The first five blogs in this series dealt (largely) with moving around current U.S. resources to enhance the economies of the Northern Triangle, and thus discouraging illegal immigration to the United States. For example, instead of buying coffee from all over the world, the U.S. government should buy it only from Central America, and pay a decent price for it (Part 5) and, similarly, when we do recruit H-2A farm workers, let's do lots more of it in the Northern Triangle, rather than elsewhere (Part 1).
This blog takes a bolder approach: The United States, faced with a major problem at our southern border — with as many as 100,000 migrants entering illegally in one recent month — should spend some serious money to make the Northern Triangle nations (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) more attractive places to live, and thus lower the pressures to leave.
This suggestion would seem to run counter to the current administration's approach to such matters: It prefers enforcement to investment; it wants other nations to do as much migration enforcement as possible; and it prefers "America first" to multinational approaches. Above all, it wants small government and it wants to, and has, reduce taxes on our very rich.
I suggest, short of tax reform (and tax increases on the rich), that we spend billions on discouraging illegal migration from Central America and do it all by taking the needed money from America's illegal aliens.
We recently outlined a way to raise $10 billion a year from these aliens, by not giving federal income tax returns to filers who use a Social Security number not their own, by setting a 2 percent fee on wired overseas remittances, and by changing the food stamp rules.
A Perspective on Money. Let's look at $10 billion a year in two different settings, a Central American one and a U.S. one. Such a sum might be compared with the total economies of these three nations; it could, if spent wisely, make a major impact on these nations. Their 2018 gross national product totals follow:
Even if the $10 billion had no follow-on effects, and if all the money were spent in the region (or if those two factors cancelled out), it would still be a huge increase.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is ladling out $16 billion a year to a few hundred thousand soy bean and other farmers adversely impacted by its China trade policies; $16 billion that comes out of citizen taxpayers' pockets, I might add, not from the nation's illegal aliens.
In short, $10 billion a year could make a major difference to these nations if handled carefully, and is a relative drop in the bucket for this large, prosperous nation.
A Perspective on Approaches. I spent a couple of decades of my life doing immigration research within a no-longer-existing entity, the New TransCentury Foundation, where everyone else was engaged in (usually USAID-funded) overseas economic development, and I learned some things about externally funded nation-building by osmosis.
One general rule was to tread a fine line about the role of the host country's often corrupt government: Do as much as you can outside the government's control, but do not kill the whole operation by really upsetting the powers that be. Another was that it is best to invest as much of the grant as possible in-country, and do not hire too many outside experts, all things considered. A third thought: Sometimes very small investments can make a big difference; one of TransCentury's people, who used a wheelchair, designed a firm that could manufacture wheelchairs in, I think, Costa Rica, for about 10 percent of the price of imported ones. The whole grant was only something like $25,000 or $50,000. All of these notions should be borne in mind in connection with Operation Northern Triangle.
The Canton Movement. The program I have in mind would start with a major effort aimed at no more than two or three provinces in each of the three nations. The term for these areas of special concentration would be "cantons" with the image of Swiss-style good government. The cantons would be selected in consultation with the host country, would be non-contiguous, and would represent different elements of the nations; one might be in the mountains and another by the sea; one might be largely indigenous and the other not; one might have a coffee tradition, and the other some other economic specialty.
The United States would offer fairly massive help for each of the cantons, but they would operate largely outside the control of the local government; the offer would be "lots of money for these places, but little government interference and if you don't like it, we will put the money in another nation."
All of this is modeled a bit after the largely forgotten Model Cities program of Lyndon Johnson, which focused expenditures on those parts of the cities that most needed help, and rarely covered the entire municipality. All this was done with the toleration of the cities, but largely through other entities.
As the (one hopes) favorable impacts of these programs become apparent to the host country, other cantons could be created as appropriate.
What Would the U.S. Money Buy? I see the U.S. aid package as consisting of three major parts, but the local governments would have to accept all parts of the package to get their share of the billions in aid.
One element, presumably very acceptable to the Northern Triangle governments, would be to spend money improving the infrastructure, preferably in labor-intensive ways, including better roads; a system of little, low-maintenance dams in the mountains as flood control and water table-enhancement devices; and better broadband systems. And, of course, better schools.
A second element, presumably non-controversial locally, would be technical assistance on how to expand exports and how to fight locally significant problems, such as coffee rust, with as much emphasis as possible on local hires.
The third element — and this would cause some local government opposition — would be to create a special cops-and-judges system that would simply take the murder cases away from the local cops and the local judges and put them into the hands of an elite group of newly hired, Spanish-speaking police and judges. Maybe some of the money could be used to build and run really tight jails, from which escape would be unlikely. All this would leave the current police forces and judicial systems in place — nothing is more dangerous than an angry, unemployed, laid-off cop — and would be, initially, totally U.S.-funded.
These new officials might live, at first, in semi-fortified communities for self-protection; some might be recruited from other Spanish-speaking nations to avoid complicating local ties and loyalties. The former British Empire has, for decades, been using a variant on this scheme to ensure that judges in the current and former British colonies are free from local allegiances. Experienced judges from Sierra Leone, for example, sit in Jamaica and Belize, with the local governments and London sharing the judges' salaries.
I know others disagree, but my sense is that without a Marshall Plan for the Northern Triangle, with a substantial flow of American dollars, the pressures to leave Central America will simply grow and grow.
And the beauty of my plan is that it will be funded by the illegal aliens themselves.