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By John Ubaldi
Columnist, In Homeland Security
Far too many people believe that there is no crisis at the U.S. southern border. In a recent blog post, Gallop chairman Jim Clifton cited a poll of “the entire population of Latin America.” According to Clifton, some 450 million people were asked, “Would you like to move to another country permanently if you could?”
Clifton says that, according to the poll, “a whopping 27 percent said yes. So this means roughly 120 million would like to migrate somewhere.”
The next question was “Where would you like to move to?” Thirty-five percent said the United States. By Gallup’s own analytics, that would equate to 42 million people crossing into the U.S.
“Forty-two million seekers of citizenship or asylum are watching to determine exactly when and how is the best time to make the move,” Clifton writes. “This suggests that open borders could potentially attract 42 million Latin Americans.”
Currently, the debate rages on how to handle the various migrant caravans attempting to cross into the U.S. from the southern border with Mexico. If we are having problems now, how would we even begin to handle 42 million people crossing the border?
Latin America Fuels America’s Immigration Problem
Why do so many people from Latin America want to enter the United States? Could the real problem lie within Latin America itself?
The immigration debate usually centers on how the U.S. should or should not treat these Latin Americans. However, there is no mention of the underlying problems facing many of these countries, which is a lack of economic opportunities and systematic, deep-rooted corruption.
Numerous countries from Mexico to the southern tip of Argentina’s Tierra del Fuego archipelago are ruled by corrupt and autocratic regimes. The people in these countries do not enjoy the rights that we in the United States take for granted, such as constitutionally protected free speech, due process and the rule of law.
From the very beginning, the United States has viewed property rights in the same vein as individual liberty. Coupled with this are a free and independent press, government transparency, an independent judiciary, religious diversity and tolerance.
All this is missing throughout much of Latin America. The people there face economic degradation and systematic corruption that benefit only the oligarchy. The only real choice many of these Latin Americans have is to journey north to the US-Mexico border.
With Many Natural Resources, Why Do Latin Americans Want to Leave Home?
Latin Americans are no different from the millions of immigrants who left Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries seeking a better life in the United States. Why is poverty so pervasive in Latin America? The entire region is blessed with:
- An abundance of natural resources
- Millions of acres of fertile farmland
- Viable ports on the Caribbean and Atlantic and Pacific oceans
- A strategic location – close to North American markets
Take Mexico as an example. Richard Miles, Senior Assistant at the Center for Strategic & International Studies, commented last year that much of the tension between Mexico and the United States is driven by pay and productivity disparities.
One has to understand these disparities in each country to get a true feel why people risk everything to come to the United States.
This disparity and the endemic corruption fuel the drive northward of many migrants. Rather than ask what these countries, which receive millions of dollars in U.S. aid, are doing to better the lives of their own people, the entire focus of the problem has been on the U.S.
As Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) stated, “We have two borders: One with Canada, one with Mexico. I’ve never met an illegal Canadian. The point is that Canada has a sound economy. People to the south of us do not.”
Educational Systems Sometimes Stunt Economic Growth
One of the surest paths to economic growth is with an educated population. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case in some Latin American countries.
Even though Latin America spends around 5 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on education, an amount similar to that of the United States and Europe, most educational resources are directed toward universities. That leaves scant funding for primary and secondary schools, which is crucial to any innovative economy.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is rolling out educational reforms that will replace repetitive memorization with a critical thinking-based educational curriculum. At the same time, he is failing to provide more educational standards and quality education to Mexico’s youth.
Pervasive Corruption in Latin America
The real issue in Latin America is the deep-seated government corruption in some of these countries, including Mexico, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Brazil.
Much of the media and Washington’s focus has been on the ongoing crisis in Venezuela. But the recent scandal involving Brazil’s state-owned oil company Petrobra (Petróleo Brasileiro S.A.), set a new low for that country.
The United States has been consumed in a bitter debate how the country should treat the thousands of migrants trying to enter the U.S. through the southern border. But there has been little coverage on why people are fleeing their country of origin in the first place.
Many in the U.S. who praised the government of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez are now eerily silent about his successor, Nicolás Maduro, who has run the country since Chavez’s death in 2013. Maduro’s corrupt, autocratic government has bankrupted what once was the richest country in Latin America and has led to thousands fleeing into neighboring Colombia and Brazil.
If the Gallup poll is correct and 42 million Latin Americans want to head toward the U.S., then we are in for a troublesome situation. We must either start focusing more intently on this region or deal with these people when they arrive on our border. The choice is ours.