Townhall, February 9, 2023
AUSTIN, Texas – Vice President Kamala Harris spiked the football this week as though she had scored big time in her two-year effort to address the “root causes” of illegal immigration from Central America. Some $950 million in new pledges by private companies, added to the $3.2 billion pledged since May 2021, are already creating “positive trends,” Harris claimed in a February 6 press conference announcement.
“The research is pretty clear in telling us that, when we create economic opportunity in these regions, as we have done, we can potentially have a great impact on those who otherwise would leave home and allow them an opportunity to stay in their home countries, which is where they prefer to be,” Harris told reporters.
But the polar opposite is true about the research she claimed, as my forthcoming book, Overrun: How Joe Biden Unleashed the Greatest Border Crisis in U.S. History, reveals for the first time. Rarely if ever reported before, during or after all prior Harris press conferences like this one is the fact that Europe has tried variations of “root causes” migration alleviation strategies for more than 30 years already. A trove of good, corroborating research exists that actually debunks the policy as a total failure – long years before Biden’s government adopted the European idea as its own.
As my book explores, European anti-borders liberals first concocted the root-causes doctrine in the early 1980s. Through the 1990s, it became engrained in European thinking, according to a 2016 Peace Research Institute of Oslo paper. The basic theory was that, if Europeans invested in fixing broken nations, their citizens would stay home.
But the most cursory glance at Europe’s experience with the doctrine show the strategy simply never worked.
For example, the European Union-funded policy think tank MIGNEX reviewed some ten studies spanning more than a decade where development aid was invested to reduce Europe-bound emigration from poor countries.
“In its current form, development aid does not seem to be big enough to create the underlying changes that effect migration decisions,” the MIGNEX report concluded, in part. “In cases where we do see a deterrent effect of aid on migration, a noticeable impact would require an unrealistic increase in aid.”
Writing for the International Institute of Social Studies in 2007, social scientist Hein De Haas concluded that, “Besides the limited scope and credibility of such policies, empirical and theoretical evidence strongly suggests that economic and human development increases people’s capabilities and aspirations and therefore tends to coincide with an increase rather than a decrease in emigration.”
U.S. media doesn’t seem to want to catch on. The New York Times’s story of the February 6 press conference came close to that flame with a passing admission that administration officials “could not specifically document the effects” Harris had just claimed.
That’s because U.S. policy changes that close or open the gate are the main causes of surges and retreats of illegal immigration, according to my interviews hundreds of immigrants. Like a Haitian named Alexandre I met one night in the deep southern Mexican city of Tapachula.
In 2016, he and his wife set off through South America on their way to the American border based on presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s campaign rhetoric about opening the southern border and welcoming in all comers. But Donald Trump won in a surprise upset, and he’d campaigned on building a big beautiful wall to block illegal entrants like Alexandre.
So they stayed in Chile, not wanting to waste smuggling fees only to wind up stuck in Mexico. Were Alexandre and his wife willing to gamble the necessary $7,000 in smuggling money they’d saved up working in Chile for his family to probably end up stuck in northern Mexico for the years of Trump, I asked?
Not only no, but hell no, he responded.
“That money, in order to come to the United States … I worked hard for that money. I wouldn’t have spent that money when Trump was president.”
But when Biden won office, the couple saw that Biden’s DHS started letting Haitians in who reached the border, by the thousands, and only then decided the time was right to risk the smuggling cash. They did what any family would do:
“We talked it over with the family, and we decided to make the trip,” he explained. “Under this president, it seemed like things are different.”
One day, the United States is going to follow the Europeans, who have ditched root-causes doctrines in favor of what actually works on migrant decision-making.
Since 2015, a half dozen European countries have erected some 800 miles of border walls, in Austria, Slovenia, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Poland. These ended mass migrations through their territories, not some sudden new demand for employment in Afghanistan and Syria.
The European collective uses air repatriation flights now, and other deterrence-based projects that changed immigrant minds faster than any outbreak of government integrity in home countries. They now understand that policies like walls and air repatriation are what make immigrants want to stay home and keep their money.
The Biden administration’s dedication to the bankrupted “root causes” doctrine belies other logic fallacies. For instance, it only targets Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. But more than 40 percent of everyone reaching the southern border during this crisis hail from 100-plus other wrecked countries like Venezuela, Haiti, Cuba, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Are Americans expected to rebuild those nations too, or any new poor nation whose citizens decide to come next? Proponents look away from this worthy question.
And there’s this: The project does not account for the fact that America is as terrible at nation-building. Its endeavors failing even after trillions of dollars in expenditures and deployment of American troops. Utopian ideals to rebuild Central America do not bake into the cake the terrible nation-building failures of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Vietnam.
As much as the beauty queen contestant in all of us would like to see world hunger alleviated, it is unfortunately here to stay for a long time. In the end, only enforcement policies that lower smuggler fee return on investment will end this long historic crisis, very well and very fast.