Illegal immigration is both a domestic and foreign policy issue that the US government has long failed to adequately address. Traditionally, the US has turned a blind eye to the problem in order to reap the benefits of cheap labor, but the threat of terrorism and a weak economy have turned the issue into a national political debate that too often centers on domestic policy changes with little mention of foreign policy shifts. In recent months, a new dynamic has been added thanks to a sharp rise in children illegally crossing the border on their own. Potentially a result stemming from the Obama Administration’s attempt to better prioritize deportations and offer talented children a chance to contribute to America, this unintended consequence is a major problem.
Where American parents send their children to college for a better life, rarely questioning the promise of an education, Hispanic parents are sending their children across the border for a better life in America. While the economic benefit has overwhelmed the threat of deportation for those willing to illegally enter the United States, increasing violence throughout the Hispanic world creates an even stronger incentive. Given that it is not in the nature of Americans to bluntly embrace cruel and inhumane policies, the US can never apply enough punitive measures to counterbalance the incentives to violate American immigration laws.
At the same time, it is becoming ever more clear that deportations and amnesty cannot solve the illegal immigration problem while securing the border is no easy task as some of the willing are always going to find a way through. In the long run, massive illegal immigration resulted from a failure of nations in our hemisphere to serve their Peoples interests, thus economic development and improved governance in Hispanic countries is necessary. Given the largest effort in Mexico, Central America, South America, and the Caribbean over the last decade or so has been the embrace and implementation of “free trade” policies, which are truly a hands-off approach to economics, the US has largely been disengaged in our own hemisphere. As Republicans often like to say, America needs to show greater leadership, which is truly especially when it comes to our closest neighbors.
Beyond a massive policy initiative to reengage the Hispanic world, the most pressing issue that must be addressed is the humanitarian crisis that these children represent. Human trafficking is dangerous, because illegal immigrants can be murdered, die of exposure or neglect, be raped, be sold into slavery, be abused, and/or be exploited. For children, this danger is even greater. Consequently, parents of would-be border crossers need to understand they are sending their children to a potential death sentence. In addition, it may be necessary to coordinate with our neighbors to create legal penalties for parents who endanger their children in such a way, even if that requires establishing detention centers outside of the US. As for the children already inside the United States, there truly are no easy answers, so the Obama Administration needs the funds to care for the needs of these youths before they can be sent home to their countries, which must take greater responsibility for their repatriation needs.
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