When you think of allies of the Trump Administration, you usually do not think of those in favor of international migration, nor those allied to the United Nations, but one such entity is helping U.S. policies in a significant way – it is busing thwarted Central American migrants from Mexican border cities back to the Northern Triangle. These once potential illegal aliens in our nation are now on their way back to Central America.
The entity doing us a favor is the seldom-mentioned International Organization for Migration (IOM); note the preposition "for". That neatly expresses the organization’s point of view. It is Geneva-based and has units all over the world.
Recently there have been passing mentions of these southeast-bound buses in the New York Times and in the Washington Post. In the Times piece there was this about other busing back to the homeland:
"But most migrants said that they could not afford 3,000 pesos, or about $155 for a private one-way bus ticket to Central America: their money had already gone to smugglers who guided them to the United States."
Phone calls to IOM offices in Washington, New York, and San Jose, and Costa Rica were not returned, so we cannot know how many of these buses are in play, or who is paying for them, but it is clear that IOM is doing this not to help the U.S. government, its motivation must be to help the ill-starred migrants.
All of this suggests a policy position for the United States, and reminds us of a collection of ironies.
U.S. Policy. The presence of at least scores of thousands of stranded, would-be migrants to the United States in the cities of Northern Mexico (such as Juarez and Tijuana) is not only hard on the individuals, it is also a serious burden on the Mexican government, which is starting to take some actions to lessen the pressures on our southern border. Further, anyone who is stuck just south of our border may make an effort to enter the U.S. illegally.
For all of these reasons, it seems to be that we should start investing, heavily, in getting as many of these people – all as volunteers – back to their homelands, as soon as possible. The Post article mentions that:
"A small survey conducted by federal immigration authorities found at least 30 percent of the migrants wanted to go home . . ."
With billions of money now available for the border problems, would not it make sense to buy large batches of $155 tickets and give them to Central Americans wanting to return? But the United States should go further.
We should, in addition to funding IOM’s efforts, and paying for the use of private buses, run a raffle for the potential returnees with prizes for all Northern Triangle people wanting to return.
The first prizes, going to maybe 100 people a day, would be (probably) their first airplane flights complete with smiling cabin attendants, the Central American equivalent of champagne and caviar en route, and $500 in cash as they step off the plane in the Northern Triangle. Conditions on the planes should be optimal, and Central American TV crews should be encouraged (once the system is working smoothly) to accompany some of the flights.
The second prizes, available to all who want to leave the border cities (and who are clearly from the three nations: El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala) would be bus travel to those countries, accompanied by $200 each on their arrival.
While all of this sounds expensive, it will create a huge savings compared with the costs to the United States if a fraction of the proposed beneficiaries were to cross our borders.
Further, it will lighten the image of Uncle Sam (and the administration) in Latin America.
These trips will be offered for a limited length of time, and some requirements might be set in place, such as a pledge not to seek to come to the United States for any reason for three years, plus the creation of a record of those so pledging, complete with their photos and fingerprints. Those getting the tickets should sign away any asylum claims they had in advance of the homeward trip.
Why not, in short, cover the current iron fist with a silken glove?
The Ironies Involved. That IOM is helping us in this situation is ironic for several reasons.
1. They are doing it despite Trump’s efforts to decrease our financial support of UN agencies, generally.
2. While the United States has routinely provided the president of the IOM through most of its history, the last time that position was up for a vote, the other nations soundly defeated the Trump Administration’s choice, an Evangelical named Ken Isaacs, who was burdened by Trump's support and his own rejection of climate change science.
3. One former agency official, decades out of the refugee business, may be cheering the IOM decision from the sidelines (or maybe she quietly helped make it happen). She is the former director of the IOM Washington office, whom I knew slightly years ago, Gretchen Bolton, spouse to John.