- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The news out of Greece these days is not so good, but there’s one part of the story you’re not hearing. Of course, Greece has spent too much for too long. Measures to wean government and union workers off of unsustainable compensation and pension packages are not being well received. Riots and strikes are creating havoc and doing further damage to the Greek economy.

Amid extensive media coverage of the euro crisis, one big, fat Greek story is not getting much play here, and it’s one that has lessons to teach us: Greece’s myriad difficulties are exacerbated by an immense illegal-immigrant problem.

Greece is the Arizona of the European Union. Whether or not “America is Greece” when it comes to government spending, America and Greece are both dealing with the consequences of having - willfully or not - open borders. (Both countries, of course, have many legal immigrants who are productive citizens, and they are not the problem.)

Albanians have poured into Greece since the collapse of their communist regime, some paying traffickers for passage and some simply walking across the porous mountain frontier. Many Albanians seek to reach Italy and Western Europe, leaving Greece from the port of Patras. Many more remain in Greece. Similarly, many Mexicans - and others - enter Arizona across its unsecured border; some stay there, some move on to other states.

Today, there are estimated to be about 600,000 Albanians in Greece illegally. They are said to account for about two-thirds of the illegals in Greece. Thus, the total number must approach 1 million (although some estimates claim it’s much higher). The population of Greece is about 11 million. So, in round numbers, nearly 10 percent of the people in Greece are there illegally. In Arizona, the number of illegals is estimated at almost 500,000, out of a total population of around 6 million. This is comparable, proportionally.

Unlike Arizona, Greece has another border problem - a second “front.” There is massive infiltration by illegals from Turkey across the land border and by sea to numerous Greek islands in the north and eastern Aegean. This is facilitated by an extensive trafficking industry. Turkey is the major launching point for Turks, Arabs, Africans and Asians seeking to enter Greece, and perhaps from there, elsewhere in Europe.

Neither Turkey nor Albania is very helpful when it comes to policing traffickers, much less to repatriation of their nationals. The tensions between Greece and Turkey over the issue are more serious, no doubt exacerbated by their other differences. Illegal immigration was a principal agenda item recently when Prime Ministers George Papandreou of Greece and Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey met to discuss improved “bilateral cooperation.”

Some in Greece claim the Turks are turning a blind eye to the issue because this enables “masses of desperate people” to move into Greece, inflicting substantial losses on the Greek economy and altering the country’s “ethnic and social profile.” Some in Arizona and elsewhere in the United States have similar things to say about Mexico. And some advocates for illegals boast of a coming “reconquista.”

Illegals in Greece participate heavily in the “unofficial” economy, estimated to account for more than 30 percent of the Greek gross domestic product. They do this by taking jobs, for cash in hand, that might otherwise go to Greeks. They do not bring capital into Greece, but rather ship earnings from the cash economy back to families and friends in their countries of origin. A similar phenomenon occurs here with illegal aliens from a variety of home countries.

In Greece, illegals also have high crime rates andare a major cause of public safety issues. The prison population in Greece is made up of more than 40 percent foreigners. In Arizona, alarming increases in criminal activity by illegals were a central consideration for those supporting the state’s recently enacted statute aimed at immigration law violations. In the United States, according to press reports last September, “nearly one-third of the federal prison population is composed of illegal immigrants.”

And, of course, national security concerns abound. The flow of illegals from Iran into Greece, via Turkey, is said to be “unconstrained.” Generally speaking, border controls from Central Asia to the Aegean are “either lax or nonexistent.” Growing Muslim populations, in Athens, for example, present the same sorts of security and social challenges now faced by authorities in Western Europe and the United Kingdom. Once in Greece, potential terrorists generally can find their way more easily to other destinations in Europe, or even North America. Likewise, illegals can usually travel unimpeded from Arizona to, say, New York or Washington.

In Greece, as in Arizona, there is a large, unassimilated population of illegals that puts a gigantic strain on taxpayer-funded health care, educational and social services institutions, not to mention law enforcement and criminal justice resources. In 2008, Greece accounted for almost half of the illegal border crossings in the European Union - truly impressive, considering the EU’s extensive land borders with former Soviet “republics.” On this side of the Atlantic, Arizona has the bulk of it since a border fence was built in California.

Finally, on one issue Greece and Arizona are similar, but the United States differs. Greece seems serious about enforcement; detentions and deportations there are up. Likewise, Arizona is trying to deal with the problem. But on President Obama’s watch, federal arrests and convictions for immigration violations are down by more than 60 percent. One hopes this might change following the recent arrest of the Times Square bomber’s confederates for … immigration-law violations.

Ray Hartwell is a Navy veteran and a Washington lawyer.