different actors of various interests operating in international waters, the protection of sea borders in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Ocean seem to be a more considerable challenge. Currently, the main strategy of the European Union to overcome this issue is the externalization of its immigration policies, including cooperation with third countries (also known as gatekeepres), and the outsourcing of asylum applications.

George Fishman, Senior Legal Fellow at the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) assessed how the United States responded to the previous Haitian migration crises. He argued that President Joe Bide has the green light to prevent a potential new Haitian migrant influx amid the worsening political and economic conditions in the country as the 1993 Supreme Court decision in Sale v. Haitian Centers Council concluded that the Immigration and Nationality Act granted the executive branch ample power to combat illegal seaborne immigration to the U.S. Based on this Supreme Court decision, the federal government under President Bush and Clinton was able to repatriate aliens interdicted on the high seas without first determining whether they qualify as refugees. Thus, taking action against illegal seaborne immigration is rather a political challenge instead of a legal challenge nowadays.

Eric Ruark, Director of Research of the Washington-based Numbers USA examined how Florida and Texas have recently been trying to tackle and cut maritime illegal immigration. He pointed that in spite of the attempts of the federal government to hinder states’ efforts to prevent illegal immigration, the steps that Florida and Texas have been taking may change illegal immigration patterns in the future. He also mentioned that the Biden administration is not stopping the migration crisis but ony managing its flow, which, given the long standing problem of political instability in Latin America and the Caribbean, will further worsen the ability of the federal government to respond to future immigration crises.