A two-pronged pol­icy needed to stem the flow of mi­grants

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - WORLD - By Alon Ben-Meir

To dra­mat­i­cally slow the flow of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion and even end it does not rest on build­ing walls or send­ing troops to the border, 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, mainly sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment projects, in the mi­grant’s coun­try of ori­gin. In­deed, 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, if not to a great ex­tent, pre­cip­i­tated by the United States, which makes Amer­ica even more morally re­spon­si­ble to do some­thing about it.

Be­yond that, ab­ject poverty and hope­less­ness breeds re­sent­ment and de­spon­dency and leads to gang vi­o­lence and ex­trem­ism, which is only the nat­u­ral out­come of these sub­hu­man con­di­tions. Lit­tle will change un­less the 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.

The plight of three Cen­tral Amer­i­can coun­tries tells the story be­hind the in­flux of im­mi­grants flock­ing to our coun­try from these and other coun­tries.

Hon­duras is Cen­tral Amer­ica’s sec­ond­poor­est coun­try. More than 60% of the pop­u­la­tion lives in poverty, and it has one of the high­est lev­els of eco­nomic in­equal­ity in Latin Amer­ica. Poverty in Hon­duras is chiefly due to ram­pant crime, vi­o­lence, po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity, cor­rup­tion, and a sig­nif­i­cant sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to hur­ri­canes and droughts.

Gu­atemala has the largest econ­omy in Cen­tral Amer­ica, but de­spite re­cent growth, eco­nomic in­equal­ity and poverty have in­creased, par­tic­u­larly among the ru­ral indige­nous pop­u­la­tion. Mal­nu­tri­tion and ma­ter­nal mor­tal­ity rates are among the worst in Latin Amer­ica, es­pe­cially in indige­nous ar­eas. More than half of the pop­u­la­tion lives be­low the poverty line.

El Sal­vador has one of the low­est eco­nomic growth rates in Cen­tral Amer­ica. Since the end of the civil war in 1992, the coun­try has made progress in terms of po­lit­i­cal and so­cial de­vel­op­ment, but high rates of crime and vi­o­lence con­tinue to threaten these gains. El Sal­vador is also vul­ner­a­ble to ad­verse nat­u­ral events, which is only made worse by ex­treme cli­mate change.

In these coun­tries, ru­ral poverty places great stress on cities and ul­ti­mately pro­pels im­mi­gra­tion, and as long as it does, the enor­mous eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity that it cre­ates will con­tinue.

Trump’s de­mand of $20 bln to build a wall along the Mex­i­can border is mis­guided, im­prac­ti­cal, and a waste of pre­cious re­sources that can change the lives of mil­lions of peo­ple if in­vested wisely in these poverty-stricken coun­tries. Does Trump know how cost ef­fec­tive it is to pro­mote peo­ple’s projects within the coun­try of ori­gin?

Hope for bet­ter life

A frac­tion of $20 bln would change the so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions in these coun­tries. One bil­lion dol­lars in­vested in eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment projects can pro­vide food, drink­ing water, jobs, self-em­pow­er­ment, and hope for bet­ter life for a mil­lion poor, dis­placed, and de­spair­ing peo­ple.

Ac­cord­ing to Dr. Yossef Ben-Meir, Pres­i­dent of the High At­las Foun­da­tion in Morocco and a 20-year vet­eran in sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment, a $100,000 in­vest­ment can es­tab­lish a women’s co-op­er­a­tive of ap­prox­i­mately 50 mem­bers ben­e­fit­ting ap­prox­i­mately 300-350 peo­ple. “The out­stand­ing in­vest­ment needed ends up be­ing a rel­a­tively small pro­por­tion of the cost the na­tions that re­ceive or re­pel mi­grants in­cur.”

In Gu­atemala, for ex­am­ple, an or­gan­i­sa­tion work­ing on fam­ily plan­ning in 2017 alone pre­vented over 14,000 un­wanted preg­nan­cies, 95 child deaths, and 6 ma­ter­nal deaths, all with only $880,000.

It has un­equiv­o­cally been shown that would-be im­mi­grants strongly pre­fer to stay in their home com­mu­ni­ties if only their ba­sic needs are met and there ex­ist op­por­tu­ni­ties for growth. They will work hard to en­sure the sus­tain­abil­ity of projects they choose and de­velop vested in­ter­ests in their im­ple­men­ta­tion and out­comes.

It should be noted that the prin­ci­ple of eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment is the same, be that in coun­tries in South Amer­ica or Africa; only the na­ture and the type of project dif­fers from one coun­try or com­mu­nity to an­other, de­pend­ing on their spe­cial needs. Here is where we must in­vest, to give peo­ple a chance not only for their sake but ours as well, be­cause Amer­ica flour­ishes when other peo­ple in far lands flour­ish too.

Eco­nomic in­vest­ments and the i mple­men­ta­tion 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—a sen­si­ble and com­pan­ion­ate pol­icy that gov­erns all as­pects of mi­gra­tion to Amer­ica.

We should end the painful in­sta­bil­ity for DREAMers by of­fer­ing a path to cit­i­zen­ship to the nearly one mil­lion in­di­vid­u­als who came to the US when they were chil­dren. They are Amer­i­cans in their hearts and souls; they are here to stay, and we have a solemn obli­ga­tion to re­move any cloud of un­cer­tainty about their fu­ture.

Un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants

We must re­solve once and for all the prob­lem of the over 12 mil­lion un­doc­u­mented im­mi­grants who have been in the coun­try for years and have be­come an in­te­gral part of Amer­ica’s so­cial fab­ric. They should be as­sured that they will not be de­ported if they vol­un­tar­ily reg­is­ter and will too be offered a path to cit­i­zen­ship – a one-time amnesty pro­gramme.

We must en­force estab­lished pro­ce­dures to deal with refugees and asy­lum seek­ers, not ig­nore or com­pletely vi­o­late them as the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has cru­elly done—a de­cent process that al­lows safety for those who are es­cap­ing the hor­ror of vi­o­lence and would face cer­tain death if turned back.

And fi­nally, ex­ist­ing pro­grams for le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, in­clud­ing the Di­ver­sity Im­mi­grant Visa Pro­gramme, fam­ily re­uni­fi­ca­tion, and em­ploy­ment-based im­mi­gra­tion, should be fully im­ple­mented. The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion should be pre­vented from un­der­min­ing these pro­cesses that have been in place for many years.

Amer­ica has and must con­tinue to wel­come im­mi­grants of all col­ors, de­nom­i­na­tions, and coun­tries. Each and ev­ery new mi­grant, re­gard­less of his or her back­ground, brings with them the riches of their cul­ture, tal­ents, and skills, and ul­ti­mately is eco­nom­i­cally ben­e­fi­cial to the United States, not a drain.

There is some­thing mag­i­cal about Amer­ica. It is a coun­try that has opened its doors to im­mi­grants from the world over, and the wider the door has been open, the bet­ter and greater Amer­ica has be­come. But sadly, Trump’s racist, Is­lam­o­pho­bic, and white su­prem­a­cist DNA has made an even greater mess of the al­ready un­sa­vory, in­co­her­ent, and par­ti­san pol­icy and meth­ods in ad­dress­ing the prob­lem of im­mi­gra­tion.

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.

The si­mul­ta­ne­ous im­ple­men­ta­tion of this two-tiered pol­icy would, within a rel­a­tively short pe­riod of time, sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the in­flux of mi­grants to our bor­ders while de­vel­op­ing the so­cio-eco­nomic con­di­tions to give sub­stance and rea­son for the in­hab­i­tants of these coun­tries to stay put and build a hope­ful fu­ture in their home­land. Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a pro­fes­sor of in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions at the Cen­ter for Global Af­fairs at NYU. He teaches cour­ses on in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­a­tion and Mid­dle Eastern stud­ies. [email protected]­ben-meir.com www.alon­ben-meir.com

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