Tag Archives: Immigration

Building the Great Wall

There is certainly much ado regarding the construction of a wall on the border of the United States with Mexico. Known primarily as the Great Wall or Trump’s Wall, the objective is to stop undocumented movement through the southern border.

As with most politically motivated projects, this proposal has created tremendous emotional reactions, both pro and con. In an emotionally charged debate such as this, everyone on both sides of the issue is absolutely convinced they are right. The emotions of this debate are fostered by frustrated illusions on the one hand and fear of unpleasant changes of lifestyle on the other. There is little effort put forth by either side to inject a bit of objectivity into an analysis of the situation. It is within this continuing disorder that a parasitic industry of traffickers, lawyers, jailers, and unscrupulous employers rake in tremendous profits. Many special interests are involved, some representing very powerful financial pursuits and a very few working for a solution.

If the answer to the problem of controlling illegal migration is to be reduced to simply putting an obstacle in the way, that is to build a wall, it is doomed to failure from the start. Actually it would likely result in strengthening the same parasitic industry of human trafficking by provoking an increase in the fare paid for transportation as they become more creative in their methods.

If we are able to overcome the emotional part of the discussion, perhaps we can come to the same conclusion as the American poet Robert Frost, when he wrote, “Good fences make good neighbors.” That is to say we need some order in the backyard and a clear definition of the boundaries in order to avoid a constant dispute with the neighbor. Remember that a good fence serves in both directions. In looking at El Salvador and the USA, it is clear that a case may be made for mutual accusation of invasion and abuse in recent history. It is also very clear that neither party has been represented by its most favorable spokespersons in this exchange. Fear is not a good advisor to either party. In order to move forward, we must quiet emotions, identify appropriate counterparts and start dealing with this in an objective manner.

In most cases, the decision to set off on the journey to the USA is made with the perception that it is the only option to obtain a decent livelihood. It is not a decision taken lightly. Loved ones are left behind, knowing that some will never be seen again, and children are left with grandparents. The sale of land or debt incurred provides the veritable fortune demanded by the trafficking industry. This is reality for, and is the decision made daily by, dozens of men and women in villages and hamlets throughout El Salvador. We often ask how it is possible that they are willing to give up so much and to risk life itself under such adverse conditions when it is compared to the option of investing a modest amount in their own country. The answer is very simple. The confidence factor. There is little confidence that conditions in the country can actually provide a secure enough opportunity to motivate such an investment.

Following the illusion of the “American Dream” requires a high level of courage and sacrifice. It also demands resignation! This combination forges a determination that will not be interrupted by concrete walls or razor wire. To put this in perspective, most are already paying 20 times the cost of an air ticket, and in addition, are willing to risk their very essence and being on a route fraught with inconceivable dangers. Can any wall actually contain this level of determination?

The only wall feasible for containing the migratory flow from El Salvador to the United States is one that makes it more attractive to stay here than to leave. It must replace the “American Dream” with the “Salvadoran Sueño”. It must be a wall that displaces the perception of migration as the only real economic option. That is a wall built of opportunity, in El Salvador.

The foundation of this wall must be an integrated educational program that prepares the young with a proactive attitude and sense of responsibility, real life skills and opportunities for achievement. This implies a true technical-professional preparation and scientific focus in the development of a new enterprises and technologies. The wall itself must incorporate innovation, investment and open access to all technical information and productive processes. The top of this barrier must be a public policy that motivates initiative and protects local and individual economic activity from outside intervention.

So, let’s come together and build this Great Wall. Let’s create the Salvadoran Sueño that keeps our talent here through a solid program of training and opportunity and keeps your opportunists on your side of the fence.

The practical issue that comes to mind of course, is the cost. Who is going to pay for all of this? A very good question and one which deserves serious discussion. A good question to start with is, who is paying now for the disorder? The information on security and protection costs is readily available for review and is staggeringly high. As an example, in 2015 the daily cost for holding a minor in custody for illegal border entry into the USA was $252. That amount would pay a full scholarship for 45 students at Amún Shéa, a private innovative problem-based learning program in Morazan, El Salvador, which is an area of extremely high migration. Does a 45 to one ratio sound like a good investment?

Mr. Trump, you are a businessman and fully understand the difference between an investment and wasted expenditure. Let’s make a deal and work together on building a wall of education and opportunity that works for both of us. If we accept that good fences (walls) make good neighbors, then great gates may be built as well, wide open and welcoming, making us even better neighbors!

Worthwhile to Stay, or Just Harder to Get Out?

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New government regulations typically mean additional costs to whoever they affect .These additional costs get passed along to the customers who may fuss and protest, but in the end pay for the services anyway. Illegal immigration is no exception to the rule.

Thus, the  Obama administration’s offer to help Central American countries with security, in order to stem the flow of illegal immigration, will likely result in higher tariffs to make the trip north, but without a significant reduction in the actual numbers of travelers. It will also probably be a boom for security contractors and consultants as funding for training, equipping and supervising “counterparts” gets fast-tracked.

To be fair, we should take into account that the offer is broader. The White House Release of July 25 quotes President Obama´s remarks, “And we are committed to working together in partnership with each of these countries to find ways in which we can come up with more aggressive action plans to improve security and development and governance in these countries.” These countries, of course are Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The fact that the next paragraph compares the effort to current border security programs to halt drugs running north and guns running south is rather disheartening. See the entire press release here.

“Improving security and development and governance” sounds reasonable at first glance, but seen under the shadow of experience, the offer begins with control and ends with more control. Development and other comments on opportunity are more refreshing, although the top-down transplanted system has yet to be proven fruitful.

We always come back to the solution being a long-term investment in an educational program that builds opportunity and eliminates barriers. While actually the most reasonable and simple option, the fact that it offers no short-term financial gain for vested interests, seems to make it too idealistic. Someday, not too far off, we will need to make a decision between actually following up on what we preach or continuing to serve as flag-wavers for corporate interests. A case in point is the current conditioning of aid in El Salvador to the purchase of Monsanto seeds. Just how is governance strengthened with that level of interference? Is this how we promote transparency?

The immigration issue provides the opportunity, even the motivation, to do it right this time around. The opportunity is there, ripe for picking; this is where we demonstrate our values, our principals. Are we going to help make it worthwhile staying in Central America or just harder to leave?

We have been working towards making it worthwhile at the Amún Shéa, Center for Integrated Development in El Salvador. Please consider joining in with support. Let´s do it right this time around.

The Brightest and the Best

Perquín Musings, a book I penned in 2009 contains commentary regarding immigration. Given the current focus on the subject, and the fact that we have not seen much progress on the subject during the past five years, I present the short chapter “The Brightest and the Best.”

9780988592100That is a very innovative selection process up North to get the type of foreign workers needed.

First, set up the prize. Earn as much in one hour as for a whole day in El Salvador. Second, set up the obstacle course. Practically no visas, dangerous route through Guatemala and Mexico, jump the fence and a high-risk desert run at the end. Once there, faced with illegal status and immigration roundups as the order of the day.

Maybe there ought to be a new Statue of Liberty on the Rio Grande, dividing Texas from Mexico. It would have to be updated, of course, modeled after Britney Spears or the latest iconic talent, with her belly showing. The inscription reading “give me your tired, your poor…” would also need a little updating. It should read “Give me your most daring, your fittest, those willing to take chances. Give me your initiative, your future, your brightest and best.”

With around two million Salvadorans in the States, the largest national product is the remittances they send home. In sheer numbers, that workforce probably compares pretty much with the workforce left in El Salvador.

The Darwinist selection of those who go north, however, results in a quality unbalance within the two groups, at least at the gumption level.

It is probably too early to speculate on changes to the gene pool, but we are left working with those left behind.

FlowerWe are working to slow that talent drain. El Salvador needs a few of the brighest and best to stay here at home; to change the conditions that leave migration as the only option for providing a decent living.

We do not believe in quick fixes, but that with a focused effort, change will start happening before we know it.

We are Amún Shéa and we are out to change our world. Join with us! It will change, only if we work together on this.

Politically Competent

Were political posturing and other hidden interests put aside, I wager the current immigration crisis would to a great extent just fade away. A transparent objective look at the subject also requires losing the emotional baggage instigated by the flood of Central American children to the US border.

The plight of the children is serious and cause of great concern. However, we far too often see children pushed into the spotlight as adults lose the capacity for dialogue. Indeed, throughout the world, we are increasingly resorting to using victims as a substitute for debate. Should this tendency reach the point of actually provoking victimization in order to make a point, we will have arrived at a new depth of inhumanity. Some would affirm we are already there. Aspects of the current US border crisis do suggest we have reached a threshold in that respect.

I was told by a friend a few days ago that parts of his family immigrated back during the Second World War. Apparently the shortage of industrial labor force in US factories actually provoked the need to recruit workers from south of the border.

No expert on immigration, I am not clear of how the situation evolved over the years. What is perfectly clear is that, in spite of current legality issues and physical obstacles, everyone who gets through gets a job. One can only assume the existence of a real job market.

As to the reason behind not recognizing that demand or need, we would need to enter into the shadowland of interests, greed and political maneuvering. The “illegality status” creates an underworld of parallel, unregulated and highly profitable financial and commercial structures.

It also creates family rupture as parents cannot freely travel back home and periodically see their children. This is one of the main contributing factors to the current child immigration situation, in my opinion. I know people in this situation. They went to the USA for the employment opportunity and as the means of providing for their families. They had no intention of staying on, but the economy got tough so it is taking longer than originally planned. They are worried about their children, with all the bad news coming out and they are being forced to make the decision to stay or leave. Staying means bringing in the family.

Canada takes a different approach. Employment opportunities, complete with strict requirements, are published by the embassy. Recruitment, selection and work visas are coordinated through diplomatic channels. Employees travel by air, just like the rest of us. They enjoy vacation periods and are able to visit home periodically. Quite the contrast…

So, why is it that we cannot publically acknowledge what we actually are doing; what we actually need? Cannot we understand that the “out of sight, out of mind” attitude comes with a pricetag; we only favor dark interests when we refuse to see reality. It also opens us up to be manipulated and that generally is brought to bear on our emotions. The “plight of the children” is in fact very real. But have we had a part in creating the crisis because we refuse to respond to any other stimulus?

How much control have we given away, in exchange for not being bothered? Have we noticed how Politically Correct gets twisted into Politically Convenient? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves whether we are actually Politically Competent. Perhaps all of us, on both sides of the border, need to take back some control and responsibility… and leave the kids alone.

Mixed Messages

Obama asks Central American parents to not put their children at risk.

Obama asks Central American parents to not put their children at risk.

The local paper reported earlier this week that the trip to the US border is now done in an express five days, as opposed to the normal two weeks of peril and danger. An official and very stern message came out from the US just days ago, that children with at least one parent in their home country would be deported. News filters back each day of the ease the crossing has become.

The child immigration issue remains highly volatile and extremely politically charged. As such, the messages are quite the mix; the sternest warning always allowing exceptions. The message received and understood here is the exception part; we are after all Masters of Exception.

While true that there is too little information to call it conspiracy, there are too many coincidences to call it chance. Let us take a look at the perception here on the ground, in small communities off the beaten path.

Migration is restricted from deporting children detained at the US border.

Migration is restricted from deporting children detained at the US border.

Several weeks ago, the news spread through the grapevine that the USA was opening the border for children. Some sources actually put the number at 70,000. The beginning source of the news seems to be the “coyotes” who earn their livelihood by guiding immigrates north. It must be understood that the local perception of a “coyote” is not that of the negative “human trafficker” that is generally portrayed by official sources. Coyotes are often members of the community who have built up their reputation by providing this transportation service to their neighbors for generations.

The recent flood to the border did in effect open the gates. Normal procedures were set aside and new arrivals were just deposited at bus stations. Word got back very quickly and the flood north gained strength.

It is believed that the wave of young immigrants is due gang violence

It is believed that the wave of young immigrants is due gang violence

The trip north normally takes several weeks, as the coyote times segments of the journey with work shifts of collaborators and with negotiation for passage through territories held by differing, often conflicting organizations. The word is out now that the obstacles have been removed; coyotes are able to double the number of trips per month as it is now possible to arrive in just 5 days.

The “do not send your children or they will be deported” message, conditioned by “if they have a parent in the home country” is an invitation to keep coming. Most of the younger ones are going to be with their one parent or parents who are already in the USA. They are leaving grandmothers and aunts, very few are leaving parents.

"If they arrive, we will send them back..."

“If they arrive, we will send them back…”

 

Today´s paper, El Diario de Hoy, is a perfect example.
The headline reads “Obama asks parents in Central America to not put their children at risk.” Pages 2 and 3 detail the fact that children from Central America cannot be deported without a long process. Page 3 cites a study concluding that the immigration is due gang violence. Page 4 is the article from the headline citing President Obama´s message to Central American parents. Page 8 uses red ink to showcase the 307 violent deaths in June for El Salvador, 167 more than last year.

Violence leaves 307 deaths in June: 167 more than the sme period last year.

Violence leaves 307 deaths in June: 167 more than the sme period last year.

 

 

Put yourself in the place of a Central American parent, for a moment. You have been in, let´s say, Houston for six years and have a decent job which allows you to send support back to your family. You left your daughter behind, with your mother, when she was just four years old. Now she is ten, you haven´t seen her or watched her grow and you are starting to worry for her wellbeing. You´ve heard the rumors, seen the news and know of friends who now have their children safely with them.

What would you do, right now?

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.