Compassion, Caravans and Common Sense

caravan, Honduras, Donald TrumpAt the moment, in the south of Mexico, there are about 5000 people walking, bussing and being given lifts so that they can reach the American border in time to create really brilliant pre-election footage of nasty white men acting on the orders of the Orange Ogre beating up, if not outright shooting, the veneer of women and children who act as the vanguard for the caravan.

This is pretty clearly an organized operation. The Hondurans did not all wake up a week ago and decide, spontanously, to march to America. Who funded the organization is an interesting question which will almost certainly not be answered before the human tide rolls in. And it actually doesn’t matter because the issue does not go away because it turns out that Soros or the Democratic National Committee provided the money.

Migration, mass or otherwise, is likely to be the dominant issue in the 21st century. And not just any sort of migration; the migration of desperately poor people to wealthier places. Whether they are sub-Saharan Africans, Middle Eastern Muslims or the masses of the Central American poor, the issue is going to remain the same: what do weathy nations owe the people of poorer nations, if anything.

Truth to tell, the US could let the entire caravan into the country, sort out the obvious criminals and other undesirables and let the rest stay without breaking a sweat. 5000 people is simply not enough to really matter in the grand scheme of the United States. (And this may very well be what Trump ends up doing as it has the best political optics assuming the caravan makes it to the US border.)

The trouble with that solution is that it would rather obviously create a huge incentive for more caravans to set out. While 5000 people would be a drop in the bucket, 50,000 would be a huge problem and 500,000 would be catastrophic. The dilemma is how to be compassionate without creating the conditions favouring more caravans.

Americans are tremendously generous people and they have a remarkable capacity to get things done quickly and effectively. One potentially reasonable solution would be to set up processing stations deep inside Mexico with accomodation, food and even cash incentives to bring the caravaners of the march and into a process which would treat their asylum claims seriously and legally. Logistically, setting up the first processing station a hundred miles ahead of the caravan would not be easy, but it would also not be the only station.

This sort of approach would require the permission and support of the Mexican government but that should be relatively easy to secure. It would also require a serious commitment on the part of the Trump administration to actually understand what is driving the migrants. Again, not impossible.

Politically, putting resources into a line of processing stations up to the American border designed to blunt the force of the caravan seems like a solution which all but the most partisan anti-Trumpers could get behind. It would also set the stage for the second element of a compassionate and common sense solution.

The way to stop caravans is to work towards eliminating the conditions from which they arise. The caravan’s organizers began the caravan in a desperately poor part of a violent and gang ridden very nearly failed state. Make Honduras Great Again sounds a bit facile but, if the US wants to reduce pressure on its borders, it needs successful states in Central and South America.

Sixty years of American foreign policy in Central and South America has not done a speck of good. (I suspect because of a combination of misguided support for assorted dictators and billions of dollars of exactly the wrong sort of foreign aid.) There are lots of good ways to improve conditions in Central and South America but they mainly involve private investment and a willingness to trade aggressively with those countries. Taking a second and a third look at the costs of the “war on drugs” would also be a good idea.

Previous administrations were largely unable to tackle these sorts of iniatives if only because they could not think much outside the “foreign aid/”stable” government” box. Trump does not even know there is such a box.

Making progress in Central and South America using a new model which combined private investment with trade and provided support to the governments as they dealt with their gang problems would take time. But it would also provide Trump with a political theme above and beyond “Keep America Great” for the 2020 election.

 

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