My parents were refugees from Hitler. They were well educated, English speaking and able to rapidly assimilate into American life in the late 1930s.
Despite their best efforts; government bureaucracy, anti-Semitism and the speed with which Hitler seized most of Central and Western Europe thwarted their efforts to save their families from Nazi concentration camps.
They lived the American Dream but they both died in their late 90s still suffering from “survivor guilt” – still wondering what more they could have done for their parents and siblings – still missing them, still grieving for them.
On the day she died, my mother asked her care giver to pack a bag for her – saying she was going on a journey to visit her mother – my grandmother.
Desperation Drives Migration
When a young mother in Guatemala or Honduras makes the decision to pay a smuggler several thousand dollars to help her and her child/children leave their home, traveling thousands of miles north, she recognizes she is leaving everyone else in her life behind.
What drives her is the same certainty my parents felt – there is no other choice but to flee or to perish.
She is setting forth – knowing it is likely she will never see her parents or her siblings again.
She realizes – though she must dismiss the possibility in order to start the journey – she may not survive to reach the United States border with Mexico.
She, also, realizes – but is told by the smuggler not to worry – that US authorities may not let her remain in the United States.
If she is allowed to remain, alone except for her child/children, in a strange land with a strange language — the life that lies ahead will be full of new danger and challenges.
To leave everything familiar behind, to undertake that journey in the face of such overwhelming uncertainty – she must be truly desperate.
America Should Spend $25 Billion Wisely
Former Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson points out – to stop the flow of undocumented migrants we have to change the conditions on the ground in their home countries.
Underlying all the murder and mayhem – the fear and the poverty these families are fleeing — are the two dependent scourges of illegal drugs and the cartels that have become rich and powerful from Los Angeles to San Salvador — growing, transporting and selling these poisons.
The combination of leftist guerilla bands – supported by Cuba — and drug cartels have left innocent populations terrorized and victimized for generations.
It is estimated that 3.4 million Central Americans have fled to the United States since 2012.
What they are leaving behind is a triangle of failing nation-states that represent a clear and present danger to the safety of the United States’
Without a population able to resist, the cartels become the only “government” in the region – armed, violent, and aggressive toward their neighbors – an opportunity for Hezbollah and Iran anxious to expand their participation in the cocaine trade north from South America.
Without a “legitimate” economy, cocaine and violent gang members are the region’s chief exports to the United States.
Since the later years of the Reagan Administration various American governments have provided intelligence and drug interdiction support to weak governments throughout the region but a few brave Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) officers are not an army equipped to fight the cartels.
Deter Migration by Reducing Central America Violence
US Special Forces are in Syria training Syrians to fight for their homeland. They are in Iraq training Iraqis. They are in the heroin capital of the world – Afghanistan – training Afghanis.
Navy Seal (and other Special Forces) advisers can help the military of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to fight back.
Why not send American soldier/advisers south to intervene on the behalf of the families who are suffering under intolerable conditions.
If we deploy a portion of President Trump’s $25 Billion “security budget” to train soldiers in Central America to fight back against the drug cartels and remaining rag-tag guerilla bands, the US military advisers can do what a few DEA agents can’t — help Central American police and military forces to slow, if not stop, the production and transport of cocaine to the United States.
Slowing the flow of cocaine from Central America will save US lives while reducing health care costs.
US Special Forces have more than just military skills. They train farmers to raise legitimate crops profitably. They help civic leaders to create the basic instruments of governments – community councils, schools, health clinics – that serve the people, build civil societies.
But none of this potential to change conditions on the ground can be achieved without the precursor of a strong diplomatic effort to persuade and reassure Central American governments. But diplomacy cannot begin until the Trump Administration appoints ambassadors to these war-torn countries.
Process Asylum Claims Locally
In addition to fully staffed embassies, the administration should use some of the “security budget” to expand our consular services so that people who have a legitimate fear of persecution from gangs etc. can easily and safely apply for US asylum from a facility in their country of origin.
Asylum affidavits begun in the country of origin would be easier and faster to verify.
If asylum is warranted, these families – mainly women and children – would be able to travel safely to the United States. Their arrival and settlement pre-arranged.
If asylum is not warranted, they would be saved the dangerous and costly journey and an even more uncertain future upon their return.
In addition to expanded consular services, the US government – including our security services – should encourage (and partner with) US and international “non-governmental organizations” to provide shelter for those seeking asylum and an escape from violence in their home countries – create “safe zones”.
An Antidote to Desperation
The antidote to desperation is hope and the United States of America must give these people hope.
The people of Central America are young and hard-working. A cessation of violence would open the opportunity for economic expansion in the region — a benefit to the entire North American continent.
A reduction in the fear of violence and expanded economic opportunity are, in fact, the only way to stop the northward migration no matter how high the wall and how difficult the journey.
These goals are worth fighting for and our neighbors to the south would surely agree – if the United States came with a rational solution — no different than in Teddy Roosevelt’s time – “speak softly” but offer a “big stick”.