Please note. I am not against offering refuge to people who have been plagued by violence. I am not against people who desire to immigrate to the United States for employment or to be with family. There are many reasons people decide to move around on this planet, and even more reasons why they do not. I want to look at an option for reducing the pressure at our borders that has been lost in the current debate.
I start at the desire to promote world peace that was strong in the aftermath of WWI and WWII. No one wanted that kind of suffering to repeat itself. After WWII, the United States helped to rebuild the economies of the world; including those of the enemies of those who fought against us. We encouraged widespread free trade. American companies invested in other companies and tourism began to illustrate that, despite cultural differences, people are alike.
Except, we began a cold war that bloomed into proxy wars in places that had natural resources or geographically advantageous positions we contested with the Soviet Union. China played, but only in Asia. Our belief in a representative democracy as the premier way of ensuring domestic tranquility was tested by a variety of dictatorial and oppressive governments, including those who purported to be communistic in intent.
Guess which part of the world we paid the least attention to? The Western hemisphere. We sometimes forget that there is more to the Americas than the United States. As a country, we tended to ignore the culture, languages, and especially, any thought of alliances that would make our hemisphere stronger and economically preferred. We backed dictators when it seemed prudent; we paid bribes to corrupt governments and businesses. We certainly had friendlier relationships with Canada than Mexico. It wasn’t until I read the book 1491 by Charles C. Mann, that I discovered that the Americas have a rich heritage of civilizations that were far from primitive.
Today we are dealing with two overriding situations in the Americas which are causing what we call “the immigration crisis.” The first is a source of some pride. People who don’t live here want to. They admire our government as well as our culture. They think they can have a good or even better life here compared to where they are living now. The second situation is more distressing. In some of the countries south of ours, we have actually turned a blind eye to corruption, oppression and violence within their governments. Because of this, a good many people view the United States unfavorably because of our support of actions which have harmed them or their country. Drug cartels have risen due to market economics, but they have gained support in their countries with an ideology that involves weakening the influence of the United States. Economically vulnerable populations have learned violence and intimidation as ways to improve their lot until power shifts away from them. More individuals are victims in this scenario than they are winners.
Somehow the definition of refugee has been expanded to include victims of violence outside of a declared war but inside a state without civil control. The US has been dealing with migrants for years. We have accepted refugees from other countries where they are legally vetted before being given legal entry. Now we, for whatever reason, are faced with an almost unmanageable number of people at our border wanting refuge.
May I suggest that they want safety more than they want to live in the United States? For many who are truly refugees and not simply migrants, home is preferred. What they would prefer is a safe place with economic opportunity within their own country, culture and geography.
The long-term solution to crises like this is to help other countries create safety and economic opportunity for their people. George W. Bush proposed to make our ties to Mexico, Central and South America closer. 9-11 stopped most of those plans. Our needed attention has not returned but it must. The Americas have an abundance of resources and the advantage of being connected for trade by land. Our geopolitical position as a hemisphere would be massive. Why not start with the problems that make refugees and migrants want to move? Let’s make the Americas strong.