Monday, August 18, 2014

Fix Immigration in Home Countries

I recently traveled to Guatemala with my wife and four Guatemala-born children. I developed some thoughts about immigration, wrote 'em up, and submitted them to the Omaha World-Herald as a column. The OWH rejected it. Click below if you want to read it.

We had a great trip to Guatemala visiting family, renewing friendships, and helping our children connect with their heritage. 

For me, though, there was a negative undercurrent. I looked around me and pondered why so many good, smart, hard-working people are living in such grinding poverty. 

Two realizations hit me: 1) Old World ruling class politics is crushing the common man in Mexico and Central America; 2) America’s immigration crisis must be solved in the home countries of illegal immigrants. 

The crisis produced by children illegally crossing the border from Mexico into America has emboldened some voices to say America must accommodate all people in need, not just children, regardless of whether they came here legally. But if we do that, America will be swamped by a tsunami of people fleeing their home countries. Even if we limit such a policy to children, we will raid our already-debt-ravaged treasury to finance the project, yet we will accomplish nothing to solve the problems generating the crisis. 

Some say: Just help people from neighboring countries so we aren’t overrun. 

Even if we could enforce such a policy, it wouldn’t make sense. What is the moral basis for saying “yes” to a Mexican or Guatemalan child and “no” to a Nigerian or Bangladeshi child? Even where adults are concerned, if Jeb Bush is right in saying an illegal immigrant should be accommodated if he is motivated by an “act of love” to provide for his family, then geography is irrelevant. It shouldn’t matter whether home is 500 miles from the American border or 5,000.

And again, it won’t solve anything. 

Recently the presidents of Guatemala and Honduras traveled to Washington, D.C., to complain that American immigration policy is the cause of the border crisis. Presidents of Mexico never have been shy about criticizing American immigration policy. 

When is an American president going to publicly body slam such critics as hypocritical betrayers of their own people? I just spent a week amid the suffering produced by their failure of leadership. They accommodate the ruling elite; they do nothing about the criminal element growing larger and stronger on their watch; they ignore the plight of the common man. 

Righteous indignation should be directed at corruption-plagued governments that drive their citizens to the madness of sending their children to other countries. Poverty is not a force of nature. It is man-made. The solution to the border crisis is not more American charity or some form of amnesty approved in D.C. The solution is a political system more like ours in the home countries of illegal immigrants. 

Before someone calls me an ugly American, let me point out that this has nothing to do with nationality. It has everything to do with whether a society honors the rule of law and rewards people who work hard and play by the rules. People are trying to get into America illegally because their home countries do not honor the rule of law and do not reward people who work hard and play by the rules. 

For Americans with a conscience, the worst part of the Cold War was choosing between negative extremes in deciding which faction to support in various countries. Generally it came down to: We must support these thugs because the other thugs will help spread communism and threaten our existence. For the common man in the countries at issue, it was two versions of basically the same thing; he would be terrorized and exploited either way. 

The challenge of 21st century American foreign policy is to encourage in other countries the kind of system that has worked so well for us by maximizing the opportunity for the common man to prosper. The key is to find the right balance, as America’s founders did in the Constitution, between individual freedom and government control of society. 

The founders called it ordered liberty. In 21st century Mexico and Central America that means something between elitist oligarchy and leftist totalitarianism. I don’t know where the right balance point is in those countries, and America shouldn’t try to define it. I just know they need something more like what we have. 

This is not imposing our values on others. The idea of respecting the rule of law and rewarding honest work and solid living is not “ours.” It’s a universal principle. People all over the world want it as much as we do. That’s why they come to America and flourish. All of us have someone in our lineage who did the same. 

We must help establish the same formula for success in other countries. We want people prosperous and living with intact families in their own countries, consumers of our exports who visit America as business partners or tourists rather than lawbreakers acting out of desperation. 

Like dons in a Zorro movie, Mexican and Central American ruling elites might fight such change. I’m not advocating more of the violence and civil war – some of it instigated by American business and political operatives – that this region endured during the Cold War. I see Gandhi-like reform movements in each country targeting violent crime and insider corruption as well as promoting economic opportunity. It won’t work unless it’s homegrown, but Gandhi succeeded because the international community supported his movement and helped apply the pressure needed to break the hold the imperial ruling class had on India. 

Mexican and Central American leaders might say to America: Stay out of our politics! 

America’s response: Your failed leadership has created a legal and humanitarian disaster at our border, and you have the audacity to blame us for it. You have made your politics our politics. 

America should feed, clothe, shelter, and provide medical care for illegal immigrant children at the border, then send them home. Then America and the rest of the world should deliver to the children’s home countries decisive political support for advocates pressuring their rulers to provide the universal rights and opportunities for which all people naturally yearn.

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