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The United States of Brazil.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS

Latin American State Failure Is Coming.

What will Americans face if southern countries fall into chaos?

When President Trump proclaimed “Build the wall!” in 2015, pundits mocked the slogan as an empty promise, a simplistic non-solution, or a dog whistle for racist nationalism.

There is a mass of dysfunction that threatens to go critical any day and change North America forever.

But astute observers of Central and South American geopolitics heard something different. Rather than a call for a more robust physical barrier or even a byword for immigration reform, “Build the wall!” suggested that candidate Trump grasped the cataclysmic threat to U.S. stability evolving in the south.

Unlike President Trump, however, few Americans think about what a multi-national breakdown of order among our southern neighbors would look like. Simply put, there is a mass of dysfunction that threatens to go critical any day and change North America forever.

Mexican Police.

Mexican Police.

DOMINO EFFECT AND THE IMPENDING CRISIS

The dominoes are teetering already. Central and South America dominate a list of 50 most dangerous cities worldwide by murder rate. Venezuela has faced a near-apocalyptic collapse for years. Bolivia recently ousted its dictator-president amidst widespread outrage and fighting. Argentina just elected another leftist government that looks set to plunge the nation into a fresh economic catastrophe via its perennial currency and debt problems. Mexico amounts to a failed narco-state, its government riddled with corruption, and its leadership inept.

If even a tiny fraction is driven to its borders by new conflagrations, the humanitarian crisis confronting Americans will be unimaginable.

The story is much the same down the list: Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Chile, Bolivia, Colombia. The threat confronting the United States is not that one of these fragile states will crumble—but that they will crumble in series.

For example, the crisis in Venezuela has disrupted several of its neighbors already, causing anti-immigrant riots, healthcare shortages, and border closings. Floods of poorly differentiated refugees and migrants (“refu-migrants”) from Venezuela risk triggering instability and violence in Columbia that radiates in all directions—including northward.

There are roughly 600 million people south of the United States. If even a tiny fraction is driven to its borders by new conflagrations, the humanitarian crisis confronting Americans will be unimaginable.

Existing laws and attitudes in America do not account for a migration surge in the millions. Instead, immigration protocols demand that the U.S. handle each person who appears pleading displacement or persecution on an individual basis. This 20th-century approach would be utterly inadequate to the task of assessing a tsunami of refu-migrants. Foreign nationals would wash through our porous defenses and overwhelm our mechanisms of legal immigration.

As writer John Daniel Davidson observes:

[W]at has happened in Central America is now happening in Mexico. The difference is, when asylum-seekers from Mexico start turning up on our border we won’t be able to deport them to a third country or easily turn them away. If you thought the border crisis was bad last year, wait until hundreds of thousands of families in Michoacan and Tamaulipas decide to flee the cartels and seek asylum in the United States.

The problem will only compound: as more refu-migrants successfully push their way into the United States, others will feel emboldened and entitled to come.

If southern Europe is any guide, the U.S. will be forced to resort to hastily constructed, overcrowded, and unhealthy holding camps across the Southwest. Urban centers will attract untold numbers of displaced and desperate refu-migrants. California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas’s social services will be stretched to the limit. Already struggling hospitals, schools, housing, law enforcement, disease control, and waste systems will creak under pressure.

FLOODS OF REFU-MIGRANTS THREATEN OUR SAFETY AND SECURITY / Refugees.

Refu-migrants.

FLOODS OF REFU-MIGRANTS THREATEN OUR SAFETY AND SECURITY

Most refu-migrants will bring with them neither the background, education, technical skills, nor language skills to quickly assimilate. Multi-generational ghettos in southwestern U.S. cities may expand to a ubiquitous fact of life, on par with Brazilian favelas. Divisions between the haves and have-nots will ossify. Crime and violence will become quotidian, just as they are in Brazil.  Law enforcement will have no hope of maintaining order in these already-nascent American shantytowns. Police will have to settle for a strategy of containment.

In not taking the impending collapse of our southern neighbors seriously, we risk the safety and security of all Americans.

This widespread disorder in southern countries will present organized crime such as MS-13 and drug cartels with burgeoning business opportunities; their subsidiaries specializing in human smuggling and sex trafficking will ramp up their operations. Refu-migrants whose needs go unmet by the state will turn to criminal organizations for protection, income, and services. If millions of refu-migrants land in the United States at once, the savage ad-hoc governance of the Mexican drug cartels will percolate across the Southwest and beyond, along with attendant corruption of U.S. authorities, subversion of lawful businesses, and intimidation of the media.

Politically, the U.S. will find itself in a dilemma akin to Israel’s impasse with the Palestinians: grant citizenship and voting rights to millions of displaced people, shifting power and culture in the nation; or keep them in limbo as demi-residents and foment outrage among refu-migrants and the country’s progressives. The former is more likely, and refu-migrants seeking relief from their predicament will almost certainly opt for socialist programs and politicians, the likes of which contributed to the collapse of their home countries.

In not taking the impending collapse of our southern neighbors seriously, we risk the safety and security of all Americans.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FORESIGHT / President Donald J. Trump

President Donald J. Trump.

PRESIDENT TRUMP’S FORESIGHT

Whether the United States is able to secure its border or not, instability in the south will clear the way for superpower enemies to ramp up a soft invasion of their own. Russia and China have been building footholds in South and Central America for years—particularly in Venezuela and Brazil. One can only imagine the destructiveness of drug cartels fully supported by Russian or Chinese arms and intelligence.

President Trump’s push to designate the drug cartels as terrorist organizations is a useful and long-overdue first step. Americans and law enforcement can now mentalize the drug cartels as defiant sub-governments capable of alliances, rather than mere outlaws. More importantly, it appears that President Trump has provoked a national discussion on immigration for reasons that transcend transitory political concerns. By shining a spotlight on the impending refu-migrant catastrophe, the President appears to be preparing Americans for a monumental choice they will almost certainly face soon.

The President’s efforts—calculated or not—may wake the United States from its quixotic trance. We may avoid the cascading and perhaps even fatal denial of their European cousins when it comes to absorbing vast numbers of displaced people without a lengthy discussion or a carefully thought-out plan.

Written By

Alec Orrell is an independent political analyst and essayist with a background in game theory, classics, and theology. He attended St. John’s College and lives in Los Angeles.

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