Here is an interesting question for President Donald Trump: Who deports more Central American migrants, the United States or Mexico? The answer is Mexico by a long shot.
In 2015, Mexico, without a wall — but with better surveillance in collaboration with the U.S.-deported 165,000 migrants from the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. The United States deported 74,478 Central Americans the same year.
So antagonizing the people of Mexico and the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto with a constant refrain of, “You will pay for the wall” may not be the best way for Trump to lower the number of migrants crossing the southwest border into the U.S. Mexico has been willing to cooperate with the U.S. to prevent illegal migration in the past when relations were good. The future may be a lot different.
The more effective and less costly way to reduce the flow of refugees and migrants to the U.S. is to help Mexico provide safe, secure reception areas on its southern border for Central American migrants, and transportation back to their home countries for those who do not qualify for refugee status.
Deportation will continue to be a revolving door unless the Northern Triangle countries also are helped to do something different than dumping the migrants — particularly children — back into the neighborhoods where the maras (gangs) have taken homicide rates to world-record levels.
Last year, in its report Easy Prey: Criminal Violence and Central American Migration, The International Crisis Group found that in the first half of 2016, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended almost 42,000 unaccompanied children on our southwest border, about 15 percent of the total detained. Today, that trend continues.
Crisis Group also found the drug cartels that dominate cocaine trafficking through the Central American corridor to Mexico and U.S. markets are taking over the traditional “coyote” migration routes. Often, they siphon young migrant girls, boys and women to brothels and other way-points of human trafficking.
Mexico and the U.S. have treaty obligations to ensure that those migrants with a well-founded fear of persecution will have the ability to make their case for refugee status and asylum. In the interim, Mexico has a humanitarian visa that it can offer; the U.S. has Temporary Protected Status.
The only lasting answer to illegal migration is to address the conditions of poverty, violence and criminal impunity that forcefamilies to flee their homes in Central America. While Mexican migration to the U.S. has dropped, worsening economic conditions there will push impoverished Mexicans north.
In order to properly address the migration crisis, President Trump should reverse the current downward slide in relations with Mexico Everyone recognizes that the U.S. has an interest in controlling its borders to ensure public security and safety. However, building a wall and demanding that Mexico pay for it are unlikely to produce the desired results.
President Trump should instead draw on his experience as a businessman to strengthen the Alliance for Prosperity program—a potentially innovative joint regional plan involving the U.S., El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and the Inter-American Development Bank. The Republican Congress backed the program with nearly $1 billion in each of the last two years to support efforts to root out corruption, reduce poverty, and create jobs in Central America.
Most scholars and law enforcement leaders argue that, with policy changes to tackle corruption and end impunity, a continuing U.S. commitment of $1 billion a year over the next five years to finance small business, jobs, education and criminal justice reform in Central America will yield a far better return on investment in reducing migration. And it’s a whole lot cheaper than the estimated $12- to $40 billion cost of building a 2,000-mile-long border wall — which no one wants to pay for.
Mark L. Schneider is a senior adviser in Washington, D.C., for the International Crisis Group, the leading conflict prevention organization.