When the current incarnation of the European Union (EU) was formed, a number of member states agreed to eliminate their internal borders, creating a region called the Schengen Zone (named after the town in Luxembourg where the agreement was signed). Anyone admitted to any Schengen country is admitted to all of the nations within the zone. For example, travelers fly from New York to Paris and are admitted to France – they are then free to cross the Border from France to Belgium and Belgium to Germany without any further inspection by immigration officials.
Ironically, most of Europe is now wondering how Anis Amri was able to move so easily throughout Europe. Amri is the Tunisian national suspected of stealing a tractor-trailer and mowing down shoppers at Berlin’s Christmas Market. He left his native country fleeing an armed robbery warrant and entered the Schengen Zone through Italy by claiming to be a refugee.
Despite being inadmissible under EU immigration law, he was granted “tolerated stay” status. Theoretically temporary, this category is used for aliens who are inadmissible, but who can’t immediately be expelled, due to administrative or political (often political correctness) concerns. In some cases, “tolerated stay” recipients are given cash benefits and housing, at taxpayer expense.
The combination of “tolerated stay” status and open borders agreements allows known public safety and national security threats to move freely throughout Europe. Meanwhile, police and security officials must still operate under national laws. So while terrorists exploit the Schengen Zone to evade law enforcement, police are forced to negotiate bureaucratic obstacles and coordinate investigations across multiple jurisdictions.
The formation of the Schengen Zone was an expression of the member states’ belief they shared a common identity that made borders unnecessary. That borderless zone is now serving as a magnet for refugees and economic migrants from cultures that are drastically different from those in Europe. And they are arriving so rapidly and in such large numbers, Europe lacks the resources to effectively assimilate them. It remains to be seen whether the Schengen Zone will collapse of its own weight. But recent history has clearly disproven the foolish notion that Europe doesn’t need borders.
The United States should learn from Europe’s experiences and phase out programs that reduce or remove immigration controls, like the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative and the Visa Waiver Program. It should also eliminate the American equivalents of “tolerated stay” – immigration parole, deferred action, and temporary protected status. America has already had far too many Anis Amris of its own.