Tuesday, July 8, 2014
Macro Policy Fails Hurt Micro Emigrants
"A better life."
Who doesn't want it for themselves, or their children?
Just about all of us strive for something better in life. In fact, you could probably get classified with a psychological disorder if you strove for something worse in your life. Who wants bad things to happen to them? Who except the mentally ill intentionally sabotages their life?
When it comes to immigration, we hear a lot about people wanting "a better life," and using that aspiration as their justification for breaking national laws so they can emigrate to wherever they want to live. It's almost as if searching for a better life is a civil right. As if all humans should be able to legitimately go wherever they want to go if they think they can get a better life someplace else. Like we're all nomads until we achieve something better tomorrow than what we had yesterday.
Until tomorrow, at least, when we'll need another "better" life.
It's not just that the United States offers far more opportunities for "a better life" than Central America does. And it's not that the United States doesn't have obligations as a respecter of humanity to treat people here illegally with a certain amount of propriety and dignity - even if we're going to be sending them back to wherever they came from. And it's not as though breaking our national sovereignty laws represents the worst type of crime in our penal code.
But all things considered, isn't wanting "a better life" a relatively hollow excuse for breaking immigration laws?
What is "a better life," anyway? It varies, doesn't it? It could be a neighborhood with less crime, a city with more job opportunities, a community with more desirable schools, or someplace for your creativity to genuinely flourish. And what are you willing to do to get that "better" life? Lie on a mortgage application, or a job application? Steal the car of your dreams? Hey - criminals can justify their lawbreaking by saying they're simply striving for a better life, too.
And speaking of laws, how many native-born Americans are striving for "a better life" by pining for the woods of Canada or the pristine fjords of Norway, and plotting how to get there and live there without proper documentation? What is documentation, anyway, except a bureaucratic hurdle, or administrative red tape? Maybe Americans are more satisfied with our quality of life than Central Americans are, since we're not agitating to move on to our own greener pastures, if indeed, the grass is always greener. Anyway, Hispanics have argued for centuries that most of the United States was stolen from them by European explorers. You want to follow laws? What about the code of invaders?
Granted, it's not just people from Central and South America who don't care if they get to America legally or not so they can live their better life. Illegal immigrants come from all across the world, but their arrival is far more complicated without this hemisphere's land bridge from the tip of Chile facilitating their trek.
And if they really wanted a better life, why don't Central Americans flock to other South American countries, instead of the United States? Some do, of course, but not in the numbers we see down on our border with Mexico. By far, the migration patterns end here in the United States, and recent reports indicate that people are paying coyotes - or human traffickers - upwards of $7,500 each for the journey.
For a lot of poor Americans, $7,500 is a lot of money, but for poor Central Americans, it's a veritable fortune. Which begs the question: if you can scrape together $7,500 to send one of your relatives to the United States, how could that amount of money help improve your quality of life in the country where you're current living?
And the answer to that would probably be that emigrants from Central America have given up on their native countries. After years - and generations - of poverty, corruption, and crime, Central Americans have lost all hope for "a better life" in their lifetime, in their country. After all, nobody can dispute the deep sociopolitical ills that fester south of our southern border.
And that's a real problem for us Americans, isn't it? Sure, if we were able to enforce our existing labor laws and American companies could no longer employ illegal workers under the table, and our country's market for undocumented workers evaporated, then we'd have solved a vast portion of our illegal immigration dilemma. Our demand for easily-exploitable workers would be eliminated.
Nevertheless, the other part of this dilemma is the fact that plenty of Central Americans say they're desperate enough to risk their lives to reach the United States. It's not just the jobs, but the personal safety they think we can provide them. For adults who come here after promising thousands of dollars to human traffickers, they probably are safer here, sending payments back home to erase their debt. And frankly, while strong-border advocates bristle at sanctimonious loose-border advocates, none of us can deny that poverty here in the US is better than in any other country south of the border. Illegals are not stupid for preferring our country over theirs.
Meanwhile, what kind of life do people have to look forward to in Central America? At least, if you're not a member of a drug cartel, a corrupt government bureaucracy, or a crime syndicate?
Apparently, the lifestyle available to you is pretty bleak, isn't it?
There's a lot of despair fairly close to the wealthiest and most powerful country on the planet. You'd think we'd be able to do something about that, besides sitting by and arguing about the morality of immigration laws.
For example, why are we letting tens of thousands of unaccompanied children travel hundreds of miles across brutal terrain, and through dangerous communities, just to reach our border? Is that compassion on our part? Loose-border advocates decry a lack of compassion by immigration hard-liners, but how hard are we working to keep people with their families? To facilitate programs that help kids stay with their parents in their native communities? To help encourage job growth and economic opportunity so parents can work and feed their kids in the neighborhoods and countries where they've been born, and already know the language and customs of the area?
Waiting until they get here is compassion?
Today, President Obama asked Congress to authorize $3.7 billion in emergency funding of our immigration policies to help manage the surge in undocumented children streaming across our southern border.
Imagine if we'd spent that kind of money in efforts like anti-crime initiatives and pro-microbusiness incubation in Central America. Before all of these families came to believe that paying human traffickers to funnel their kids up to the States was a logical way for them to have "a better life."
Unfortunately, America has done a good job over the years of picking the wrong Central American politicians to back, as we've meddled in the domestic affairs of virtually every country south of our border with Mexico. But doesn't a lot of the responsibility for the way a country functions rest with its citizenry? Particularly in supposedly democratic countries, where voters usually get the representation they deserve? How powerless are ordinary people, really?
If so many parents are willingly sending their kids on such a desperate mission up to the United States, is nobody available to harness that desperation back in the countries from which these children are coming?
Nothing in this mess is going to get sorted out anytime soon. For now, America's immediate crisis involves how we deal with Central America's abandoned children. But the shame in all of this rests squarely upon the places from which these children have come.
Perhaps America's debate over illegal immigration will soon turn to ways in which we can meddle even more in Central American politics, to prevent scenarios like this current one from happening again.
After all, "a better life" is a relative concept. Too bad it's the littlest émigrés from Central America who are learning this the hard way.