Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

A solution to the immigration crisis on the Southern border, but it's too politically fraught

After writing about it last spring ("Fire I'll take you to burn"), I finally hunkered down and read The End of Policing by Brooklyn College professor Alex Vitale, and it's super well argued, about how in many areas of "public safety," making police response the "solution" doesn't work very well.

One key point of the discussion is how so many social problems -- drug use, mental illness, homelessness, student behavior in school, etc. -- have been criminalized, making police the predominate if not only response, and how this doesn't work very well in improving outcomes for individuals and communities. Especially because of the rise of "warrior policing" and the approach of "threat reduction" rather than "helping."

WRT the chapter on "Border Policing," in the section on alternatives, he mentions two programs from the European Union that are applicable to "solving" the US's Southern Border problem.

Marshall Plan for Mexico and Central America.  First, he mentions the various structural integration initiatives within the EU, including the INTERREG program, which is a program of "inward investment" designed to make communities better economically and socially, with of aim of helping communities keep existing residents and attract new residents, and reducing the motivation to emigrate to the west from the east.

I've thought about those EU programs a lot in terms of dealing with "the immigration problem" but also immigrant integration programs -- when I was writing about Marseille, I came across some great programs, for which I can't find the citations, although I know I have hard copies of some of the documents in my morass of boxes of files.  

Countries in the Northern Triangle are Guatemala; Honduras; and El Salvador.  Those countries, plus Mexico are the primary source of illegal immigration and asylum requests on the Southern border.

WRT to Central and South America, the political, economic, and social situation there is very complicated, and it's reasonable to ascribe a goodly amount of the problems there to the relationship those countries have with the US:

  • such as the high demand for drugs in the US which has destabilized supplier countries like Mexico, Colombia, and Bolivia as well as those countries on the transit routes between suppliers and the US
  • US involvement in the politics of those countries for two centuries
  • US training of the often repressive military in those countries
  • the flows of people in both directions and how this has intensified gangs and violence in countries like El Salvador, etc.

-- "Northern Triangle: terrifying to live in, dangerous to leave," WorldVision
-- "Central America’s Turbulent Northern Triangle," Council on Foreign Relations
-- "A Biden Plan for the Northern Triangle: What would a program to discourage illegal migration look like?," Center for Immigration Studies
-- "Why So Many Central Americans Are Seeking Asylum in the U.S.," KQED/PBS
-- Infographic/comic on the turmoil in Central America," KQED/PBS
-- "Generalized Violence as a Threat to Health and Well-Being: A Qualitative Study of Youth Living in Urban Settings in Central America’s “Northern Triangle”," Maria de Jesus and Carissa Hernandes

Those complications are why a US funded INTERREG type program -- a "Marshall Plan"-- for these countries is justified.

An opportunity for US border states to work with counterpart states in Mexico.  I was angry a few weeks ago when Governors Abbot of Texas and Ducey of Arizona had an op-ed published in the Washington Post ("Arizona and Texas governors: The border crisis in our states was created by the Biden administration") accusing the Biden Administration of failing on border management.  From the article:

To start, the administration needs to immediately reinstate the Migrant Protection Protocols, which disincentivize migrants from making the dangerous journey to the border by ending the policy of “catch and release” for those seeking asylum. Law enforcement officials and leaders in border communities are concerned that repeal of these protocols is a major factor behind the surge in illegal border crossings. Reinstating them would go a long way toward alleviating the crisis at the border. 

 Next, administration officials at all levels should state clearly that our country’s borders are not open and that immigrants seeking a better life or more economic opportunity should not be attempting to utilize the asylum process. The State Department should be heavily engaged in this strategy, as the Mexican president’s continued statements blaming this crisis on Biden are concerning.

"Trump emerges from seclusion to visit border wall," Reuters.  Reuters photo by Carlos Barria.

This completely ignores the reality of the dynamics that push people in these countries to attempt to emigrate to the US.  Desperation drives them to take this great risk.  

A wall isn't enough to stop their desperate circumstances ("A Section of Trump Border Wall in South Texas Cost $27 Million a Mile. It’s Being Foiled by $5 Ladders.," Texas Monthly).

At the same time, while the narrow focus of Abbott and Ducey doesn't surprise me, it's unfortunate because there is tremendous opportunity for the US border states (Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California)  to work with their counterparts across the border in Mexico to strengthen those states.

Rather than whine, states like Texas and Arizona should step up ("Why Texas Should Lead the U.S.-Mexico Relationship," International Policy Digest).  From the article:

In large part, the size of Texas’ economy depends on the deep links the state has with its sovereign neighbor. Mexico and Texas share a 1,254-mile border and a centuries-old historic and cultural relationship. Mexico remains Texas’ largest trading partner and both markets are extremely reliant on one another. Texas exports around $109.7 billion in goods to Mexico, nearly half of which are from small and medium-sized Texan businesses. 

More than economic dependence, trade between the two represents the strength of Texan families. A 2018 report found that nearly $4.3 billion in remittances are sent to Mexico from nearly 1 million Texans looking to help their families on the other side of the border. These deep cultural and economic ties drive why Tex-Mex culture has never been stronger. Tex-Mex music and food have been exported around the world and in Mexico, has strengthened the affinity and interconnectedness between the two countries.

Note that the San Diego region has a number of initiatives with Tijuana and Baja California state, aiming to promote stability, economic development, and connections between the two regions. 

-- Partnering with Mexico webpage, City of San Diego

And I've written about how the US and California need to work more closely with Tijuana concerning sewage and stormwater discharges that foul the beaches of San Diego County as well as dealing with pandemic spread ("San Diego County and international border issues: sewage and pandemic").

Map of the Sonoran Desert Region, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum.

In the early 2000s, there was a recognition in Arizona and Sonora State that it is in part a connected ecosystem that should be addressed jointly, although it seems as if that initiative no longer exists.

Certainly Texas border cities like Laredo and El Paso have long standing interconnections with their counterpart cities and states across the border.

Create an EU-like compact legalizing and simpliflying movement across these borders.  Second, and transformationally, Professor Vitale suggests that the "free movement" across borders for residents within the EU system's Schengen Zone of 26 participating countries could be a model for the US, providing a different way to think about managing and protecting the nation's Southern border with Mexico.

Migrants from Honduras, part of a caravan of thousands from Central America trying to reach the United States, climb a border fence to cross illegally from Mexico to the U.S., in Tijuana, Mexico, December 21, 2018. Mohammed Salem | Reuters.  

This would solve the illegal immigration problem, by legalizing border crossing in a managed way, allowing people to work and live in the US, without necessarily triggering requests for citizenship.  

Wall breach used by an SUV in an attempt to smuggle 24 people into the US.  Photo: USA Today.

And the frequent tragic deaths that result from people desperate to get in the US ("13 killed in California border crossing crash: How did it happen? Why were there 25 people in an SUV? A visual explanation," USA Today; "A boat packed with 32 people shows how migrant smugglers shifted to the sea," San Diego Union-Tribune) ought to be another reaon to look for different approaches.

Obviously, a number of measures would have to be taken to make this work, but in the long run, it would be a much better approach to building a wall and ignoring the conditions that produce "illegal immigration" as either an intended or unintended consequence and outcome of existing policies, practices, processes.

(Note that it used to function this way along many sections of the US-Canadian border, but as border issues became more politically fraught, steps were taken to hinder and block simplified crossing.  See the New York Times article, "Where U.S.-Canadian Border Is Marked by Petunias, Not a Wall.")

Conclusion.  It wouldn't be easy to do, but creating a kind of EU-like compact between the US, Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador would definitely cut the "Gordian knot" in a way that makes border crossing manageable rather than an often illegal act or complicated, chaotic process (asylum).  

A complementary investment and stabilization program for those countries, with participation by US border states, would go a long way towards reducing the desperate desire to emigrate from those countries.  

Ironically, the cost of investing in improving Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador may be less than the cost of funding the Southern Border functions of the US Border Patrol, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, other agency activities such as FEMA, DOJ, HHS, etc., and the cost of building and maintaining a wall that isn't impregnable ("The Cost of Immigration Enforcement and Border Security," American Immigration Council).

Graphic: Statista.

Sadly, the innovative and transformational approach this would require is outside of the political will currently expressed in the US.

Free movement, nativism and its contribution to Brexit.  One thing to consider about this idea is how free movement, especially the immigration of workers from Eastern Europe to Britain, in the face of ongoing industrial and economic decline in many parts of England and Wales contributed to the desires of many Britons to vote in favor of dis-engaging from the European Union ("Migration arguments supporting Brexit appear to be backed by animus," LSE).

While studies do not show a loss of jobs or income on the part of Britons as a result from immigration (Brexit and the Impact of Immigration on the UK, Centre for Economic Performance) sentiment against immigration rose after the 2008 recession ("How the Brexit campaign used refugees to scare voters," The World/PRI), and was used by the Conservative Party to divert people's attention from focusing on their austerity program rather than a Keynesian approach in response to the crash ("The UK is showing us why austerity is dangerous, but are we paying attention?," Economic Policy Institute).

Anti-refugee campaign poster for Brexit.
Nigel Farage with the poster. Photograph: Mark Thomas/Rex/Shutterstock

The Conservative Party blamed austerity on the EU, although the EU had nothing to do with it, and that likely led to the majority vote for Brexit ("Remember: it’s austerity, not Europe, that broke Britain," "Blame the scroungers. Blame the migrants. How Britain fell for austerity," Guardian).

Creating a Schengen Zone between the US, Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras will increase animus amongst those already negatively disposed towards immigrants, especially people of color, even though like in the UK, research finds that immigrants often work in jobs that US citizens don't want (meatpacking, agriculture, etc.), generate taxes, and consume less in the way of social services per capita.

Like with Brexiters demonizing the Poles and other Eastern Europeans, demonizing the "other" has a long standing history in the US. 

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At 11:36 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The New Yorker: On the Border, Two Versions of One Immigration Reality.

At 7:12 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Washington Post: This is why MAGA nativists are in a panic.

At 10:30 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Disturbing article about how Texas farmers use a special visa program allowing Mexican professionals to work in Texas to force people into menial jobs with little recourse.

This is about a woman who graduated as a veterinarian, and expected to work as one. Instead she mucked stables and milked cows.

It's an example of how the current system provides many ways to take advantage of people for personal gain.

(To access the article you need to use, as the article is restricted.)

At 4:43 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This article discusses how a lot of the US aid to Guatemala isn't particularly effective.

"U.S. Aid to Central America Hasn’t Slowed Migration. Can Kamala Harris?"

At 10:05 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This encounter with the Guatemalan police was a real gas | Mulshine.

Conservative columnist for the Newark Star-Ledger, went to Guatemala to report on the border issues. Describes subpar conditions. (Which to me illustrates the need for an EU like solution).

"God and the Border Crisis"
WSJ, 4/12/21, A17

Americans don’t know how this country is, Mexico,” Yaimin Fuentes Caña says. “The Mexicans extort Cubans, Hondurans, anyone who comes here to this country. This country is super violent.”

The 38-year-old migrant speaks from experience. He says he fled Cuba after authorities roughed him up because he refused to participate in the communist dictatorship’s sham elections. He requested protection in the U.S., but under the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, asylum seekers were required to wait in Mexico for their cases to be adjudicated. Mr. Fuentes Caña says that since he arrived in Matamoros in May 2019, he’s been kidnapped several times and released only after paying the cartels a ransom. Corrupt officials and criminals extort migrants every chance they get, he says, and the cartels also pressure migrants to pay up for a coyote and enter the U.S. illegally: “Imagine: Who doesn’t pay, doesn’t last. You never see them again.”

At 10:44 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

More evidence that Republican Governors are more interested in grandstanding, less about coming up with creative solutions.

"DeSantis: Florida officers to respond to 'border security crisis' in Texas, Arizona"

At 10:47 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

And the deep rooted problems.

The U.S. should own up to its share of the bloodshed in the drug war

Honduras, the narco-state that illustrates U.S. contradictions

Mexico’s militarization has put violence first

Harris in Guatemala announces initiatives to address corruption and human trafficking in Central America

At 1:30 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The Hill: Border state governors rebel against Biden's immigration chaos


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