It’s time to treat mass emigration countries as rogue states

It’s time to treat mass emigration countries as rogue states
© Getty Images

With rare exceptions, failed states don’t fail by happenstance or even as a result of external forces. They decay from within. They fail as a result of endemic corruption, repression, and neglect of the most basic needs of their citizens.

The phenomenon of failed states would be tragic, even if such failures were just “their problem.” But they’re not; they’re now our problem too. 

The migrant “caravan” now making its way across Mexico and heading to the U.S. border is just the latest manifestation of how widespread corruption and neglect around the world is becoming everybody’s problem.


The flow of migrants is not limited to a handful of states in Central America. Over the past few years, Europe has been overwhelmed by an influx of migrants fleeing poverty, deprivation, and violence born of decades of poor governance and repression in their homelands.

In the face of these phenomena, Western governments have a right and a responsibility to act. There can be reasonable debate about how many failed-state migrants Western nations should admit for permanent resettlement, and about how best to aid those who cannot be resettled. Where there should be consensus is how we treat the governments that are responsible for the conditions that have led to citizens fleeing en masse.

We can no longer act as though the phenomenon of mass emigration from countries around the world is kismet, for which no one is accountable. The governments of those countries are accountable, or at least should be. President TrumpDonald TrumpFive takeaways from the Ohio special primaries Missouri Rep. Billy Long enters Senate GOP primary Trump-backed Mike Carey wins GOP primary in Ohio special election MORE, appropriately, has taken the first step toward holding Central American governments accountable for the 7,000 downtrodden human beings trying to reach the U.S. border on foot by threatening to cut off U.S. aid to those governments.

Predictably, the president’s call to cut off aid was met with criticism. Eleanor Acer, a refugee policy director for Human Rights First, complained reflexively that, “Until the human rights abuses and violence and deprivations and underlying issues are addressed, people will continue to flee their countries.” In reality, Ms. Acer has it backwards. Until the corrupt and repressive regimes that ignore the most basic needs and interests of their citizens are made to feel significant pain themselves, the underlying issues will not be addressed and there will continue to be violence and deprivation in those countries, and people will continue to flee.

The significant foreign aid that the United States and other nations are providing to the regimes in Central American and other mass emigration countries around the world is clearly having very little beneficial impact on the lives of the vast majority of their citizens. Instead, government-to-government foreign aid largely gets diverted to Swiss bank accounts held by corrupt government officials, or funneled into the coffers of the local oligarchs who prop up their unpopular regimes.

Turning off the spigot of foreign aid to these governments should just be the first step in convincing the ruling elites that they need to pay more attention to the needs of their people. The next step must be to begin treating counties where “human rights abuses and violence and deprivations” are the norm as rogue states. These nations are no less a threat to international stability and peace than countries like Iran and North Korea, albeit in a different manner.

Through international entities like the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and other institutions that are financed by Western nations on the receiving end of mass migration flows, additional pressure can be brought to bear on these rogue regimes. The corrupt leaders themselves and the oligarchs behind them can be targeted as well by having their personal assets in the West frozen and restrictions placed on their ability to travel.

Dealing with the symptoms of failed states (i.e. the unprecedented numbers of people fleeing them), is a matter on which reasonable people can come to different conclusions. But even those on the maximalist end of the scale when it comes to resettling migrants must recognize that given the number of failed and failing states that now exist, this approach is doomed to failure.

Instead, the focus should be on using all available leverage to convince rogue regimes that there will be heavy price to pay for their neglect of their citizens.

States don’t fail; the people who run them badly, repressively, and corruptly do.

On that point there should be little dispute that President Trump is right, and that the people who are responsible must be held accountable.

Ira Mehlman is media director at the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).