Two ways to solve the US’ illegal immigration problem that don’t involve firing tear gas at children
- A two-pronged policy of investing in economic development in Central American nations while developing a comprehensive immigration policy in the US would be more effective than building a wall
Dramatically slowing the flow of illegal immigration does not rest on building walls or sending troops to the border (“Dramatic scenes as US agents fire tear gas at migrants”, November 26) or by heartlessly snatching children from their mothers’ arms, or by incarceration, deportation or prosecution. A big part of the answer lies in economic development in migrants’ countries of origin.
Instead of building walls, we need to build the kind of bridges that can change the lives of other people for the better and give them hope. After all, the political destabilisation in Central American countries was in part precipitated by the United States, which means America has a moral responsibility to do something about it.
Abject poverty and hopelessness breed resentment and despondency and lead to gang violence and extremism. Little will change unless people, especially the youth, are given an opportunity to live a normal and productive life, develop a sense of belonging, and have vested interests in their work and self-worth.
A fraction of the US$20 billion that Trump demands to build a wall along the border with Mexico would change the socio-economic conditions in these countries. US$1 billion invested in economic development projects can provide food, drinking water, jobs, self-empowerment and hope for a better life for a million poor, displaced and despairing people.
It has unequivocally been shown that would-be immigrants strongly prefer to stay in their home communities if their basic needs are met and there exist opportunities for growth. They will work hard to ensure the sustainability of projects they choose.
Economic investments and the implementation of sustainable development projects doesn’t mean that all illegal immigration will stop. We still need a comprehensive immigration policy consistent with our tradition of receiving migrants with open arms.
We should end the painful instability for “Dreamers” by offering a path to citizenship for the nearly 1 million people who came to the US as children. We must resolve the problem of the over 12 million undocumented immigrants who have become an integral part of America’s social fabric.
We must enforce established procedures to deal with refugees and asylum seekers, not ignore or completely violate them as the Trump administration has done. Existing programmes for legal immigration, including the Diversity Immigrant Visa Programme, family reunification and employment-based immigration should be fully implemented.
The solution to illegal immigration must be based on a two-pronged policy: first, investing in economic development projects through private entities to alleviate poverty and substantially reduce violence, which would also encourage other countries to invest. Second, developing a comprehensive immigration policy consistent with our tradition and moral obligation to extend our hands to those whose only sin is escaping the horrors of war, violence and starvation.
Dr Alon Ben-Meir, Centre for Global Affairs, NYU