Immigration reform in the United States will happen this year, and as a result, 11 million (more like 20 million, really) undocumented immigrants will receive amnesty. Yes, there... I said it.
As Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer correctly observes in his Friday opinion piece, "Immigration -- The Lesser of Two Evils", U.S. politicians avoid the word, but that's ultimately what the immigration reform bill will seek. Mr. Krauthammer notes that Republican Senator Marco Rubio calls it "probationary legal status," while President Obama prefers the term "lawful prospective immigrant." Allow me to cut to the chase; what it really is is "justice." I'll explain.
Most conservatives in the U.S. oppose amnesty because they rationally argue that people who entered the U.S. illegally should not be rewarded, but rather they should be imprisoned or deported. It's that simple. After all, why should "illegals" be given preferential treatment over immigrants who apply to enter the country legally? Meanwhile, most liberals argue that deporting people who came to the U.S. merely to seek a better life lacks compassion, and is thus morally wrong, particularly if it means separating them from their families -- and especially their children.
There is truth to both arguments. But both of them fail to address a key point, and that is that the primary reason people from Central America (and to a lesser extent, Mexico) make the long trek to the U.S. is to escape the violence and chaos that has been thrust upon them by organized gangs and foreign drug cartels that are using the region as their transit route for drug shipments from South America to the U.S. market, and have turned its nations -- mainly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- into their personal playgrounds.
While the U.S.-backed conflicts against leftist rebel groups in Central America -- mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua -- fueled illegal immigration into the U.S. from the region during the 1980s, the mass migration north was kept alive and given a boost in the 1990s by U.S.-backed neo-liberal trade policies that destroyed the ability of small farmers -- mainly in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- to earn a living and feed their families.
Faced with a growing wave of undocumented immigrants as a result of the guerrilla conflicts (... remember the Contras and the Sandinistas?) in Central America and the neo-liberal trade experiments, the U.S. government in the 1990s made a conscious decision to step up deportation of undocumented immigrants back to their homelands -- mainly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Many of these deportees were hardened, well-organized, tech-savvy gang members from nasty places such as the East Side of Los Angeles. Homies like the MS-18 and Mara Salvatrucha. Therein was the origin of Central America's gang problem.
Then came Hurricane Mitch in 1998. The hurricane devastated large swaths of Central America, particularly Honduras, and it pushed even more people north... out of desperation. The region was already in bad shape following the warfare and "free trade" of the preceding two decades.
Throughout these periods, the drug trade was growing -- spurred by the insatiable demand by U.S. consumers for marijuana, then cocaine (... and now synthetic drugs). During the past decade, things in Central America and Mexico have gotten much worse. Not only has the U.S. demand for illegal drugs from South America continued unabated, the U.S.-sponsored "War on Drugs" in Colombia during the 1990s succeeded in shifting the power balance of the drug cartels north to Mexico. That spurred the bloodbath we've been seeing in Mexico since 2006 -- made possible both by the extremely lax guns laws in the U.S. that have enabled the arming of cartel members (and their contracted hitmen -- gang members) by opportunistic U.S. gun dealers who will gladly sell to anyone.
During the past three to four years, the U.S.-sponsored War on Drugs in Mexico has predictably shifted drug operations and battles for dominance by the Mexican cartels south to Central America, mainly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras -- countries already soaked in poverty, weak governance, corruption, and U.S.-trained gangs. Perfect breeding ground for unprecedented violent crime.
So is it really so surprising that people are leaving Central America in droves? It's not that they want to leave because the U.S. is such a great place. It's that they have no choice. Either you leave or you starve. Or you get sucked into the drug trade. Or you get sucked into a prostitution ring. Or you get recruited into a gang. Or you get killed. Or your family gets killed.
The sad part is that Central Americans, and particularly Hondurans, have done very little to deserve their plight. Most of them simply want a quiet peaceful life in the countryside, planting their subsistence crops -- rice, beans, corn, and some coffee. Most just want to be left alone in their villages to work the fields (preferably their own), raise their families, go to the church, celebrate holy days, and sit and talk with their friends in the central park.
Much of this life has been robbed by East-West ideological struggles, overly aggressive capitalism (... or to borrow from Rick Perry, "vulture capitalism") that promotes unfair trade practices, U.S. drug addicts, and an absurdly unrestricted U.S. firearms industry. Amnesty for undocumented immigrants? It isn't a gift, Mr. Krauthammer. It's justice. More accurately... it's payback.
Payback's a bitch, isn't it, Charlie?