Written by Rick Crawford
Published by Arkansas Democrat Gazette
Regardless of one’s political persuasion, the flood of “irregular migrants” at our southern border presents one of the most immediate security threats facing the United States today.
The long-standing security dilemma there has only been exacerbated by the Biden administration. The promises of asylum, leniency for criminal behavior, and even citizenship–aka amnesty–emanating from both the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress have effectively signaled to migrants that the U.S. border is indeed open.
Since President Biden was sworn in, approximately 180,000 illegal border crossings and/or encounters have taken place–a direct result of his executive orders. The president’s unilateral actions have prompted a rush of attempted crossings from countries like Honduras, Guatemala, et al., leaving the Department of Homeland Security and other federal agencies overwhelmed with an untenable surge in numbers.
If this isn’t an emergency, as DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas asserts, then why did the administration direct FEMA to assist in housing the growing number of migrants flooding the border? The “E” in FEMA stands for emergency. By dispatching FEMA to our southern border, the president has verified that the situation there is, in fact, an emergency.
While these developments are worrisome and cause for concern, the actions currently being discussed by this administration fail to address the root cause of the issues at hand.
We can all agree that America has long been the promised land for many, providing opportunities for economic and social advancement not present anywhere else in the world. Most Americans trace their roots back to immigrants in search of a better life–many only a generation removed. Such stories are inextricably woven into the fabric of America.
However, we cannot and should not continue to make empty promises that can’t be kept, well-intentioned though they might sound. It is neither fair, nor honest.
While no other nation embraces such lax immigration standards, the Biden administration is taking a decidedly different tack from the previous administration. By reversing course on the demonstrably successful policies of his predecessor, President Biden has led us down a path that undermines our national security, our standing in the region, and the international community writ large. This is not a recipe for success, but rather one of continued failures and frustrations.
Until the United States begins to address the root causes of mass irregular migration in our hemisphere, the problems on our southern border will never improve. This starts with increased American engagement in Central America–specifically the Northern Triangle–that is strategic and attuned to both the challenges and opportunities the region presents.
The time is ripe. Leaders in the region across the public and private sectors are calling for a renewed era of U.S. engagement in the Western Hemisphere. For too long, our focus has drifted elsewhere–understandably so in a post-9/11 world–but this posture has only permitted long-standing issues to fester, while giving rise to new ones. Covid-19 has only made the problem worse.
The void created by our absence is increasingly being filled by China, narco-gangs, and other adversaries, employing mercantilist practices such as “debt diplomacy” and other nefarious ploys. We need to act–now.
Again, our partners in the region are asking that we do just that. It is an open invitation to re-engage there–an invitation we cannot afford to decline. However, there is one blinding caveat. We cannot and should not engage in the Western Hemisphere in a manner that resembles traditional development measures and the failed programs of decades past.
President Biden’s promise of $4 billion for the Northern Triangle countries earlier this year may sound like a promising start, but it focuses on symptoms, not root cause. Absent the much-needed collaboration with the private sector to advance economic opportunities in the region–which promote trade, business development, and job creation–this institutional government-based problem-solving method is doomed to fail yet again.
U.S. policy should help create an economic environment that provides opportunities to prosper in place, negating the need for families to embark on an oft-times perilous journey in search of economic freedom elsewhere. In the long-term, this approach will also help strengthen the rule of law and the institutions necessary for the economic revolution Central America so desperately needs.
To be sure, the immigration problem at our southern border has risen to flood stage, demanding our immediate attention. If we are to prevent this flood from completely spilling its banks, then perhaps we should take a look at the headwaters of this deluge and address the actual root causes.
U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford represents Arkansas’ 1st District. The original version of this column was published in the Washington Examiner (tinyurl.com/washexborder) and is reprinted here with permission.