Several times in the last weeks, I have been asked about issues at the border and what I thought could be done about them. Rather than typing the same thing over and over, I thought I would compile the thoughts I have here in one place. Whatever we think about what is happening on the southern border, these are real people, who are desperate. We can not lose sight of that.
The first, and largest, thing we can do to alleviate the problems at the southern border is to end the war on drugs. Prohibition has not solved the drug problems in the country, and in fact has only expanded them. Add to that the reality that prohibition creates black markets, which end up becoming violent, to meet the demand. That violence has given rise to drug gangs in Mexico, and through out Central and South America. We enforce prohibition in the Caribbean and Latin America by seizing drugs causing higher demand and an increased black market, as well as funding Mexico’s drug wars in the same way. A controlled legal market for such things ends the black market and the violence associated with it. Since many of those coming to the US are seeking refuge from the violence of these drug wars, ending them would likely end a part of the flow of those fleeing. The drug war has also led to an increase in potency of the narcotics transported. With so much being seized, more concentrated dosages to be cut later become the norm so that the profit margin is increased to account for the losses due to seizure. This also leads to inconsistent quality and potency which often results in over dose and death.
Allow me to point to El Salvador as an example of how our war on drugs has increased the immigration problem. Gangs from MExico who were on the losing end of the drug wars there fled to El Salvador, and continue to flee to El Salvador. They set up their organizations there increasing the violence to the point that it had the highest murder rate in the world as of 2016, the last year for world wide compiled data, at 82.8 per 100,000. Neighboring countries in the region suffered as well increasing the rates in them. Honduras sits at 56.5, Belize at 37.6, Guatemala at 27.2, and Mexico at 19.2 nationally, but with much higher rates regionally where the drug violence occurs. In South America, the large drug producing countries have rates of 25.5 in Columbia, 29.5 in Brazil, and 56.3 in Venezuela. These murder rates are largely attributed to drug violence and are a direct result of the black market we have created. It is no wonder then why we see an increased amount of people fleeing violence from these areas. In our initial example of El Salvador, it is now the second largest source of illegal immigration to America. Frankly, we created much of the problem in this way, and we can end it. Financially, the estimates are the the US could save upwards of 50 billion dollars immediately by ending the drug war, and save a further 50 billion in the short term by not having to house the nonviolent criminals incarcerated for drug offenses.
The second thing that we could do is actual free trade. Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist, and Henry George before him, viewed free trade as the best hope for world peace. The premise is pretty simple. If you have stuff that I want, and I have stuff that you want, and we exchange it, there is really little reason to fight. Free trade with the nations that have large drug production facilities increases the stability in the regions by created demand for honest labor for production, reducing the earning gap between those nations and the US, reducing the ability for criminal activity as it would interfere with legitimate business interests, thus reducing the incentive for migration. Free trade with the regions in questions stabilizes the economy, raises the living conditions, and reduces the incentive to migrate. Most people do not like to move. If you are doing well where you are, there is not reason to move.
Expand legal immigration and make the system understandable. The Penn Wharton Budget Model shows that even a slight increase in legal immigration Substantially increases GDP growth and employment. For that matter, immigrants produce more patents than native born Americans, and start small businesses at twice the rate as native born Americans. Added to this, the low skilled worker Visa program should be expanded and include extended stay provisions.
Expand the use of nonrestrictive confinement for asylum seekers. Ankle monitoring systems are already available. That allows those who are awaiting their asylum claims to be processed to work, contribute to the economy, and ends the squalor that people are forced to live in as we warehouse them in for profit prison like facilities.
Make crossing the border a civil offense and not a criminal one. We are by and large criminalizing desperation, and that is fairly despicable. Those who are crossing the border with ill intent are generally convicted of other crimes, carrying illegal materials, etc. and can be prosecuted as such. By making it a civil offense, it also clears the immigration courts lessening the burden on them. Put it on a scale with repeated crossing having escalating fines finally culminating in a criminal offense for repetitive violations.
We need to ensure that the families coming have access to council. The numbers say that those with counsel are far more likely to show up for hearings, even though, contrary to popular belief, the majority show up for hearing in the first place. Proper council also expedites the hearing process.
For those currently in the country, and are not guilty of violent crimes, there needs to be a process to become citizens. Allow for legal resident status, which is necessary for citizenship. Once the five year period is up, allow them to become citizens and come out of the shadows.
We need to figure out what has caused the bottle neck in the immigration court system and fix it. An asylum claim is now averaging two years. The system can be stream lined to solve this issue, and we can appoint more immigration judges as needed.
The US needs to work with the international community, especially in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, the three nations where we are seeing the current surge, and reform those countries to being functional. I generally do not like nation building efforts, and the US can not, and should not, do it alone, but these states have failed and need built from the ground up. The international community has a vested interest in this.
Border security is a concern, and I can appreciate that. There are more cost effective, not to mention effective in general, ways of securing border areas than a wasteful wall. A virtual border fence would likely do the job in most areas with far less environmental impact. This type of technology is used on the border of India and Pakistan to track crossings, monitor troop movements, and prevent terrorists from crossing, and has been largely effective. It is also cheaper to build and maintain.
Remove the military from the border. There is no threat of violent invasion here. This is a scare tactic and will only lead to disaster. Allowing the military to use lethal force and to engage in some law enforcement likely violates the Posse Comitatus act, but also puts us squarely in the realm of tyrants who use the military to intimidate and bully civilians. This has the potential to make the Kent State shooting of the Nixon era look like nothing.
There are no simple and easy solutions. Enforcement only approaches have not, and will not, work. Foreign aid packages alone have not, and will not, work. The only thing that will work is comprehensive changes to the root causes of the issues, some of which we, as a nation, have caused. Drastic changes in how we handle both the migrants, and how we address the root causes, are going to be necessary in order for there to be meaningful change.