, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

As known by RealityChek regulars, I’m deeply skeptical that the Biden administration can bring migrant flows from Central America (or similar regions) under control by adequately improving the miserable local conditions that (understandably) drive so much flight northward to begin with. But the first detailed description of this policy that I’ve seen not only ignores all of the intertwined institutional, governance, and cultural obstacles to turning regions like Central America’s Northern Triangle (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) into even approximations of success stories. It also casts real doubt on the seriousness of the vaunted domestic social justice and inequality commitments made both by President Biden and by at least some of the U.S. corporate sector.

As argued by a White House Fact Sheet released yesterday, support for economic development in these long-impoverished, abusively ruled countries will “require more than just the resources of the U.S. government.” Also essential “to support inclusive economic growth in the Northern Triangle” will be the “unique resources and expertise” of the private sector.”

It’s true that only three completely private, profit-seeking American companies have responded so far to the “Call to Action” for business involvement issued by Vice President Kamala Harris, who’s the administration’s designated czarina for dealing immigration-wise with the Northern Triangle. But let’s say lots more get involved.

Why would anyone capable of adult thinking believe that their efforts will succeed? After all, the administration acknowledges that economic success in the region depends on overcoming its “long-standing impediments to investment-led growth.” And it specifies that these obstacles include governments that simultaneously either can’t or won’t carry out their duties in corruption-free ways, and are unable to provide minimal levels of security for their populations against criminal gangs.

Meaning that private businesses will be keen even on setting up the kinds of training and business incubator and internet connectivity programs that predominate in their Northern Triangle plans while threats of violence and extortion remain omnipresent? Maybe they’re planning to cope by hiring massive  private security forces – but such precautions were never mentioned in the Call to Action announcement.

Just as important, here’s another major head-scratcher, especially given the flood of promises over the last year or so from U.S. business circles about promoting racial economic and financial equality. If companies are willing to wade into dangerous environments to educate populations, build or strengthen the infrastructure needed for significant economic progress, and foster new businesses in Central America, why aren’t they focusing their efforts on America’s own inner cities, or at least focusing more tightly on these efforts first? It’s not like their needs aren’t pressing. And although the Northern Triangle countries have actually made some noteworthy progress in fighting violent crime lately, they’re still much more dangerous places than even most of America’s homicide capitals.

Consequently, for companies concerned overall with actual results, it would make far more sense to take an America First approach. Not that Microsoft, Chobani, and Mastercard have ignored their disadvantaged compatriots in practice. But even as their U.S. efforts remain pretty modest (Microsoft, e.g., to date has only launched its digital skills and access improvement program in Atlanta and Texas, and Chobani’s incubator program still seems pretty small scale), they’ve decided to head south of the border(s).

Incidentally, the entire Biden Central America and overall immigration policies are vulnerable to a similar criticism. Since however difficult it’s going to be to spur racial and other economic and social progress at home, the challenge will be far more difficult in foreign countries, a President truly committed both to these vital domestic goals and to staunching migrant flows would focus focus his economic development programs on his own country, and deal with the migrants as an immigration issue – by securing the border. Unfortunately for Americans, Joe Biden has been anything but that President.