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It’s little mystery that so many Mexicans and Central Americans wish to immigrate to the United States: our country is a significantly better place to live than much of Latin America. It’s freer, it’s safer, it’s wealthier, it’s less corrupt, and its welfare programs are far more functional. In contrast to comparisons with Canada and most of Western Europe, this isn’t a matter of marginal differences: there’s a fundamental difference in quality and length of life.
So long as this disparity exists, people will be willing to break our laws and risk their lives to come here. Our (limited) ability to stop them will demand a great deal of expense and effort on our part and force us to do a number of ugly things, like sending indignant-but-eager-to-work people back to the squalor, dysfunction, and danger they left. As a nationalist — no, not all libertarians are open-borders advocates — I think these efforts are necessary even as I lament them.
While securing borders is a necessary first step, the best long-term solution is for Central America to become a place worth living in, both for the ambitious individual and the family just trying to get by. It will be no easy task: building the social and cultural institutions that have allowed for our economic and cultural flourishing is an arduous and lengthy process.
The success of the project has to be the ultimate responsibility of individual Latin Americans. These kind of social problems are extraordinarily difficult — if not impossible — to solve from on high, and it’s doubly true for those outside the society in need of fixing. If the people of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador want to improve their lives, they’re going to have to lead the effort and do most of the work.
That said, we may be able to offer some assistance and insight and should advertise our willingness. “We” of course, doesn’t only mean the government of the United States, but should also — indeed, overwhelmingly — refer to the people, institutions, churches, and businesses that make up its society. As Dennis Prager has pointed out, the values and practices that have made America and similar countries successful are thoroughly exportable and adaptable to other cultures.
The specifics of how best to do this is a topic for someone with much greater knowledge of business and Latin America than I. However, there do seem to be things we could stop doing that impede this process.
- Demagoguing free trade and encouraging economic nativism. If American companies hire illegal immigrants because their labor is cheaper and their eager to work, then it stands to reason that — in some cases — it should be more economical to relocate a single factory to Mexico or Guatemala than it is to have thousands of Mexican and Guatemalans sneak into the country and be eternally subject to prosecution and deportment. This sort of thing should be applauded, not condemned.
- A great number of nominally religious American organizations — often, though not exclusively, associated with the Catholic Church — have taken it upon themselves to provide social services for immigrants to America. There is a lot of money involved here. Assuming for the sake of argument that these aren’t rent-seeking schemes posing as Christian charity, these efforts would be much better directed by improving conditions for their co-religionists from Latin America in Latin America.
Stopping this sort of thing would be a good start, but true change will take time, effort, and sweat and can’t be dictated. If anyone knows about individuals or programs working to bring Central America out of poverty — whether American-based or, infinitely better, native to the region — please share them in the comments.
Photo Credit: Flickr user citalan_carlos.