President Trump’s talk during his presidential candidacy of an immigration crisis at our southern border was overblown to say the least. The level of illegal border crossings, at that time, were not at crisis levels. The Trump campaign was highlighting an issue of ignorant importance to parts of our country, namely the manufacturing industrial parts of the Midwest, which indeed have seen lots of jobs in the sector go to places like Mexico due to trade agreements like NAFTA. Capitalizing on anger in the region due to job exporting, Trump labeled Mexican immigrants as “rapists” who are taking American jobs, rallying a base that helped elect him to the White House. Never mind that the issue to them isn’t that illegal immigrants are coming to the U.S. and taking American jobs, but rather that American manufacturing jobs are being sent to places like Mexico, a country that has a comparative advantage in labor costs.
Now, in mid-2019, there seems to actually be an immigration crisis at our southern border. The figures are staggering: 144,000 arrests at the southern border in the month of May, and over 680,000 in the last eight months. That’s on pace for over a million in a 12-month period. What do you do with that many migrants, many of them families with young children, when they have arrived at your border? Not to mention the human-rights-violating policies of family separation, child detentions, and ceasing of child services such as English classes and recreation. The last time border arrest levels were this high was around 2000, when the immigrants were primarily Mexicans seeking opportunity. Now those arriving at the border are primarily families fleeing the drug violence of the “northern triangle” of Central America (El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala), the legitimate definition of refugees and internationally displaced persons. And the numbers don’t seem like they’re going down, as the refugees have been hearing the Trump rhetoric and want to cross the border before it actually closes up. Add to this the additional impact that the administration has cut off millions of dollars of aid to the “northern triangle” countries to help them quell the violence.
Recent mention of tariffs (taxes of imports into a country) against Mexico for not stopping the flow of immigrants across its country is not beneficial. As mentioned above, the American and Mexican economies are highly interconnected: next to China, Mexico is our biggest trading partner. The amount of goods that cross the border in both directions is a massive boost to our American economy. Tariffs will not only impact prices and our overall economic outlook, but will likely lead to retaliatory tariffs by Mexico on agricultural products, something that will cause further financial costs and destabilize markets.
But, having said all that so far, clearly something actually needs to be done. The human toll should be enough to call for action, and the economic warning signs are flashing. It is important to work with Mexico, not threaten them with import taxes, on slowing the flow of refugees, for we need them as much as they need us. It is important to increase aid and cooperation to countries experiencing violence, not cut it off, for the lack of assistance has only increased the human flow instead of helping slow it down. It is important to invest more money into DHS to facilitate the changing conditions on the ground at the border (more people, families and children) as opposed to claiming there’s no more money (a falsehood – a balanced special funding bill could have confessional backing) and thus you must treat human beings this way. It is important to come up with a clear plan for those immigrants already here in America instead of mass deportations that send away hard-working members of society and even war veterans and not the criminals you thought made up that bloc. Maybe some sort of physical barrier is an aspect of this plan too, but it needs to include all of the aforementioned components as well or it will easily be circumvented; and it seems all too familiar with the east-west barrier in Berlin that didn’t work out too well for East Germany. Or maybe, instead of such focus on a wall, there can be actual reform of the immigration laws to make it easier to legally enter the county, as opposed to banning groups of people from war-stricken regions.
Unfortunately, tens of thousands of lives are being ruined by America. Children separated from parents – nothing good comes from a child experiencing parental separation on this scale. Once a beacon of hope to the world, we are now engaging in the same despicable acts as the despots and cruel regimes of the world. The issue is now hotly defined by American political fault lines, with the idea being ludicrous that Democrats would support a wall or Republicans would support citizenship for those already here. Even if the congress decides to act, it is not clear that the legislature has the numbers to override any veto by the president. The violence in Central America isn’t stopping, and, for now, neither are those fleeing it. It’s hard to see a positive way out.