Commentary

Give Kosovars a Permanent Refuge

The Clinton administration has agreed to accept some 20,000 refugees displaced by the fighting in Kosovo and relocate them either to Guam or the Guantanamo military base in Cuba. U.S. officials apparently have no intention, of doing more than temporarily warehousing those victims of the latest Balkan tragedy — much as the administration did Haitian refugees in 1993 and 1994. Washington insists that the Kosovars will eventually return home, in all likelihood escorted by NATO ground forces.

This policy is cynical and cruel. America can and should do better than indefinitely store the victims of ethnic cleansing in U.S.-run refugee camps. Washington should let those Albanian Kosovars who wish to emigrate to the United States stay here permanently. America, a country founded and built by immigrants, should willingly provide a haven to the latest victims of hatred and madness in the Balkans.

The reality is that many of the Albanian Kosovars are unlikely to go home again. To use them as pawns in NATO’s violent and incoherent policy against Serbia will merely victimize them a second time. There is no way to restore them to their homes without a long-term NATO occupation force in Kosovo, a strategy that would entangle the United States (as NATO’s leader) in a frustrating and dangerous venture for years or even decades.

Allowing the Kosovars to come to the United States would benefit both them and this country. Instead of a poverty-stricken, war-ravaged land beset by frequent spasms of ethno-religious violence, the immigrants would find a land of opportunity in which they could develop their abilities and pursue their dreams to the fullest. America would gain yet another contingent of talented people to strengthen not only its economy but its society.

That has been America’s experience throughout its history. This country has benefited enormously over the decades from the folly of brutal and intolerant regimes around the world that, because of religious, ideological or ethnic fanaticism, cast out many of their best people. We would have been justified in sending sarcastic thank you notes to Berlin, Rome, Moscow, Beijing, Havana, Hanoi, Tehran and many other capitals for enhancing the quality of America’s dynamic population mix. By taking in the Albanian Kosovars, we could add Belgrade to the list.

That is also the rebuttal to those who might object that welcoming the refugees as new Americans would reward Serbia for its policy of ethnic cleansing. The “reward” for such cruelty is illusory. A country’s greatness is not measured by how many wheat fields, coal mines and forests it has. The true measure of greatness is a country’s people and their many talents. By expelling hundreds of thousands of its Albanian citizens, Serbia will diminish, not enhance itself.

Some Americans, unfortunately, would have this country turn its back on its immigrant traditions and close the door to the newest victims of oppression. But even the favorite argument of immigration opponents — that immigrants would take jobs away from “real Americans” — looks a bit silly today. With unemployment rates at lows not seen in more than three decades and entry-level jobs in construction and service industries going begging, an influx of refugees from Kosovo would strengthen, not weaken, the American economy.

Moreover, the contributions made by adult Kosovar immigrants would be merely a small part of the total potential gain to America. True, a large percentage of those refugees are not likely to be well-educated, and they may lack English language skills and the knowledge of American ways. But their children will not have those deficiencies. And as an expert on immigration policy once aptly observed, many of the most talented immigrants have come to this country disguised as small children. The bottom line is that admitting the Kosovars would expand America’s reservoir of talent in unexpected ways, not merely in the short term, but for generations to come.

America should be true to its traditions and give the Albanian Kosovars — and not just the 20,000 grudgingly agreed to by the Clinton administration — a permanent rather than a temporary refuge. That is a far better option than escalating an already dangerous Balkan conflict to forcibly return them to a devastated homeland where they will likely be caught up in the next round of ethnic bloodshed. Instead, let them come to America. Let them come. Let them live.

Ted Galen Carpenter is vice president for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and the author or editor of 10 books on international affairs.