Tomasky thinks we need to take a hard look at our own role in Central America’s descent into violence:
So in the three crisis countries, or at least in two of them (Guatemala and El Salvador), there’s a pattern. U.S.-sponsored civil wars tore the country apart in the 1980s. What happened next? As Ryan Grim and Roque Planas put it in a terrific Huffington Post piece tracing this history in greater depth, “With wars come refugees.” Terrified citizens of these nations started running to the United States by the tens of thousands.
When they got here, there was nothing for them. Depending on how old they were, they or their kids formed gangs in Los Angeles and elsewhere in the 1990s. We responded to that by “getting tough” on crime, throwing thousands of them in jail. Then when they got out of jail, we deported them back. We escalated the drug war—we had some success in Colombia, which merely pushed much of the cocaine trade into Central America. The ex-gang members we deported created extremely violent societies, societies where 10-year-old kids are recruited into new gangs and threatened with death if they don’t join, and it’s from those societies that today’s children are fleeing.
But Robert Brenneman stresses that the situation there is not as hopeless in as the prevailing narrative would have you believe:
While it is true that many of the children who reach the US border have grown up in difficult and even dangerous situations and ought to be granted a hearing to determine whether or not they should be granted asylum, I have Central American friends (including some from Honduras) who might bristle at the suggestion that every child migrating northward is escaping life in hell itself. The idea that all Central American minors ought to be pronounced refugees upon arrival at the border rests on the mistaken assumption that these nations are hopelessly mired in violence and chaos, and it encourages the US government to throw in the towel with regard to advocating for economic and political improvements in the region.
True, a great deal of violence and hopelessness persists in the marginal urban neighborhoods of San Salvador and Tegucigalpa, but these communities did not evolve by accident. They are the result of years of under-investment in social priorities such as public education and public security compounded by the entrance in the late 1990s of a furious scramble among the cartels to establish and maintain drug movement and distribution networks across the isthmus in order to meet unflagging US demand. At the same time as we work to ensure that all migrant minors are treated humanely and with due process, we ought to use this moment to take a hard look at US foreign policy both past and present in order to build a robust aid package aimed at strengthening institutions and promoting more progressive tax policy so that these nations can promote human development, not just economic growth. It is time we take the long view with regard to our neighbors to the south.