Want to end border surge? Stop flow of money to Central America, experts say
This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
MIAMI — One solution to the illegal immigration crisis gripping the nation’s southern border may be as simple as stopping U.S. aid to Central American governments.
“It’s cheaper to take care of them in their own country instead on the other side of the border, on the U.S. side, because they become a burden on social services, which is more expensive to handle in the U.S. than in their own country,” said Florida resident Penny Rambacher, who, along with her late mother, Noreen, opened 48 schools in less than 10 years in some of the poorest areas of Guatemala.
Rambacher’s Miracles in Action organization works to help the poor through “education, vocation and sustainable projects.”
“Instead of building walls to prevent them to coming to the U.S., we provide them with opportunities in their own country. Instead of coming to the border, they come to school,” Rambacher said.
But still, thousands of unaccompanied minors have flooded the southern border since October, with as many as 90,000 expected by the end of the year. President Obama wants $3.7 billion to deal with the crisis, with $300 million slated to go directly to foreign governments.
In 2012, USAID gave Guatemalans $5.1 million for basic education. Together with its corporate partnerships, USAID plans to spend more than $10 million on education, health and nutrition in Guatemala.
But is all that American money flowing into Central America really doing any good?
Not according to New York Times columnist David Bornstein, who’s also an author and speaker.
In his book, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Bornstein said the most effective social programs are run by individual entrepreneurs and not big organizations.
“One of the biggest questions to ask,” Bornstein said in an interview with Florida Watchdog, “is what are the organizations and programs that are working in those countries that are making the biggest difference on people’s life based on the evidence that is available?
“The long term solution for poverty is not for everybody to try to move to the United States, but for countries to try to use more intelligent methods to spread economic opportunities to places where historically there haven’t been much,” he said.
Joaquín Villalobos, a former Salvadorian politician and guerrilla leader, goes even farther criticizing the current system, saying outside money is the source of the crisis in Central America.
He writes in Spain’s largest daily newspaper, El País, that as the amount of outside money grows, labor force participation falls. The only people who profit are the well-financed entrepreneurs who have figured out how to separate the people from their money.
It’s a vicious cycle that leads to violence and an exodus of the native population.
“More emigration, more remittances. More remittances, less productivity. Less productivity, more unemployment. More unemployment, more violence and more violence more emigration,” he said.
“Six million migrants, about 12 (percent) Guatemalans, 14 (percent) Hondurans and almost 40 (percent) Salvadorans, live in the United States,” he wrote. “In the last (20) years these Central American migrant workers have sent an incredible sum of $124 billion in remittances to their home countries. Exporting their poor has become a lucrative business for the local oligarchs (privileged groups).”
It creates a consumer economy “artificially financed with proceeds going to the ruling families in each country,” he said.
It also shrinks the labor pool, leading governments in places like Honduras and Guatemala to find creative ways to collect taxes.
One way is to tax charitable donations. Rambacher, the school founder, said about six years ago the Guatemala government began to charge a 29 percent duty on products donated to the country. That made it more costly for nonprofit organizations to send assistance.
“The reason they do it, I think, is because they (the government) are looking for ways to bring in money because they don’t tax their own people and have an income source,” she said. “So, they figure one easy income source is charge a tax on the donations coming in. It’s the same with donations coming by ocean containers. It encourages us to buy the humanitarian help in Guatemala, which actually helps the local economy. However the quality of the products is not the same, and some donors like to give products and not money.”
Rambacher said if corruption was removed and red tape cut, she could build a new school in Guatemala for as little as $25,000. That, she said, could change lives and increase employment in the Central American country.
“Restaurants, hotels and other companies are very happy because now they have qualified people is trained and ready for work,” she said.