Today Americans march in outrage. What do we do tomorrow?

Today Americans march in outrage. What do we do tomorrow?
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The Trump administration’s policy of separating children from their parents as the way to solve the U.S. immigration “crisis” along our southern border is appalling. It is hard to get beyond the emotion connected with the pain and suffering to which we have all borne witness — and it is critically important that we give voice to our collective moral outrage.

One way is by marching today in Washington and around the country to proclaim that families belong together. Many Americans will do this. We must, however, address the immigration issue comprehensively and humanely through evidence-based policy change. There are concrete actions that Congress and the administration can take to improve both the policies that affect immigrants after they arrive at our borders as well as materially diminish the factors that drive people to seek safety in America.


For 32 years in the Foreign Service — in Africa, the Middle East and the Balkans, including as U.S. ambassador in Azerbaijan and Bosnia and Herzegovina — I witnessed refugees and internally displaced people emerge from war and internal instability, political oppression, lack of economic opportunity, and crime and corruption. After retirement, I served as board chair of Lutheran Social Services of the National Capital Area (LSS/NCA) and was deeply involved in resettling legal immigrants and unaccompanied minors in the DMV. I was proud as an American citizen and public servant of the compassion we showed to our neighbors in need.


Solving the "crisis" requires a multi-pronged approach. We must:

  • (a) address the causes in the source countries that create refugees;
  • (b) cooperate with source and transit countries to ensure that refugees receive humane treatment;
  • (c) bring to justice the organized crime enablers of illegal immigration; and
  • (d) recognize our responsibility not to separate children from their parents when they cross our borders — no matter the reason.

We need a three-part plan:

First, create bilateral commissions with the source countries (Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in particular) to identify the causes for their citizens to leave these countries. For example, are there economic, political or social, or some combination thereof (organized crime)? These commissions will identify measures these countries must take, such as conflict resolution, economic reform, anti-crime programs and educational improvements.

In other words, the goal will be to create incentives for people to stay — not leave — their homelands. The U.S. should offer economic assistance and enhanced trade opportunities, but the burden must lie with the governments of the source countries. If these governments refuse to act within a reasonable time, then we could sanction those officials who are not acting in good faith to address the reasons their people are fleeing.

Second, we must stress the responsibilities of source and transit countries to punish the criminal enablers who fleece would-be immigrants of their life savings with a promise to get them across the U.S. border. In many cases, these are the same organized crime elements responsible for narcotics trafficking and other illicit criminal activity. Organized crime has been on a long-standing issue on which U.S. and Mexican authorities have worked together. It now has added importance. Identify the enablers, seize their financial assets and ensure the traffickers are punished for their actions.

Third, the Trump administration must reunify the families we separated at the border and ensure that this never happens again. This brutal separation is an unnecessary stain on the image of the United States and its people. Our nation must also uphold the rules of due process and rapidly adjudicate the status of the would-be immigrants.

We owe the world a thoughtful and holistic approach to immigration in America — one that acknowledges our part in and helps resolve the root problems that drive people to seek a chance at the American dream. Most of all, we must be conscious of our shared humanity as we move forward and treat immigrants, asylum seekers, and refugees with dignity and compassion.

Kauzlarich is director of the Peace Operations Policy Program, co-director of the Center for Energy Science and Policy, and distinguished visiting professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University. He is the former Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina and to Azerbaijan.