To fix our immigration problems, we should demand that Latin American countries fix themselves.
Do the governments of Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras have any responsibility for the catastrophe on southern frontier? Reacting to this latest crisis in Obama’s reign of error, Americans are debating the pros and cons of securing the U.S-Mexican border, reforming immigration law, building new detention centers, and more.
But one solution seems off the table:
These Latin governments should improve their own political economies, so that their people need not ride atop freight trains, ford the Rio Grande, and then dodge Gila monsters en route to better lives.
Liberals consider it Washington’s duty to nurture these people. But they first should ask Mexico City, San Salvador, Guatemala City, and Tegucigalpa for assistance. Better yet, if Latin politicians improved their own domestic conditions, their constituents could stay home, avoid public assistance, and enjoy prosperity, health, and freedom inside their own countries.
According to the latest data, on table 34 of the 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics, 448,697 Mexicans were arrested that year while crossing into the U.S. So were 37,197 Salvadorans; 55,307 Guatemalans; and 48,984 Hondurans; but only 1,149 Canadians. Why so few? Canada’s per capita GDP is $42,734. Its generally unfettered market is rated No. 6 in the Heritage Foundation-Wall Street Journal Index of Economic Freedom. Its honest government is ranked No. 9 in Transparency International’s 2013 Corruption Perceptions Index. So, Canadians stay put, rather than flee south for opportunity.
Also, Canada outpaces America on key metrics. U.S. per capita GDP is higher at $49,222, although America, at No. 12, lags Canada in economic freedom and, at No. 19, in transparency.
By comparison, El Salvador’s per capita GDP is $7,438, Guatemala is the world’s 83rd freest economy, and Honduras has Earth’s 140th cleanest government. These nations and Mexico need to get it together, rather than simply stick their kids atop boxcars and send them north to surrender to the U.S. Border Patrol. America’s
“The ability of both foreign governments and dissatisfied people to use the United States as their safety valve may well have contributed to the lack of meaningful social, economic, and political reforms in the sending countries,” Ira Mehlman, media director of the Federation of American Immigration Reform, tells me. “The attitude of many governments is, ‘If you’re not happy here, go to the United States. They’ll provide jobs, education, health care, etc., and we’ll sit here and wait for the remittances to start flowing.'”
Among the 608,493 North and Central Americans and Caribbeans who broke into the U.S. in 2012, only 484 were Costa Rican, and just 185 were Panamanian. Why so few? While distance from America may be a factor, Costa Rica and Panama are doing well enough that people there have decent prospects and avoid the arduous journey north. Costa Rica’s and Panama’s per capita GDPs are $12,606 and $15,617, respectively. Alas, Panama is far behind El Salvador (No. 83) in transparency, but it beats Mexico (No. 106), Guatemala (No. 123), and Honduras (No. 140).
For a detailed analysis of these countries’ socioeconomic indicators, see here.
Regardless, this solution to illegal immigration – improving Latin America so erstwhile illegals can thrive at home – is not part of this highly contentious debate.
The Left wants amnesty and voting rights for illegals. (Yup. New York lawmakers are weighing legislation to let illegals vote in local and state elections.) Meanwhile, the Right wants a closed border and deportations. But the idea that these countries should fix themselves is, bafflingly, a non-issue on both sides.
From cutting tariffs to lowering taxes to clamping down on crooked politicians, there is plenty that these countries can and should do to export more than just their populations.
America can help by welcoming their products. Step one, among many: Scrap the calamitous sugar program and let U.S. buyers purchase as much Central American sugar cane as they want.
While Americans debate the wisdom of being the world’s policeman, we should agree that the U.S.A. has no obligation to become the world’s babysitter.
A version of this piece previously appeared on National Review Online.