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.
Heading 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.