Fort Report: The Caravan

Oct 26, 2018
Fort Report

In the 1980s, I traveled with a Jesuit priest to a Guatemalan refugee camp in Southern Mexico.  The people there had fled from the horrific political violence raging all around Central America.  On the heels of many innocent people getting killed, including four American nuns in El Salvador, it was my attempt to show solidarity with the people suffering and evaluate what could be done.

Fast forward to now.  We have a caravan of at least 7000 people making their way from Central America to the United States.  In the last 30 years, the dynamics of incomplete border control, insufficient federal enforcement, and exploitation of the poor by unscrupulous corporations has created a magnet for those seeking a better life.  Central America has aided this exodus by outsourcing its internal political and economic problems to the U.S.

Let’s be clear: No one is entitled to enter America illegally.  Generosity cannot flow from chaos.  Law and order create the conditions for justice and compassion.  A caravan is not the way to enter America.  It undermines good immigration policy.  It is unfair to those waiting in line and following the law.  It is a grave setback to proper harmonious relationship with Central America.

The dynamics around immigration are complex and multi-layered.  Using the most conservative estimates, more than 12 million people illegally remain in the U.S.  This old statistic, however, is being challenged by a new Yale study indicating that the true number of illegal immigrants could be as high as 30 million.  While most illegal entry is from our southern border, roughly 40% is due to overstaying a visa.

This summer we saw heart-wrenching reminders of the struggle to properly balance law enforcement with humanitarian considerations.  Although the policy of separating children from their parents is no longer in place, a widely unknown fact is that children often cross the border alone.  While the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) goes to great lengths to ensure the proper care of the 12,000 unaccompanied children already here, there is ongoing abuse of our asylum laws, with unrelated and unscrupulous adults posing as guardians to ensure their own entrance into our country.

In an ambitious attempt to meet multiple challenges, the House of Representatives recently voted on legislation to stiffen internal enforcement, modernize our immigration laws, and significantly increase border resources.  The House legislation moved towards a merit-based immigration system, provided new funding for more humane shelters, created an accelerated judicial review process, and made accommodations to resolve the anxious ambiguity faced by Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (or DACA) recipients, who were brought to this country through no fault of their own.  I supported these initiatives, but they, unfortunately, did not have sufficient support in the House.  In the meanwhile, we continue to increase border resources at a steady rate and step up enforcement against vicious criminal gangs like MS-13.

One overlooked priority not often discussed in the highly partisan debate over immigration is our foreign policy engagement with the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.  In an attempt to move the immigration debate off the Mexican-American one-yard line, for several years we have aggressively worked with these nations to foster just governance, end corruption, and improve economic opportunity—all to stem the pressure for economic migration.  Across administrations, we have spent on average $600 million a year on this effort.  In this volatile moment, the effectiveness of this policy is being put to the test.

America is a kind and welcoming nation, opening her arms to persons seeking refuge, their own good, and the deeper values of our country.  Good and ordered immigration policy is based on hospitality, capacity, and the person’s prospect for assimilation.  Put simply, it’s about justice and generosity.  While individuals within the caravan may need our help, a caravan cannot roll over these principles.