Are We Abetting Central American Gangs?

Taking a hard look at the refugee crisis, Frum blames it primarily on US immigration policy, which has unwittingly strengthened the gangs from which these children are fleeing. “If you want to migrate to the United States from Central America,” he writes, “you will probably have to seek the aid of a criminal gang. That fact implies a few follow-on facts”:

First, for all the talk of the “desperation” of migrants, those who travel here from Central America are not the poorest of the poor.

The poorest of the poor can’t afford it. Illegal migrants either have the funds to pay for the journey—or can at least receive credit against their expected future earnings. The traffickers don’t only move people. They also connect them to the illegal labor market in North America, and then act as debt collectors once the migrants have settled in their new homes. Salvadorans in the United States are less likely to be poor than other Hispanics are: illegal migration networks don’t have any use for people who can’t generate an income. On the other hand, Salvadorans are also less likely to own a home—their smugglers have first claim on their earnings.

Second, if these latest migrants gain residency rights in the United States, the gangs who brought them to the country will be enriched and strengthened. Gangs, like any business, ultimately depend on their customers. If too many people find that their $5,000 to $8,000 investments in border-crossing are not paying off, the illegal-migration business will dwindle. If, on the other hand, the gangs succeed in exploiting the opportunity Obama created, they’ll attract more business in the future.

Third, each wave of illegal settlement induces and produces the opportunities for the next. The unaccompanied minors smuggled into the United States this year all have relatives back home. If resettled in the United States, they’ll acquire the wherewithal to pay for the transit of those relatives. And, of course, many of these minors either currently belong to the gangs carrying out the smuggling or will soon be recruited by them. That’s another way to pay the cost of the trip.

Recent Dish on the sources of the crisis here and here.