A wall to separate us from reason

A wall to separate us from reason
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How did President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoint Chiefs chairman denies report that US is planning to keep 1K troops in Syria Kansas Department of Transportation calls Trump 'delusional communist' on Twitter Trump has privately voiced skepticism about driverless cars: report MORE go from a simple campaign promise — “the wall” — to threats of a national emergency and an executive-led shutdown that has held 800,000 government workers and their families hostage for the longest period in U.S. history?  The move paradoxically leaves the U.S. far less safe — from TSA agents to immigration enforcement, to food safety — all for what national security experts agree to be nothing more than a colossally ineffective symbol with a $5.7 billion to $20 billion price tag. A wall that, tellingly, every congressman from a district along the U.S.-Mexico border opposes.

In Mexico, we recognize, that if there was truly a national security emergency at the Southern border surely Trump would begin, at the very least, by confirming a U.S. ambassador to our country, a position that has sat vacant since last May. Or, for another, he could utilize the millions in border security funding that the Congress provided last year, but the president’s administration has not spent (roughly 40 percent of the total).

On both sides of the border, we now find ourselves in a dangerous geopolitical situation. No, it’s not migration. It’s the lengths to which the president is willing to go, or who he is willing to hurt, to deliver his most memorable campaign slogan — a promise that is increasingly being tied to his future electoral success.

With a job approval rating at just 39 percent, Trump is grabbing media attention to fire up his voters. Real leadership requires more than performance. Trump’s great wall is missing the solution precisely because his objective is unrelated to immigration.

We need to get back to the facts. In Mexico, we understand well that there is no migration security emergency. U.S. Border Patrol apprehensions are their lowest in two decades. Today, more Mexican migrants, and Americans, move to Mexico than the other way around.

What is changing is the face of immigration. Passing are the days defined by the lone male “economic migrant” crossing the desert into the U.S. Instead, 2018 brought a sharp rise in entire family units traveling from Central America to the border — up drastically from 7,000 in November of 2017 to over 25,000 in November 2018 — that promises to continue.

These are refugees with wrenching stories, whole villages fleeing unimaginable violence, gangs, homes burnt to the ground, death threats, children murdered, sexual assault and limbs hacked off — who have sacrificed everything to find safety. For them, asylum is life or death.

This growing humanitarian crisis will not disappear at Mexico or the U.S.’s doorstep with the appearance of a wall. Last week’s expulsion of the UN’s anti-corruption commission by the President of Guatemala is just the latest dire sign of rising authoritarianism and degradation of the Rule of Law in the region. Here in Mexico, 2018 asylum claims rose by 103 percent, and with less than 15 percent of claimants originating from the "caravans,” we can see a much larger trend developing.

If national security and immigration are truly this administration’s greatest concerns, then long-term interrelated cycles of violence and drugs that are destroying lives in the U.S., Mexico and Central America must be addressed — driven by an American demand for drugs, and violence perpetrated by illegally-obtained U.S.-manufactured guns. Any effective solution for the region must involve U.S. gun control and cross-border drug-use policies.

Instead, Trump’s latest talking point, the imagined connection between the Central American drug trafficking and the opioid epidemic, is a misdirect from the fact that most U.S. overdoses cannot be prevented by a wall. These tragic deaths are related to prescription drugs and fentanyl smuggled from China enter through legal ports of entry, according to Customs and Border Protection.

The same is true for the disingenuous claim that terrorists are among these refugees. Per the State Department there is “no credible information that any member of a terrorist group has traveled through Mexico to gain access to the United States,” and like drug-seizures, the vast majority of watch-list individuals are apprehended at airports and the Canadian border.

The truth is these asylum seekers are quite the opposite of the dangerous criminals the president would have us believe. Some of the U.S.’s safest cities are on the U.S.-Mexico border, and the U.S. also saw a 36 percent decrease in violent crimes between 1980 and 2016 as undocumented immigration rose. Indeed, several studies have found that the higher the number of foreign-born residents in an area, the lower the incidence of violent crime rates.

What then should real, comprehensive immigration policy look like?

Experts — conservative and liberal alike —have for decades recommended a path for legal immigration that the administration is instead working to dismantle. Study after economic study has documented that immigrants create wealth, contribute to GDP growth, and create jobs. Immigrants are a complementary labor force that fills economic needs, from agriculture to senior care, and contribute taxes each year. Without immigrant labor there are huge shortfalls in production in these sectors. Per studies from the president’s own alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, without immigrant workers U.S. GDP would fall 0.7 percent over 10 years and by 2 percent by 2040, to the detriment of all Americans.

And, of course, it is a great challenge to develop complex, long-term development efforts that address the root causes of instability in Central America.

In December, Mexico committed roughly $25 billion promised to target the root causes of migration with investment to generate opportunities. This bi-national plan was envisioned to complement U.S. funding of $5.8 billion (adding to the $2.6 billion spent in the region over the last four years). This plan could represent hope for real change in the region, if it comes through. 

The facts are clear: A wall is a poor and ineffective investment. In the face of Trump’s blatant politicization of this profound humanitarian challenge, we must demand evidence and think critically. Let’s throw out the optics and work for real, long-term change across borders, and together give our citizens the results they deserve.

Ricardo B. Salinas is the chairman and founder of Mexico-based Grupo Salinas and founding member of FIRST Global, which work to develop future generations of innovative leaders.