International Policy Digest

U.S. News /01 Dec 2020
12.01.20

Stopping Family Separations and Addressing the Causes of Immigration

Imagine you step off a plane with your family in Cancun. Airport security splits up your family without explanation. They take you to a room, you wait for a few minutes, eventually a doctor explains they just have to give you a quick test for COVID, and you’ll be reunited with your family soon. Thirty minutes and a negative test later, you are. Now imagine if instead, you never get an explanation, they send you home alone, and you don’t get to see your children for 3 years.

Of course, the United States wouldn’t let that happen to an American citizen. This is, however, the reality for 545 children who were separated from their parents at the U.S. border with Mexico. The separations were part of a zero-tolerance policy meant to deter migrants coming from Central America. Separating children from their parents is not an immigration policy, it is cruelty.

Family separations and building walls will not stop people immigrating to the United States from Central America. They choose to migrate for better economic opportunities and because they fear violence in their countries of origin. To address the underlying causes of immigration, the U.S. should not invest in a wall, but in Central America itself.

Contrary to what the Trump administration has argued, the border is not being invaded and does not require defending from immigrants. In fact, many migrants seek U.S. officials as soon as they cross the border, in hopes of applying for asylum. The least we can do is treat them humanely as they await their asylum status to be determined.

Addressing the root causes that lead many to migrate of course comes with a price tag. So does building a wall, which has cost an estimated $11 billion dollars so far. Since 2016, Congress has appropriated $3.1 billion dollars to a program aimed at improving governance, economic growth, and security in Central America. High crime rates, corruption, and impunity undermine governments, the education systems, and the economies of many Central American countries. Lack of economic opportunities pushes people to migrate or join gangs, which propagates a cycle of violence and immigration. Tackling these issues is the only way to address the flow of migration from the region.

A successful immigration policy will ultimately negate the need for a border wall. No one is advocating a wall along the border with Canada. Addressing insecurity and poverty in Central America not only helps people live better lives there, but ensures we won’t be stuck with a multi-billion dollar wall crumbling from disuse years down the line. Our money is better spent working to build schools, train police officers, develop economic opportunities, and tackle corruption. Nobody wants to uproot their entire lives to make a dangerous journey that is likely to end with them being deported. They do it for the chance at a better life.

Making these changes will take time. In the meantime, cruel policies like child separation must end. Migrants seeking asylum and refugee status must be treated with dignity and humanity. While the U.S. cannot absorb every immigrant, the U.S. needs to ensure the safety of migrants who would be put in danger if returned to their countries of origin. This can be done by expanding temporary protected status to ensure people are not sent home until it is safe to do so.

Everyone can agree that border security and immigration are important. The U.S. cannot simply let everyone in. Immigration and border security policies require smart solutions, not tough ones. Being “tough” on immigration is not befitting of a country whose most famous national landmark reads “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” Yes, security is important, no, we cannot take the tired and poor of every nation. But we can work to implement policies that free them of the fear and insecurity that pushes them to leave their homes.

Separating children from their parents as a scare tactic to deter immigration is contrary to every American value. The United States is a country better suited to building bridges rather than walls. Building infrastructure, improving education, and rooting out corruption are causes worthy of the United States. Our investment in the region will benefit more than Central America: It will benefit the United States.