Professor of Politics Emeritus at New York University, Martin A Schain, shows in The Border: Policy and Politics in Europe and the United States that border and migration management in the European Union (EU) and the United States of America (US) are not as different as we might think. He illustrates similarities in the attempts to curb undocumented migration and simultaneous efforts to attract labour force. The period of the book spans from the 1990s to 2017–2018, depending on the topic. It provides an outline of border management and migration in Europe and the US, with plenty of numerical data and an overview of legal and political changes in approaches to migration.
The book includes eight chapters, which look at border policies from different perspectives. The first chapter sets the scene with an introduction to the topic and with a short theoretical section, which deals with the federalist and intergovernmental characters of the European and US political systems (20–24). The second chapter looks at where the border is, with statistical data on border-crossings in Europe and the US. The following chapters analyse how border policies have evolved (chapter 3) and how they have been enforced (chapter 4). Chapter 5 focuses on border politics in Europe, and chapter 7 in the US, and the final chapter draws conclusions on the return of the border. The foci of the different chapters does not become immediately clear, especially when looking at the list of contents with consecutive subtitles, such as ‘Border Policies: Open and Closed Gates’ (chapter 3), ‘The Shaping of Policy’ (chapter 4), and ‘The Hard Arm of the State: Policing the Border’ (chapter 5).
The book deserves praise for its useful comparison of the migration data and policies in Europe and the US. It could be described as contemporary history from a comparative perspective, and the style is similar to Schain’s book comparing immigration politics in France, the United Kingdom (UK), and the US (Schain 2008). In The Border, too, much focus in Europe is on the UK and France, but there is also a short section devoted to the Netherlands (168–170). Southern European states represent those who bear the largest burden and Eastern European countries those who try to evade their responsibility. Schain cites problems in European border management, such as the lack of power and authority of Frontex, for which he uses the old title: European Agency for the Management of Operational Cooperation at the External Borders of the member states of the EU (e.g., 174–175). In addition to the pre-2016 title (instead of the current European Border and Coast Guard Agency), the other aspects of the 2016 Frontex Regulation (2016/1624) are neither observed, such as more powers and the rapid reaction pool of 1,500 officers.
The book interestingly discusses the so-called liberal paradox of James F. Hollifield (2004), according to which ‘the economic logic of liberalism is one of openness, but the political and legal logic is one of closure’ (36). This means that borders are becoming more open for trade but more closed for people. The phenomenon is also visible in statistics presented in the book; the flow of trade has increased far more rapidly than the flow of people, and border closings seem to have very little impact on cross-border trade. People’s movement appears a concession that has been made in order to enable fluent freight transport and the European Single Market.
One of the differences Schain finds in the European and American approaches is that while the US aims to have strict control over who enters the territory, European countries more often detect ‘illegal stays’ within Europe rather than ‘illegal border-crossings’. In the European Union, there are also inspections at workplaces, and employers face sanctions for employing undocumented stayers (126–127). In the US, there is much less emphasis on worksite inspections, but it is more difficult to enter the country without valid grounds. Due to the emphasis of EU member states on their border sovereignty, the European Union has not put similar resources on border surveillance in the Southern border. Schain also notes that many of the irregular migrants in Europe are overstayers who have come to Europe with a valid visa but stayed beyond its validity (71). It will, however, become easier to identify these persons once the electronic Entry/Exit System with a Europe-wide database on third-country nationals’ entry and exit to Schengen Area is implemented, perhaps in 2021 (see Regulation 2017/2226). As Schain describes, this and other electronic systems move the border away from the physical border, as an individual’s movement is regulated by database entries before and after the actual border crossing.
The approach of the book seems problem-oriented. The first chapter is titled ‘The Problem of the Border’ and chapter 3 includes sections ‘The Problem of the Common European Frontier’ and ‘The Problem of Free Movement’. Mobility and borders appear as problems, where borders threaten mobility and mobility threatens borders. Europe has tried to solve this by removing internal borders in the Schengen Area, encouraging intra-European movement, and simultaneously enforcing external borders to discourage movement into Europe. Schain often discusses intra- and extra-European migration together, outlining how intra-EU migration represents the majority of migration within the EU and the inflow of third-country nationals in proportion to population is actually larger in the US than in Europe (27–31).
Despite the obvious merits of the book, it fails to fully capture all the dimensions of the free movement system of the European Union. One can find issues that are outdated or even incorrect, especially with regard to free movement policies. For example, the book first outlines that all EU citizens, regardless of Schengen, have the right to move freely for employment and then continues: ‘For those countries that are party to the Schengen Agreement, their citizens also have the right to cross internal borders for any purpose, and to remain up to three months’ (32). The author may have tried to point out that the citizens of non-EU Schengen states also have the right to remain for up to three months. In reality, the right to free movement equally applies to all EU citizens and citizens of European Economic Area countries (Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein) and is not dependent on Schengen membership. States’ participation in the Schengen Area only determines whether there is passport control at the border with other EU countries, but it does not affect the right to free movement.
The book can be recommended to anyone interested in the comparison of European and US approaches to migration. It includes a good overview of statistics and general tendencies in border management and migration policies. It shows how irregular migrants in Europe are often detected as staying without a valid residence permit (such as overstaying their visa), how the US puts much more effort in border surveillance, and how both the EU and the US have enhanced the management of their Southern borders. However, despite more controls for the mobility of people, cross-border trade is constantly increasing and seems to be unaffected by these controls. Human mobility ultimately appears as a side-effect of cross-border trade. The closed borders due to Covid-19 confirm this: while borders remain closed for people, the movement of goods (such as face masks) has become even more important.
The author has no competing interests to declare.
Hollifield, JF. 2004. The Emerging Migration State. The International Migration Review, 38(3): 885–912. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1747-7379.2004.tb00223.x
Regulation (EU). 2017/2226 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 30 November 2017 establishing an Entry/Exit System (EES) to register entry and exit data and refusal of entry data of third-country nationals crossing the external borders of the Member States and determining the conditions for access to the EES for law enforcement purposes. 2017. Official Journal of the European Union, L327: 20.
Schain, M. 2008. The Politics of Immigration in France, Britain, and the United States: A Comparative Study. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230616660