Solving Immigration With Cold War Approach

Cold-war era foreign aid policy could serve as a long-term solution to our current immigration predicament by providing economic assistance to developing Latin American nations.

To really solve the immigration issue in America, we need to see this problem differently.

The U.S. is already at a crossroad with 12 million undocumented immigrants (most of whom came from Latin America) against a political deadlock. The new influx of thousands of Latin American children has raised this homeland security/humanitarian issue to a new level of complexity. California, home to the largest immigrant population in the country, is undoubtedly one of the destinations for many of these young migrants.

Right now the debate is centered on how to resolve the new crisis of illegal children crossing with vague expectations of somehow tackling immigration reform after the midterm elections in November. Hypothetically, even if we were able to work everything out during the remaining years of the Obama administration, a new surge of undocumented immigrants would probably reappear again in another 10 or 15 years based on past events because we are not addressing the problem at its roots.

As demonstrated throughout human history, it’s natural for people to want to migrate from one depressed area to a more prosperous location to seek a better life. It’s a human survival instinct. Then as long as many Latin America nations continue to embroil in violence, political instability, and especially economic depression, “the tired, the poor, and the huddled masses” from this region would never stop trying to enter the U.S. in one way or another. No higher walls or armies of border patrols could ever completely block the flow of survival seekers.

So to really dis-incentivize people from illegally immigrating to America, we need to help improve their welfare in their homelands. This sounds counter intuitive but such policy actually had been implemented in the past with great success.

In the second half of the 20th century, the world was largely divided into two ideological camps of capitalism and communism, led by the U.S. and the former Soviet Union respectively. To attract more members as well as to keep nations from joining the communist community, the U.S.’s most effective foreign policy during this cold war period was to help impoverished countries with massive economic aids.

This strategy was based on the belief that, universally, what people really valued was to live prosperously and peacefully among family members in their homelands. Therefore if capitalism could deliver this value, then the people would have no interest in adopting any other lofty ideologies or considering a greener pasture elsewhere beyond their national boundaries.

Until the demise of the Soviet Union and the community of communist states in the 90’s, the U.S. had poured billions of dollars into non-military aid programs to help devastated Western European countries (in post WWII) and many developing countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East to improve their agricultural production, financial services, industrial manufacturing, and even educational systems.

The approach worked and the results were astounding. This economic aid program helped rebuild nations like France, W. Germany, Britain, and Japan; jumped start S. Korea and Singapore into economic power houses; and lifted many Latin American, Asian, and African countries out of poverty. Countries benefited from the U.S. economic program were either drawn to or remained within the capitalist community. Outward migration from these countries was also limited. In fact, the wealthier these countries have become, the more they consume U.S. products. It was a win-win situation for the U.S. and the recipient nations.

I believe this cold-war foreign aid policy could serve as a long-term solution to our current immigration predicament by providing economic assistance to developing Latin American nations. But the economic aid package must be substantial in the billions of dollars, not simply tokens to simply quell political unrests or marginalize opponents of U.S. interests as in the past. The program, in the short run, should focus on the urgency of job creation and healthcare services. In the long run, it should facilitate the strengthening of these countries’ comparative economic advantages (i.e., agriculture, manufacturing, seafood). This is NOT nation building (which often required military involvement and its failure rates are high) but rather a powerful economic shot in the arm to help many Latin American countries attaining their goals of economic development and socio-political stability.

The triumphant of such a comprehensive approach would dramatically stem the flow of illegal border crossing, save tax payers money, encourage more consumption of U.S. goods and services, and discourage drug trafficking, and also restore American goodwill and leadership in Latin America. The next logical step would be to expand the program to other impoverished nations in Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean whose citizens have been entering the U.S. illegally by ships and other clandestine means.

For sectors like agriculture and hospitality that need a steady supply of cheap labor, many temporary transnational work programs (importing and re-exporting foreign labor in controlled environment and time period) have proven successful and therefore should be expanded to become the mainstay.

With multiple crises around the world and a political quandary at home, it’s tough for President Obama to focus or even to have enough political capital and funds to start any long-term initiatives that may not show results until years after he has left office. In fact, the President these days is very much like the CEO of a publicly traded company with short-term goals of higher quarterly profits (lower unemployment rates), expanding market share (capture more seats in midterm elections), and boosting stock prices (stimulate economic recovery) to appease shareholders (improve public approval ratings).

But there is one unique characteristic of the presidency that a typical CEO does not have is history’s judgment. A CEO’s standing is measured by the company’s stock prices during his/her term. The U.S. president, on the other hand, is judged by what he/she did or didn’t do as well as the missed opportunities while in office. For certain, how Mr. Obama handles the immigration issue will be viewed as one of the defining events of his presidency.

Unfortunately, the current political environment doesn’t appear to be ripe for a long-term investment to solve the immigrant problem at its roots. But if everything were driven by conventional wisdom, then the world would probably still be in the dark ages.

Great leaders such as Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar were firm believers of the dictum: “Audentes fortuna iuvat” (Fortune favors the bold).

Julian Do is Director of LA Beez.

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

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