COMMENTARY: Immigration’s root issues

BY U.S. REP. VICENTE GONZALEZ | SPECIAL TO THE MONITOR

On Aug. 11, McAllen and the 15th District of Texas had the privilege of welcoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a bipartisan congressional delegation to the Rio Grande Valley. Members of the delegation came to the Valley to observe firsthand the urgent humanitarian crisis on our southern border.

While it is important that we conduct consistent congressional oversight, we need to create actionable policy initiatives that will address the root of the issues. We also need to address how the media are covering this complicated problem. Excellent reporting has exposed the inhumane treatment and living conditions of migrants, but these are mere symptoms of a systemic problem in Central America. Media outlets only scratch the surface of a deeper, nuanced foreign policy issue that will ultimately affect millions of people.

Historically, the Northern Triangle countries of Central America have been rocked by civil wars, leaving a legacy of instability, violence and fragile institutions.

To make matters worse, gang activity has perpetuated this violence further through financial extortion of innocent people threatening the lives of their families and loved ones.

Endemic corruption has undermined public trust in all three countries and created an environment of economic inequality and inopportunity that acts as a catalyst for migration.

In recent foreign policy maneuvers, the Trump administration has seen fit to punish our Central American neighbors by cutting foreign aid in a punitive measure to have these countries rein in mass migration. This will have the opposite effect than intended and likely will result in even more migration.

Withholding assistance has several additional effects: it raises doubts that the United States is a reliable international partner and creates a void that our foreign adversaries would seek to fill. And it moves our efforts in the region backward.

In total, the Trump administration has threatened to curtail hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of federal aid to the region — suspending many of the effective programs that have helped these developing nations build capacity and become more resilient, self-sufficient and productive.

The Trump administration’s approach will only harm our efforts to stabilize these countries and decrease mass migration.

Let me be clear: We cannot afford to alienate and punish our Central American allies and friends.

The United States needs to maintain targeted investment in communities with the highest levels of emigration and continue working in conjunction with the Northern Triangle countries on large and small-scale projects that work.

I have seen firsthand in Zacatecoluca, El Salvador, the results of a multifaceted effort by the U.S., El Salvador and international non-governmental organizations.

Together with our partners, we have successfully implemented a community policing initiative to take back public spaces, establish youth education and increase services for victims of crimes.

In all three Northern Triangle countries, in cooperation with USAID and Texas A& M University, we established a public-private partnership focused on creating economic opportunities in the coffee sector that directly benefited 25,000 small coffee farmers.

There are many other success stories in the works, but they take a meticulous amount of planning and time.

The solutions are not easy, but as the leader of the free world we have a moral obligation to stay the course.

Contrary to the Trump administration’s belief that slashing foreign aid will help stem the immigration at our borders, it instead will harm those who face the strongest incentives to migrate to the United States.

If we want to address what is happening at our border, the United States must move beyond a reactionary foreign policy. Helping our neighbors in the long run will benefit Americans and those in the Northern Triangle. By directing solutions at a problem that benefits both the United States and our neighbors, we will reap more than we sow from this strategy.

We can’t wave a magic wand and make these problems disappear, but most of these issues plaguing the Northern Triangle countries are solvable. No one walks thousands of miles to the United States because they have a safe and sound home, with a decent job just because of alleged immigration loopholes.

Progress will require thoughtful and steady attention from the United States, and political will on the part of our partners. And now is the time for action.

We must create a lasting, bipartisan immigration and foreign policy that addresses both the symptoms and root causes of this crisis. The people of this district, the Rio Grande Valley, our neighbors along the border and future generations will bear witness to what has transpired and come to pass judgment on what comes next.