Too Big to Solve

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As a happening that could be interpreted as deliberate, the flooding of the southern USA border with children from Central America has jolted the immigration reform debate. It has also caused a flare-up of fear and insecurity for some people. The human rights aspect, always a factor in the reception and treatment of immigrants, especially those considered illegal, has become a major issue due to the drastic increase in “unaccompanied” children turning themselves in to US Immigration officials at the border.

All in all, an already unwieldy problem just warped into a complexity that borders on too big to solve. Many components contribute to the problem and fingers are somewhat justifiable pointed in all directions as human interest and unfortunately self-interest comes into play. While there are many facets to explore, today we will take a look at just one: The Money Trail.

“Who is paying for all of this?” is a very understandable question, especially in today´s economy where just making ends meet could be considered quite the accomplishment. So, let´s take a look at the immigration economic impact, not from a national aspect because spending has never been a problem for a nation, but from the angle of the groups benefitting financially from what we must accept, is a Growth Industry.

To understand the idea of a growth industry we must look at this issue within the larger context of the US Prison Industry. According to published reports, US prisons have become a very lucrative endeavor, since components of the system were privatized. Resources are invested to insure they are operated at maximum capacity, as with any other business, and the effect is that the overall prison population has gone from 300,000 in the seventies to over 2 million today. According to Prison Policy Initiative  over 50,000 of that number is represented by Immigration offenses and detention. At a reported $20-$33,000 a year per inmate, the “who is paying for this” question just made a substantial dimensional leap. Add to that the bail bond and parole businesses and you have a real industry that is managing serious numbers.

I just talked with a Salvadoran friend in the USA regarding this aspect of entering illegally. It really comes down to a matter of survival and those who cannot make the desert run turn themselves in. Normally they will be given a date to appear at court and be released on bail. Many will forfeit that bail. “You end up working for the courts your first year here,” I was told. It is also important to keep in mind that the costs involved do not fall solely on the US Border program. The immigrants themselves and/or their families have made an important financial investment just to gain entry.

To fully understand the cost for the immigrant, we must incorporate the economy of their home country. Most are leaving rural areas that offer no employment opportunity. The necessity of surviving on less than one dollar a day is widely used as the benchmark for extreme poverty in Central America. Minimum wage in El Salvador for commerce and services is $8.08 per day or $242.40 per month, less social security and pension for a take-home pay of $ 219.99 ($7.33 per day.) Agriculture salaries start at $3.50 per day.

Currently the cost, from where we are in eastern El Salvador to the US border is from $4,000 to $9,000. This is paid to the “coyote,” the local guide with all the connections to deliver you to the border. One thousand of this goes to the Zeta Drug Cartel for “safe passage” through their territory. This safe passage is no guarantee at any step of the two-week journey. Immigrants face robbery, extortion, beatings, rape and kidnapping into the sex trade. Once at the border, and opting out of the desert run, you turn yourself in and start looking for help to pay the bail bond, which I understand runs between $1,500 to $10,000. This latest border overload has caused a boom in the attorney business, which offers to get you through for another $3,000.

If you consider the number of immigrants and the cost figures mentioned, the dollar volume is staggering; In short, too much money is involved to allow a solution.

Causes me to ponder with regard to where people put their hopes and trust. Creating the conditions in which one could be confident of investing at home rather than risking life, limb and a huge debt to gamble on getting into the USA, needs to be our goal.

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