Friday, August 1, 2014

Reflection on the Week: Immigration

In an effort to be more disciplined about writing this blog regularly, I've decided to develop some regular "features" upon which I hope to focus my efforts.  Friday I plan to examine an issue in the news that might benefit from historical context.  Some of these will be more reflective than others.  I hesitated to start with immigration because the issue is so fraught and controversy is so rife -- and I admit I am not huge on controversy.  Thoughtful people disagree about the best way to address this issue, but I can't escape the conclusion that context is the most serious omission in this debate.  So, here goes.  

Our current immigration crisis defies easy conclusions or straightforward solutions.  No one avenue will "solve" this problem -- but I'd posit that greater regard for history would, at minimum, add important perspective to this debate.

We need to understand why children are fleeing Central America in such large numbers.  Can you imagine sending your child off on his or her own, across hundreds or even thousands of miles of territory, in hopes of keeping him or her safe?  This is a tremendous sacrifice for all concerned.  These people are not opportunists.  They love their children, and these children love their parents.  

The sad reality is that these kids are fleeing dangerous gang violence, extreme poverty, and governmental failure caused in part by the decisions people in the United States have made over the years.  We have chosen to consume illegal drugs and therefore provide a marketplace in which these criminal gangs can thrive.  Our government followed a policy of "ABC" -- "anything but Communism" -- that allowed governmental corruption to flourish and prevented reformist leadership from taking hold.  We protected American corporations that sought to preserve overwhelmingly favorable land, taxation, and labor policies instead of encouraging the development of strong institutions in Central America.    

Illuminating these conditions does not exonerate Central American countries of responsibility.  We all remain responsible for our decisions, even within imperfect circumstances -- and yes, most of us face imperfect circumstances.  Our role in all this, however, is to recognize the myriad barriers we have placed in the path of effective government, strong societal institutions, and healthy economic development in this part of the world.  This isn't a liberal or conservative, Republican or Democratic issue.  Administrations from both major parties and individuals of varying political stripes have contributed to this legacy.  When we pay proper regard to the historical antecedents of our contemporary crisis, we gain the ability to more effectively evaluate policy solutions.  Border security is important -- but how might we help Central American countries address endemic gang violence?  Deportation may well be necessary, but how might we 1) reunite families and 2) help these countries develop institutions that can support effective government and economic development?  

In short, we should be focusing not upon our own problems, but upon Central American concerns.  We've played a historical role in the development of this region's crises, but developing thoughtful policies to help address them now will reap benefits far beyond the borders of Honduras or El Salvador.  If we don't want Central American gang activity in the United States, we should help Hondurans and Salvadorans fight it in their own countries -- and we should continue to examine the logs in our own eye regarding U.S. drug consumption and tolerance of human trafficking.  If we don't want the costs of additional fences and of detention centers, we might consider investing in the future of these countries.  Money spent now will save millions later.

Finally, a moment for humanity.  As regards the current influx of minors, these are children.  Thoughtful people can and will disagree about the course of action that should be taken in dealing with this problem.  The specter of grown people screaming in protest against the presence of children in their communities -- children fleeing violence and deprivation in a quest for safety -- shames our country.  There are better ways to handle this.  

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