WASHINGTON (CN) - The tide of refugees fleeing to Europe from Syria and elsewhere could bring "the destruction of Western civilization," a California congressman said Wednesday during a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia and Emerging Threats.
Members of the subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee heard testimony from two experts at the hearing, and offered opinions of their own.
The hearing came days after the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees announced that a monthly record of 218,000 had people crossed the Mediterranean Sea in October, most from Turkey into Greece, and about 8,000 from North Africa into Italy.
That one-month figure topped the 216,000 refugees who crossed the Mediterranean in all of 2014, the UNHCR said.
Members of the subcommittee and the witnesses expressed concern about the ability of European countries to maintain their cultural and national identities in the face of the increasing refugee stream.
"Clearly, what we have seen over the past few months is unsustainable and if not checked will change the fundamental nature of European countries, which are now being inundated. What we are witnessing is the destruction of Western civilization, not by an armed invasion but instead through envelopment," said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif.
Several subcommittee members, including Rohrabacher, expressed discomfort with the number of Muslim refugees, not only those fleeing to European countries, but to America.
"Sometimes you have people that come here and expect that they're going to have their women covered up, and quite frankly I think that's an insult to our values as a people," Rohrabacher said.
Rep. Albio Sires, D-New Jersey, a Cuban immigrant, questioned whether Muslim refugees want to assimilate into the countries to which they flee, but said the United States is much better at assimilating immigrants than European countries.
Gary Shiffman, professor of security studies at Georgetown University, who previously worked for the Department of Homeland Security, said policies that isolate refugees and immigrants could make integration more difficult. Such policies could create an "us" and "them" division between host country communities and refugees.
Such policies should be avoided, he said, because they could lead to radicalization and create opportunities for "entrepreneurs of violence."
Shiffman acknowledged the possibility that members of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant have embedded themselves among the refugees fleeing to Europe, but said that so far little evidence exists to support this fear.
Shiffman offered the U.S. immigration and refugee programs as models for Europe to emulate, noting that the United States has robust security screening to weed out potential security threats. He said European countries could focus on weeding out those who are not really fleeing violence in Syria and Iraq, and letting in only the most vulnerable people.
He noted that individual U.S. states do not bear the entire burden for the costs associated with immigration enforcement. That responsibility is shared across the tax base of all states, he said, suggesting that Europe cannot bear the financial burden alone.
European countries could take advantage of the new labor force, which could be an economic boost, Shiffman said, though that boost could come at the expense of the ethnic and cultural identities of the receiving countries.
The other witness, V. Bradley Lewis, professor of philosophy at the Catholic University of America, took a more philosophical approach.
"The common good of a political community is challenged, if not threatened, by the sudden and disorderly influx of large numbers of foreigners, and so the very common good that justifies political authority itself also justifies - I would say requires - governments' concern about who enters their territory and, even more importantly, about the assimilation of immigrants into the community," he said in written testimony to the subcommittee.
European countries' immigration processes are not sufficient to deal with the crisis, Lewis said, and lower fertility rates in receiving countries create long-term demographic concerns.
The subcommittee asked Lewis for his opinion of Hungary's response to the crisis, the sealing of its southern border with Croatia.
"From what I can tell Hungary is doing what they think is necessary to protect their national security," Lewis said.
Citing the walls along the U.S. border with Mexico, Shiffman said: "Walls make sense when it comes to securing borders," whether in Europe or the United States.
Both witnesses said European countries should give higher priority to their own citizens, rather than accommodating refugees and immigrants.
Shiffman told the subcommittee the countries should work to integrate the refugees and immigrants, but said in earlier testimony that "European states and the EU stand at a crossroads between becoming a melting pot or remaining a federation of nations with distinct national, ethnic, and religious identities."
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