Thousands of Central American children are streaming in the United States in a major scandal of international child abuse, with untold numbers more to come. With stories of rampant sex trafficking, kidnapping, rape, and narco-violence, overburdened American taxpayers have good reason to view the chaos on the Mexican border as cause for concern.
It’s not just the citizens of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California who are threatened by what some news reports call a “flood of illegals.” Since local and state governments are unable to house, feed and clothe all of them in detention facilities near the Mexican border, thousands of the immigrants are being bused or flown to U.S. cities of their own choosing, with tickets bought for them by taxpayers.
While most of the immigrants are minors, some belong to drug gangs, some have been kidnapped, some carry diseases eradicated long ago in United States, and some of the girls – an unusually large number of them – have been raped and are pregnant.
Commentators on the left and the right of the political spectrum view the crisis from very different perspectives.
Many self-styled “progressives” characterize the border breach solely in humanitarian terms despite the blatant vote pandering. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), for example, called it an “opportunity” for America to show the world that “we respect people for their dignity and worth.” It is “for the children.”
Meanwhile, President Obama appointed Craig Fugate, head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to coordinate Washington’s response; initial reports suggested that the president would ask Congress to appropriate $2 billion to deal with the immigration crunch. At $4.3 billion, the latest price tag is more than twice that figure.
The view from the right is divided into traditional Republican “law-and-order” types, who want to mobilize the National Guard to enforce existing immigration laws and to strengthen border security, and some but not all of those on the GOP’s libertarian wing, who want to open the borders even wider to immigration, arguing that many of them share American ideals of hard work, traditional values and independence and simply are seeking better lives for themselves and their families.
But most of the immigrants are just innocent kids, who as the pawns in this chaos, know nothing of or care about the principles and market-based institutions of a free society.
What is missing on all sides of the debate is recognition that recent events expose two more fundamental problems: One is the failure to enforce private-property rights on this side of the border, coupled with even weaker property rights on the other side. The current wave of immigrants has been trespassing with impunity on land owned by farmers and ranchers in Texas and elsewhere. Governmental unwillingness or inability to prohibit trespassing undermines the rule of law and endangers both residents and immigrants.
The other problem is that the public budget is a common-pool resource and what we are witnessing is massive and bald-faced “rent seeking” into that budget by people who are over-running America’s welfare state. The budgets of government schools, housing, police, fire protection, healthcare and social welfare programs could all be swamped by the surge at the border.
Political corruption and the absence of economic freedom in the countries that the immigrants are now fleeing explain widespread poverty there. Although the United States is significantly less free than it once was, it still is a better place to live than Mexico, which has been complicit in passing through to the north immigrant children uprooted from the nations of Central America.
Coupled with government inefficiency at home and corruption that makes them vulnerable to drug gangs, sex slavers and the grabbing hands of the public sector, trying to escape to the United States is rational, especially if, as many illegals apparently think, they will be allowed to stay and be eligible for public services financed by U.S. taxpayers.
Central American governments and parents there are shirking their responsibilities in this debacle of international child abuse. And, the Obama administration is exploiting the immigration crisis to expand the welfare state and to recruit a new generation of voters who they hope will reliably support the Democratic Party and the continued growth of government.
If the United States continues to take on the social and economic problems of Central America, our neighbors to the South never will institute the human-rights and market-based reforms that will protect their children and make then want to stay home.
The United States should neither be the world’s policeman, nor should it be the world’s wet nurse.
William F. Shughart II, research director and senior fellow of the Independent Institute, is J. Fish Smith Professor in Public Choice at Utah State University’s Huntsman School of Business and editor of the book, Taxing Choice: The Predatory Politics of Fiscal Discrimination.