Southern border crisis — here's how we can reverse it

 Southern border crisis — here's how we can reverse it
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Unlike many from the president’s party, I am certainly not a believer in the “invasion from the South." However, I do believe that we have a problem that needs to be addressed.

During my last visit to Central America as a Pentagon official, in the late 1990s, I visited our National Guard and Reserve troops providing support to Honduran, El Salvador and Nicaraguan forces. We were teaching these nations how to maintain militaries in civilian led governments, similar to our successful programs only a few years prior in the former Soviet and Eastern Bloc Republics.

But why did our success across Eastern Europe not repeat in Central America? Lack of commitment and funding left broken promises and a trail of broken equipment. During my last visit, I remember a fairly new road grader sitting on the side of a mountain at the end of a road to nowhere.

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When I asked my escort about this, he replied that the U.S. was eager to give equipment, but no training or support to maintain it. When a piece of equipment would fail, it would simply be left. To me this spoke and continues to speak volumes about the problems in this fragile, yet important part of the Western Hemisphere.

The situation of violent gangs in El Salvador, rampant corruption in Honduras and starvation and intolerance across the region lies at the feet of United States’ actions and inaction. We have created the situation that has come to rest on our southern doorstep. So how do we resolve this? It is not easy, but it comes with a recognition that we are not perfect, and we have done harm to our neighbors. Armed with this, we might become a little more tolerant of their situations.

Practical solutions are abundant, but here are some thoughts that I believe will immediately reverse the course that we are on now:

1. Immediately assign and deploy a special envoy to Mexico to establish an agreement on creating processing communities on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. As part of this negotiation and commitment from the U.S., we should deploy FEMA and military resources to establish “temporary” communities with housing and resources (water and food). These communities would serve as temporary respites for migrants and asylum seekers. While on the Mexico side, people would be processed and given background checks to identify violent criminals that could pose a threat.

With the cooperation of Mexican authorities, we would detain and return these individuals to law enforcement in their countries of origin. For those posing no threat, they would then be moved, with their family, children included, to the U.S. side for continued processing and either temporary work permits or the beginnings of the asylum process. By centrally locating these facilities, we can focus asylum judges to these locations and increase throughput. We can also focus the resources of nonprofit and NGO organizations to these border communities to assist. By providing humane and expedited treatment, we will focus the flow of undocumented immigrants to these locations. This is not an amnesty program, but it is a documentation and indoctrination program. By providing even a temporary opportunity that is legal, with the promise of a repeat return in a couple of years, we could tap the labor resources that we need, while providing the support that our southern neighbors need.

2. The United States must invest in our own hemisphere. We cannot continue the failed practices of half-assed engagement that led to despot dictators, gang violence and rampant intolerance. We need a multi-billion-dollar campaign to encourage business, support democracies, build civil police and volunteer militaries and tap the amazing resource that is the people of these great countries. The results will be economic gains for all, a stable hemisphere and a border that is not flooded with people fleeing the certainty of corruption and death at the hands of gangs and dictators.

It is not a complex or brilliant plan, just one hatched from common sense and an understanding of history and humanity. It is not out of our grasp to change this situation and demonstrate our leadership in the free world once again.

Todd A. Weiler is a former assistant secretary of defense and has served under the Clinton and Obama administrations.