The best way to end the current caravan mess – and an endless parade of poor, largely uneducated and misdirected Central American migrants to our southern border –is to start with untold truths.
Here is a primer – one that you will not see anywhere else.
First, the President is right – deterrence does work. Empirically, as most Americans quietly know, rules are worthless without credible enforcement. By contrast, consistent enforcement deters behaviors that would contravene well-understood rules. Accordingly, in whatever way required to assure credibility, the US border must be protected, laws enforced, border reinforced.
That is only step one. Step two is diplomatic. The US must send seasoned diplomats to Mexico to help incoming Mexico leaders address some nagging truths. For example, left unchecked at Mexico’s southern border, Central American – soon Venezuelan – hoards will disrupt Mexican rule of law. The best way to help Mexico – and the US, in the process – is to secure Mexico’s southern border.
More diplomacy: The US should share relevant intelligence with Mexican officials about who the so-called “caravans” really are – and how they undermine security throughout Mexico, and will at the Mexican-US border. They are heavily penetrated by drug trafficking groups, identifiable gangs, transnational criminal groups, and represent a venue terrorists are eyeing.
Similarly, working out a sustainable mechanism for special asylum cases – ones that may fit the definition of a well-founded, specific fear of persecution under US law – is worth the effort; if Mexico can segregate such cases, hold claimants until cases can be processed on the US side, a degree of order can attach to these special cases. Nevertheless, limits attach to number of cases annually accepted in the US.
But the biggest issue is one that is NOWHERE in the US press. It is a big one. This is the biggest reason that most asylum claimants have NO CHANCE of asylum in the US: Latin American countries and United States law define justified asylum completely differently.
This is a huge, unexplained and yet critical issue. It is not being explained to average Americans – or to the average caravan member from Central America. So here is the MOST inconvenient truth of all: Mexico and virtually all of Latin America signed the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees, a document that fundamentally expanded the meaning of a refugee – for those countries. The US and much of the world does not abide that definition. They abide the 1951 definition of refugee.
What is the difference? Well, the 1951 definition required that anyone applying for refugee status have a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion…” in their country of origin.
In effect, this 1951 definition – which the US uses – means that an applicant for refugee status be specifically targeted by the origin country. If not specifically targeted, or if not within that country when allying, the scales tip hard against getting into the US. Obviously, that means just coming from a corrupt, poor, lawless, or otherwise unsavory country does not allow an applicant refugee status in the US.
Notably, these Central American refugees are no longer within the country of origin – from which they claim to be escaping – when they are in Mexico. That also reduces their changes of admission to the US.
But the definition of refugee is completely different in Mexico and Latin America. The Cartagena Declaration and later documents expand the definition of refugee. Unlike the 1951 definition used by the US, these countries allow the grant of “refugee” status within their borders if the person has “fled their countries because their lives, safety, or freedom have been threatened by generalized violence, foreign aggression, internal conflicts, massive violation of human rights or other circumstances which have seriously disturbed public order.”
This difference is enormous – and it is at the heart of why many in the caravans, foreign governments, and American media misunderstand what is happening at the US-Mexican border. The US does NOT admit anyone who wishes to come in from a distraught, poor or violent country – but Mexico and the Central American countries do.
The solution is therefore clear: Make this point with unflinching clarity to any and all, encourage the caravan members to use that broader definition to justify claims of refugee status or asylum in Mexico, and other Latin American countries – since they abide the broader definition.
But understand that US law does NOT allow anyone entry who comes from a beleaguered country; if we did, the US would simply import the world. The caravans should begin seeking refugee status in Mexico – and where the Cartagena Declaration holds – not in the US.
Finally, an obvious but painful truth: It would be wiser, more sustainable, and less painful for all if countries currently exporting people to US, instead resolved to import US liberties, constitutional values and protections, rule of law and foreign investment that follows rule of law. That is the hard, long road – but unlike the road these caravans are on, it leads somewhere.