The whole world has been riveted by the chilling sight of the young father and daughter, dead in the water, trying to cross into the United States from Mexico. How can we not be moved to compassion?
Beyond this searing image, the past year’s news has bombarded us with nonstop footage of caravans of non-U.S. citizens risking everything to gain entrance into our country. As a result, the American citizens who serve as Border Control agents to secure our border and enforce the laws of the United States are portrayed almost like the slave masters of the antebellum South.
Reacting to these images, well-intentioned prayers from the pulpits in our churches provide us with the moral reminder that we need to welcome the stranger and refugee because everyone is our neighbor, and there are no borders in the Kingdom of God. The not-too-subtle implication is that those who think the rule of law — and borders — are necessary for good order and justice, have fallen well below the bar for membership in a progressive society.
Well out of view of this daily drama, however, is an equally compelling responsibility — and morality. This is our responsibility to the countries from which so many of these refugees are fleeing: mainly Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Although drug traffickers, gangsters and criminals might be embedded in these caravans, the sad truth is typically that it is not the destitute, aged and downtrodden who are making the trip. In fact, they are the ones left behind. It is the more vigorous, energetic, risk-takers who are the venturous ones joining the caravans in their 2,000-mile journey north through Mexico to the Rio Grande. But these people are the very ones these ravished countries desperately need to rebuild their own societies.
To balance the morality of this crisis on our border, why are there no pictures of all the Guatemalan villages abandoned by these caravaneers and left to the mercies of predatory gangsters, and even encroaching wild animals? By permitting these refugees to cross our border out of kindness, in effect we are stealing “the best and brightest” from the failing countries of Central America.
In fact, the morality of refugee tides ebb and flow. The massive wave of millions of immigrants into the United States from the 1880s to the 1920s did not originate from destitute societies.
The home countries of these immigrants continued to thrive even as the United States prospered with the enterprise of these newcomers. But this win-win situation of the past does not pertain now. However much new arrivals can add to our society, they will necessarily diminish the prospects of their home countries ever being able to lift out of their current despair.
Indeed, failing countries across the globe pose one of the biggest threats to the international system of the 21st century. During the Cold War (1946-89), there were only a handful of countries unable to manage their economies, run their governments and provide essential services for their people.
The tensions of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union meant that one or the other would prop up poorer countries in their global struggle “to win hearts and minds.”
With this competition now over, and the politics of the most powerful nations turned inward, the world has seen a dramatic increase in the number of failing ones. They number about 50 of the nearly 200-member countries of the United Nations, an astonishing 25% of this total. These dysfunctional countries have served as the attractive breeding grounds for the two scourges of this century: the war on terror and the miles and miles of hapless refugee columns on every continent of the globe.
The war on terror we are dealing with; but the flows of refugees, we are not. Or so I thought. Then I started a little digging, and even before Julian Castro called for a Marshal Plan for Central America in the recent Democratic debates, I discovered that the U.S. Congress in 2014 under President Obama enacted the Plan for the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle (for Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador) that was specifically set up to establish a set of economic and security incentives to persuade its citizens to remain home and tackle the problems of their societies.
This plan was reauthorized under the presidency of Donald Trump in 2017 with hundreds of millions of dollars appropriated.
It should not go unnoticed that this act is a stellar example of both political parties working together to do the right thing. But why has this received such little attention? A solid bipartisan commitment to further fund and deepen the implementation of this sound plan would be a true answer to prayer.