With immigration and Department of Homeland Security funding at the center of a looming budget showdown between President Obama and Congress’ Republican leaders, it’s surely useful to look over the new Obama budget and see what it actually proposes on this front. And it’s hard to avoid concluding that the president’s claimed determination to bolster border security shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Let’s leave aside Mr. Obama’s “executive amnesty” move last fall, which can only strengthen the already powerful policy magnet that’s been luring illegal immigrants to the United States for so long. Yes, the president did propose to increase border security funding by nearly 25 percent over current funding levels – to just under $374 million. But the week before the official budget request was unveiled, the administration dropped a powerful hint that it doesn’t expect any of these new resources to do much good. Why else would the White House have touted so prominently – in a New York Times op-ed by the Vice President – its decision to attack the proverbial root causes of last year’s Central American immigration surge by spending $1 billion to promote reform in the region?
The administration’s ostensible belief that the best way to deal with the international problems facing the United States is to manipulate hard-to-contol revents abroad is, as I’ve written, a time-honored tenet of American foreign policy. With the huge but long-ago exceptions of post-World War II aid to Western Europe and Japan, this strategy has also failed so completely in the closely related foreign aid and trade spheres that it deserves the label delusional. Moreover, as I’ve also written, this approach becomes absolutely unforgivable upon realizing the unique geopolitical advantages enjoyed by the United States that make much easier-to-control and more promising domestic solutions – like serious border security efforts, in this case – vastly superior.
After all, it’s not as if the United States hasn’t tried promoting reform in Central America before. During the Cold War, President Reagan launched a “Caribbean Basin Initiative” aimed at preventing the rise of “new Cubas” and a repeat of the Sandinista revolution in Nicaragua. In 2005, Congress passed President George W. Bush’s Central America Free Trade Agreement, which was hyped in part as an immigration control measure. Vice President Biden’s own new article makes clear that substantial American aid to the region has been continuing. Yet he admits that the region’s countries are still held back by “inadequate education, institutional corruption, rampant crime and a lack of investment….”
Nor does Mr. Biden stop there in knee-capping his apparent belief that yet more money is the cure for most of what ails Central America. He adds that Central American countries and their economies still lack “clear rules and regulations; protections for investors; courts that can be trusted to adjudicate disputes fairly; serious efforts to root out corruption; protections for intellectual property; and transparency to ensure that international assistance is spent accountably and effectively.” Who can reasonably doubt, therefore, that what’s fundamentally crippling the region after all this time is not a lack of resources (especially considering how tiny these nations are) but a dysfunctional political culture. And why on earth does the Vice President suggest that this disease can be cured with more “training”?
Mr. Biden at least does provide some concrete answers – mainly, the U.S.-assisted transformation of the much larger nation of Colombia. There’s no doubt that progress has been made in that strife-torn country on many fronts. According to World Bank data, economic growth has been trending up and the poverty rate is declining. At the same time, though down from its peak at the turn of the century, illicit drug production in the country has now stabilized, and a final peace agreement to end Colombia’s 30-year insurgency remains elusive. (Indeed, casualties continue.) Moreover, although this progress has been made at the cost of $9 billion from American taxpayers, the Obama administration is still asking Congress for nearly $300 million more in annual aid in its new budget. More ominously, the end of a long global boom in raw materials is already imposing major economic pain throughout Latin America, which has relied on strong commodity exports for much of its recent growth. So expect those root socio-economic roots of mass emigration to start growing again all over the region.
A president serious about sensible immigration reform would recognize what a losing battle the nation has been fighting in order to curb illegal migrant inflows at their sources. Mr. Obama’s continued hype of these utopian proposals greatly strengthens the case that he’s anything but that president.