Want to Curb Illegal Immigration? Promote Economic Stability

Want to Curb Illegal Immigration? Promote Economic Stability
AP Photo/Gregory Bull

One of the greatest public policy problems associated with illegal immigration is the expansion of violent gang activity in the United States. U.S. officials have taken notice, with many calling for increased deportations and stronger border protections to deter gangs like MS-13. While this is a good start, more needs to be done to deter people from joining such international gangs in the first place, otherwise their members will keep coming to our shores. 

Ground zero for MS-13 recruitment is Central America, where the cartel began in the wake of political and economic instability. MS-13 exploits a lack of jobs, education, and opportunity and promises wealth and power to those who will join. To combat MS-13’s infiltration, the U.S. must encourage investments in the region that put people to work and keep them off the streets.

The U.S. can start by lending support to Guatemala, where a major economic development project is in jeopardy. A frivolous lawsuit is threatening the country’s largest mine and the livelihoods of the thousands of workers it employs. The Trump administration must encourage the continued operation of the mine, as the jobs it provides are essential to fighting the lure of MS-13 in Guatemala and thus, indirectly, protecting communities in the United States.

Guatemala is a key transit point in the flow of illegal drugs from South America: Nearly 90 percent of narcotics pass through Central America, especially Guatemala. While geographic location makes Guatemala an ideal spot on this route, it’s the country’s instability, corruption, and weak institutions that make it particularly attractive to criminals and traffickers.

The Escobal mine in San Rafael, the world’s third largest silver mine, has helped combat these destabilizing forces by creating jobs and providing crucial investment in the country. The mine supports nearly 8,000 workers and has brought more than $1 billion to Guatemala through taxes, wages, and contribution to community services and sustainability initiatives. This investment helps the country build and support the institutions it needs, such as a strong police force and robust judiciary, to combat gangs and illegal drug trafficking.

But the investment and jobs provided by Escobal have been put at risk by an anti-mining group, which has filed a lawsuit to close the mine over claims that the indigenous community was not properly consulted. The group successfully won a two-month suspension of the mining license, and while a recent court decision has allowed operations to resume, protestors have blocked the road to the mine and are keeping it out of operation.

The uncertainty surrounding the mine — its future is still being appealed — is especially harmful to the effort to quash MS-13 and the international illegal narcotics trade. Without the jobs and security provided by Escobal, the incomes of thousands of Guatemalans will be eliminated, encouraging drug traffickers and gang membership to fill the void.

Guatemala cannot afford to drive away industries that contribute millions in taxes to the country. The State Department has identified low tax revenue as a major contributing factor to the weakness of Guatemala’s institutions. Taking away additional revenue will severely hinder the ability of the developing nation to address gang violence and narcotrafficking seriously and substantively through law enforcement and the judicial and correctional systems. 

It’s not just the loss of jobs, tax revenue and other economic contributions by the Escobal mine that is at stake. If the mine is closed for good, it will send the message that outside businesses should think twice about investing in Guatemala. That could put a chill on the foreign investment in the developing nation — a disastrous outcome for the United States and Guatemala in their work to stop the pipeline of illegal drugs and criminals that move through the country.

The United States has spent more than $1 billion in Central America over the last 12 years to strengthen the region and bolster it against the threat of drug traffickers and violent gangs. Guatemala is central to this strategy, and the Escobal mine is central to the country’s success and stability. The Trump administration must encourage the Guatemalan government to support the continued operation of the mine — it can’t risk losing this important aid in the fight against MS-13 and the illegal drug trade. 

Creating jobs in Central America promotes stability and economic prosperity in countries like Guatemala, which can, in turn, help stem the flow of illegal immigrants across the southern border of the United States.

Andrew Langer is President of the Institute for Liberty.

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