To keep kids from our borders, fix things farther south

By Peter Hakim
July 14, 2014

Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville

Despite their differences on almost everything else, President Barack Obama and Texas Governor Rick Perry agree that the unlawful migration of more than 50,000 Central American children to the United States is a humanitarian crisis. Some members of Congress and U.S. military leaders label it a security crisis. Whatever it’s called, it is an emergency that requires immediate attention.

But the United States and the Central American countries that the children are fleeing have to address the violence and chaos they seek to escape if this wave isn’t to be followed by another one all too soon. That message is contained in the Obama administration’s urgent request to Congress for $3.7 billion to deal with this emergency, though it doesn’t say what the underlying causes are or include more than a sliver of resources to address them.

It is not hard to identify the roots of the current crisis. Most of the underage migrants come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where living conditions are close to intolerable for much of the population. In addition to being among the most economically backward nations, the three are plagued by some of the world’s highest rates of homicide and other violence. Regular employment at living wages is scarce. Government services are woefully inadequate and scarred by pervasive corruption.

It is largely up to the leaders and citizens of each country to pursue the political and economic reforms demanded by these complex challenges. The United States is already supporting programs to address the region’s problems. Yet solutions are not only about money. Adjustments in some of Washington’s long-standing policies that affect Central America are crucial.

Two female detainees sleep in a holding cell as the children are separated by age group and gender  at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales ArizonaHeading the list is the vital need to overhaul the broken U.S. immigration system. Next are major changes in misdirected U.S. drug policies, followed by Washington’s need to review its trade and foreign-aid strategies throughout the region.

The crisis on the border could have been avoided, however, by a few critical changes in U.S. legislation. Providing legal residency for undocumented migrants and allowing them to travel between the United States and their home country, for example, could substantially reduce the future prospect of waves of children coming to the border to be reunited with their parents.

Revising U.S. deportation practices could also help diminish violence in Central America. Many deportees are convicted felons who, after serving time in U.S. jails, have ended up leading Central America’s brutal gangs. An estimated 75,000 gang members in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala today are involved in kidnappings, drug peddling, robbery, extortion and murder. In many places, youngsters are urgently fleeing these gang activities.

There is one crucial change that should not be hard for the United States to make. Local governments in Central America should be given timely information about convicted felons and their crimes in the United States before they are returned to the region. This would help authorities take precautionary measures in dealing with the dangers that career criminals or violent offenders may present. U.S. support for local agencies working to rehabilitate and reintegrate deportees into society could also make a difference.

Detainees play as other sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility,  in BrownsvilleU.S. anti-drug policies need to be reassessed. Drug trafficking is a critical part of Central America’s cycle of violence. For the region is strategically located between the lucrative drug markets in the United States and the cocaine-producing countries of South America.

The United States has made some progress here, stepping up efforts to reduce the demand for illicit drugs. A number of programs are showing promising results.  But a successful campaign to cut demand will require a far more dramatic shift from law enforcement to initiatives focused on prevention and treatment.

Just as important, U.S. anti-drug policies in Central America need to be redirected. Most independent analysts have concluded that Washington’s emphasis on the interdiction of drugs passing through Central America has had little impact on the quantity or price of narcotics in the United States. In fact, it is probably contributing to the region’s pervasive violence. U.S. anti-drug money might be better used to help the Central American republics bolster their police forces to deal directly with the violence.

Washington also needs to be careful about the impact of U.S. trade policies on Central America. There is growing alarm about current U.S. negotiations toward the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a new free-trade area that would include a dozen Asian and Latin American nations. Low-cost Asian clothes could quickly threaten the viability of Central America’s textile industries and the wider economy.

On another economic front, recent U.S. measures to prevent money laundering are raising the cost of family remittances to Central America. The money amounts to $15 billion a year, roughly 10 percent of the region’s gross domestic product. The new measures could deprive the region, and many of its poorest families, of more than of $1 billion a year.

Ideally, to help ease the problems at the border the United States should offer long-term aid to Central America. The objectives would be to accelerate economic growth and social development and to bolster security across the isthmus by strengthening law enforcement and the courts.

It was not so long ago that Washington provided Colombia, whose population is not dramatically larger than Central America’s, some $8 billion over a decade. That effort sharply diminished the threats posed by guerrillas, paramilitary groups and drug cartels. Today, it is widely viewed as a success story.

This level of assistance to Central America, however, seems far-fetched now, given U.S. commitments in so many other parts of the world, the still-troubled state of the U.S. economy and the fitful politics of Washington.

Yet if the United States had decided to make an investment of some $3 billion to $4 billion in Central America’s economy and security five years ago or so, it might not have to shell out a similar amount today to deal with a crisis on its border.

 

PHOTO (TOP): Detainees sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility, in Brownsville, Texas, June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Gay/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 1): Two female detainees sleep in a holding cell, as the children are separated by age group and gender, as hundreds of mostly Central American immigrant children are being processed and held at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Nogales Placement Center in Nogales, Arizona, June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Ross D. Franklin/Pool

PHOTO (INSERT 2): Detainees play as other sleep in a holding cell at a U.S. Customs and Border Protection processing facility in Brownsville, Texas, June 18, 2014. REUTERS/Eric Gay/Pool

8 comments

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“unlawful migration”

Please stop with the creative wording. Call it what it is: illegal immigration. Calling it unlawful migration is a cheap attempt to make it sound less offensive.

“Yet if the United States had decided to make an investment of some $3 billion to $4 billion in Central America’s economy and security five years ago or so, it might not have to shell out a similar amount today to deal with a crisis on its border”

Likewise if we had made the investment and taken the time to secure the border five years ago this wouldn’t be an issue. We could have also spent the money on our own kids and country five years ago. Enough is enough. These countries need to resolve their issues not rely on handouts from Uncle Sugar.

Same goes for kids coming into this country on a visa to attend college. They need to pay out of country tuition fees that help pay for US Citizens to attend college. Foreign students should only get slots after the U.S. Citizens have taken all the slots they require.

We have handed out billions to other nations including South America. What did we get out of all the money spent in Columbia? Is the cocaine cheaper for all the athletes and movie stars? Did we get a return on investment?

It is time that we look at all of our expenditures as any business would. Expenditures must be linked to an expected return on the investment. Which means we see a profit in the end. No profit, no future funds. Period. We can not continue to borrow against or kids futures in order to pay for other nations problems. I’m not saying we can’t help but these nations have to want to help themselves. Otherwise we are just wasting money best spent elsewhere.

Posted by Bdy2010 | Report as abusive

Fix things further South? I hear that a lot, read that a lot. But the facts remain, where does the American taxpayer get the cask to pay the taxes to provide the “dreams” to hundreds of millions of people around the world? We don’t have the money to send our own children to college, yet some people we know are getting thousands of dollars in grant money for them to go to college! The taxes were around 56% of our income in years past! but with the Obama Regimes new taxes that are now coming to bear, we may not be able to afford gas or rent!
Obama so loved the poor he and his Democratic Socialists created millions more.

Posted by HarryTC | Report as abusive

Let’s do what we did in the 80s and what actually caused the crime and poverty in these countries. We’ll get the CIA to sell drugs to kids in the inner city USA and guns to Iran and the middle east and use the money to fund and train terrorist death squads to go down to these countries and kill anyone who might be doing good. Bdy2010: Was that money in the 80s a good expenditure? Did we kill enough people back then to create the good economy you want and the money you desire more than anything else.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

“The crisis on the border could have been avoided, however, by a few critical changes in U.S. legislation. Providing legal residency for undocumented migrants and allowing them to travel between the United States and their home country, for example, could substantially reduce the future prospect of waves of children coming to the border to be reunited with their parents.”

—————-

Ha! More liberal fantasy-land nonsense. Here’s how it really works… You give them temporary documentation, let them in, then you never see them again… until they’re caught inside the US, or caught trying to sneak back in again, after visiting home.

The problems in these countries leading people to try and come here, didn’t start last week. These people are coming here, because they’re being told that the current gov is all for letting them in and staying. Until they’re shown that is far from true, they will keep coming.

We can’t even get involved in a country that formed the base for half the world’s worst terrorists, without people accusing us of being some sort of collective Satan. But we’re going to get involved in multiple nations to the south, and remove drug cartels and corruption, that have existed for generations? Good luck with that. Reagan knew this day would come… He tried to change things down there. It didn’t work. People have to want to change themselves, but they’re never going to do that if they’re given the easy out.

Posted by dd606 | Report as abusive

“Two of the Earth’s deadliest cities now are in Honduras. Regionally, Central America has surpassed war-torn sub-Saharan Africa as the globe’s homicide capital.”

Posted by Leftcoastrocky | Report as abusive

I live in a town that has been overrun by Mexicans for many years now. I, a WHITE AMERICAN, am treated like a second class citizen and many of the services in my town are now tailored for Spanish speaking people and no one else. That means citizenship classes too. It is like they refuse to acknowledge that the EASTERN HEMIPHERE and its people even exist and the WHITE and BLACK AMERICAN exist solely to raise funds for them.

Posted by ciceroalamo | Report as abusive

Overpopulation is the root cause of every single major problem that humanity is experiencing together today – bar none. Even moreso in the coming future because of the lack of ethical leadership willing to confront the promoters of such an insideous human ignorance. Corporations, religions, and most shockingly, the corrupted leadership itself.
Overpopulation drives overwhelming fossil fuel demand.
Fuel for electricity, transportation, heating, cooking, fertilizers for basic food production, the production of plastics, clothing, and chemicals. Generating the direct cause of our vast human environmental pollution and a now understood-to-be irreversible global climate change.
Overpopulation is responsible for malnutrition, disease outbreak, stagnating unemployment, and the grinding poverty that is now everywhere – even in the wealthy United States.
Central America’s only problem is having too many people fighting over a shrinking resource supply. The Catholic Church is largely responsible and should re-formulate its archaic family planning advice.
Resource exploitation the foundation of all economics and is required for any kind of good life on this planet by all civilizations. Any honest solution attemping to improve the life of a nation must begin by addressing human overpopulation reduction and the resource pie mathematics.
In our globalized economy the UN could “credit” genetic parents $1 million for producing their first child and then charge them $1 million for every addition offspring. That “incentive” would solve the overpopulation problem in two generations – 50 years time. Irresponsible parents do owe humanity for their excess exploitation of Earth’s shared resource supply and should pay for that selfish luxury of overpopulation.

Posted by roixix | Report as abusive

@@brotherkenny4

Not sure why you lashed out at me but if you had read my comments you would see that I am against wasting money if there is no positive potential return.

Posted by Bdy2010 | Report as abusive