There are two reasons why people are leaving their homes in Central America: they are looking to improve their economic situation and to improve their sense of safety. That is why they are willing to leave their homes, their families, everything they know and everything that gives them comfort. They have every reason to stay, except for safety and economic stability, it would take only a small improvement in those two issues to encourage them to stay.
The current focus of American policy is on punishment as a means to keep people from Central America from immigrating. The problem with this approach is that if their situation at home is worse that their perception of punishment, they will come anyway.
The solution is to improve their situation at home. This is not a new idea. The problem in the past has been that corruption and bureaucracy have undermined attempts to improve the situation. Or, the fear that corruption and bureaucracy has undermined the attempts.
The economic solution
Rather than giving money to foreign governments, hoping that it is used to improve the situation, rather than giving the money to non-governmental organizations which have small impacts, and are limited by the local government, give the economic benefits to companies that are operating in those countries. Here is how:
- Ease imports from those countries. If there are any tariffs or other taxes that are imposed on goods from those countries, remove them. Give the goods an advantage over the products of other countries. This will also encourage investment in those countries.
- Incentivize US businesses to move manufacturing to those countries by offering tax breaks for the businesses to move production to those countries.
- Extend incentives to businesses already operating in that area. Obviously, the goal here is to improve the economy and growing business is good. The incentives can be offered to US businesses through tax breaks but also to non-US companies through low-interest loans. Remember that the goal is to raise the economy of the Central American countries and offering assistance to any business operating there will ultimately benefit the US be reducing immigration.
- In order to receive tax breaks, companies must pay at least 20% above the average wage for all positions. The goal is not just to increase business investment, but also to improve the economy. Remember that we are attempting to reduce immigration and so the jobs must be numerous and desirable.
The Security Solution
This problem is a bit trickier to address, but can be solved. The best solution will take time to manifest:
- When the economy improves, the security will as well. People are drawn to gangs for a few reasons: connection to group, security and money. The last two are directly impacted by this plan. But employment can create a group to connect to, Also, when people have disposable income, they are able to create groups in which one can connect such as extra-curricular activities, sports for children, etc. Remember that If people have the option, they almost always choose a lawful existence.
- Corruption is usually driven by economics. Just like the attraction of gangs, corruption is appealing when one’s economic situation is dire. A moderate existence will dissuade many from pursuing corruption. To be sure, corruption exists in all economies and there will always be people drawn to easy money. But, the more stable and comfortable one’s existence, the less appealing a corrupt existence is due to the consequences of being caught.
- Transparency in government complicates corruption. Just as public accounting in companies can illuminate the strength or weakness of a company, being able to see the money trail in government can do the same thing. Incentivize this by adding conditions to investment in infrastructure (this also encourages greater commercial investment.
- The press play a very important role in bringing criminal activity to light. We should be doing all we can to help protect and nurture the press in these countries.
- Invest in security. Money going to Central American nations should be going to the security industry. When people don’t feel safe, it has a dramatic impact on happiness and comfort. We don’t need to send weapons or machines, we should be improving the economics of the people that keep their communities safe. When the police are well paid, the job has an added appeal and it will attract more people. It may be possible to encourage corporate investment in this area, but we need to be careful that we are not encouraging military-style police or any other activity that could be seen an oppressive.