One Simple Way to Stop the Migration Crisis at US Borders
Yes, we must keep families together; but we also must address why families are migrating.
The countries of the “Northern Triangle” — consisting of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras — are ranked among the most politically unstable, violent, dangerous places in the world. Marred by gang-led crime, extreme poverty, and systemic corruption, the homicide rates of these countries are second only to active warzones.
Imagine if you were born there. Would you not risk everything for a chance at life for your family — not even necessarily a better life, but just life itself?
The stakes here are being, not well-being. So it should be of no surprise that applications for asylum from this region have skyrocketed in recent years. They are seeking the America — the “land of the free” — that shines as a beacon of hope in the world for those deprived of the right to life and liberty, let alone the opportunity to pursue happiness.
The Trump administration has shown little interest in the welfare of asylum seekers, or in seriously addressing the reasons why they flee in the first place. Only after widespread condemnation did it reluctantly back down from its hardline approach, which resulted in more than 2,300 migrant children being separated from their families at the border. Meanwhile, the administration continues to make clear its intention to gut the US foreign aid budget — the one thing that might actually help improve conditions in these countries — should they be given the chance.
As we obsess over how asylum seekers affect us and what our response should be, we continue to turn a blind eye to the causes of why these people are crossing borders in the first place.
Migrants rest on railroad tracks as they wait for a train headed north on the outskirts of Mexico City in May 2012. Central American migrants are fueled in large part to make the journey due to of rising violence brought by the spread of drug cartels.
Over the years, I’ve tried to understand these causes by visiting refugee camps, spending countless hours discussing the problem with frustrated and resource-constrained UN officials, and witnessing administrative detention and processing centres up close.
Perhaps the most straightforward explanation came from a friend, Akram, himself once a refugee from Afghanistan. In his words:
“Imagine that you live in a building with 100 individual apartments — each housing a family. Suddenly, a fire engulfs the whole building, blocking the exit. You open your windows and call for help. Firefighters come, but they only have one truck with only one ladder. This means that only one family can descend safely through their window via the lifesaving ladder. This leaves the other 99 families facing a horrific dilemma. Do they stay and wait for the fire to consume them, or do they — knowing they have nothing to lose — risk it all by jumping out the window? What would you do?”
This is the harsh reality facing those seeking asylum, not only in the US but in countries around the world. Due to constrained resources, less than 1% of all those who are found to be genuine refugees are resettled through the UN system. As my friend Akram went on to explain, “With no real choice at all for the remaining 99%, many jump and risk it all, not for a better life but for a chance at life.”
We hear of politicians saying that asylum seekers should wait in line, go through official channels. But many asylum seekers know such a “queue” is a myth, a fiction. Constrained by resources, the current UN system has found itself, not for want of trying, grossly ill-equipped for assisting the 65 million displaced people around the world.
Yet, while the system catering to refugees may be overwhelmed and seemingly broken, that should not be an excuse for inaction.
The United States, one of the most generous nations in the world, can and should create more ladders by continuing to offer asylum for those in need. But if we really want to stop the border crossings, then we need to recognize people will only stop jumping when there is no fire to flee.
Carlos Antonio Aguilera, 14, of Honduras, poses as Central American migrants traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan begin their day at a sports club in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, April 3, 2018.
This is where investing in foreign aid efforts, alleviating poverty, extending equality of opportunity, and assisting countries to stamp out crime and violence can reduce fuel for the fire.
The US development assistance accounts for less than 1% of the total federal budget, yet when deployed in the right way, our aid dollars help alleviate poverty, hunger, and disease in some of the most vulnerable communities, in the process producing healthy and productive citizens, promoting stability, and creating the conditions for economic growth and development.
In recent years, US aid efforts have helped reduce and contain the spread of deadly diseases like HIV/AIDs that once destabilised and devastated developing countries, and assisted 19 million rural households and farmers weather the impact on global food systems brought on by the 2008 global financial crisis.
And if you doubt the long-term impact of development efforts, then just look at the transformation of Colombia over the last two decades. Once a hotbed of gang violence and drug crime, working in partnership with local stakeholders, US development programs assisted Colombia’s peace negotiations and helped create opportunities for former rebels to move back into society. Fast forward to today and Colombia is one of the US’ key allies in the region.
Instead of proposing to slash foreign aid budget by an unprecedented 30%, the Trump administration would do well to use these funds to invest in re-creating communities from which men, women, and children no longer feel the need to flee. Try as we might, turning our back on the world is sure to have consequences further down the road. So let us commit to building a world with more ladders and less fires through a robust development assistance program. Future generations will thank us for it.
A woman from the Central American migrant caravan looks through the border wall toward a group of people gathered on the U.S. side while holding a child, near where the border wall ends in the ocean, in Tijuana, Mexico, April 29, 2018.