The caravan of refugees from Central America via Mexico to the U.S. has created a crisis that needs to be addressed properly and quickly. Refugees felt unsafe to travel in small groups elected to travel in caravan to the U. S. to seek asylum. Of course, Mexico is the necessary pathway for entering the U.S. According to international law, refugees should apply for asylum at the first country they arrived in, thus a huge burden falls on the Mexican government and also an opportunity for Mexicans to interfere in the immigration process. The application process is personnel and time consuming because courts are congested. Mexico and the U.S. are yet to reach an agreeable application process while the U.S. is already facing a big issue of huge amount of illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Another problem in handling the asylum application from the caravan is a troublesome clause in the US anti-trafficking law allowing under-aged (children) refugees (Mexicans and Canadians are excluded in this clause) to stay in the U.S. while waiting for asylum application. From humanitarian viewpoint, the U.S. government is urged to provide a quick solution to the thousands of refugees coming by the caravan. From national security and protection of legal immigration and true asylum considerations, the U.S. government must act prudently with due processes and expenses to deal with the applications processed through Mexico. Like many issues, the nation is divided on the caravan problem with no good fix.
Although the caravan problem is an immigration issue with humanitarian concern, the root cause of the problem is really related to poverty in Central America which affects people’s ability to survive and make a decent living. Poverty and ineffectiveness of government have a mutual causality relationship. One generally does not see people from the rich and/or well governed countries emmigrate in mass to other nations. Refugees are directly or indirectly caused by poverty and the economic condition in where they reside. Those who chose to migrate are generally the more energetic citizens daring to make a change rather than tolerating and suffering.
There has been a remarkable progress in reducing poverty over the past decades. According to the most recent estimates by World Bank, in 2015, 10% of the world’s population (about 750 million) lived on less than US$1.90 a day, an extreme poverty condition, compared to 11% in 2013. That’s down from 44% in 1981 and nearly 36 percent in 1990. In 1990, there were 2 billion people living in extreme poverty and down to 750 million in 2015. This means that ending extreme poverty is optimistic if the number of people living on less than $1.90 a day had fallen by 68 million every two years. (* see discussion below on the effect of birth rate on poverty rate)
The global population in extreme poverty went from 80% in 1820 to 10% in 2015 by the latest estimates.This remarkable achievement was largely, though not exclusively, due to the important historical improvements of living conditions in China. By plotting the extreme poverty rates in the world, with and without China, we can see that the reduction of global poverty has been more substantial (faster rate of reduction) in China from 1980 up to 2005, comparable rate during 2005 to 2010 and then China picked up faster rate of reduction again from 2010 to 2015, certainly reflecting on China’s economic growth. Of course, the birth rate in the poverty population will have a detrimental effect on the reduction of poverty rate. China’s one child policy certainly is another factor which has helped her reducing her poverty population. If the birth rate were increased 1% in the extreme poverty population, then we would have additional 70+ million babies born into extreme poverty which would more than cancel out the 68 million reduction achieved from 2013 to 2015.
Immigration is definitely not a solution to reduction of extreme poverty rate of the world. It took the U.S. 100 years to have an immigration policy to absorb productive immigrants to the U.S. If the U.S. would open her arms to take in one million immigrants from a poor country, it would take seven and haf centuries or more to absorb the current 750 million extremely poor people. (Roy Beck has given an excellent speech using gum balls to graphically illustrate the pitiful effect of immigration on poverty population) Besides, when immigrants left their countries and entered a better world, they make the world left behind worse off. Because the immigrants tend to be the one who can affect a change if stayed behind. Most Americans are immigrants from other countries, it is fare to post a question to the Americans, has your immigration to America benefitted your homeland significantly beyond sending money back to relatives? The answer is most likely not much. Perhaps, out of feeling bad and selfish about their immigration, Americans are most generous people in making donations to help the world poor.
However, donations are not the solution to world poor either. Humanitarian effort just like accepting immigrants is a noble idea but not an effective way of helping the poor countries. Donating to poor countries, say temporary lifting poor from $1.9 a day to $102 a day say for 30 days by giving food, clothing etc. to the 2 billion poor, would require 30x100x2billion = $6 trillion dollars, 160% of the U.S. annual federal revenue. So, how often can the U.S. afford to make donations?
The true heroes of lifting poverty line are the poor people themselves and those who went to the poor country and worked with the poor to improve their living condition and economic welfare. The poor countries and their people need external help, but it is the sincere help to develop the poor countries’ economies. As China has risen up in her economic development, she has gradually increased engagement with world affairs. One of her foreign policies is to help Africans to develop their economy. She invests in agriculture in Africa, sending farm workers to Africa to teach them how to do farming. China also invests in Africa’s resources (forest, mineral) exploration and helps them to build basic infrastructure, roads, railroad, electricity, port facility, etc. China’s action may not be pure humanitarian or unselfish but they do provide what African countries needed the most. In the end when Africans are lifted from poverty and have imporoved economy, it would benefit Chinese commerce and her efficiently manufactured goods, a win-win position.
The U.S. seems to be walking off her pedestal of humanity and high morality in helping the world poor and moving towards a self-centered international policy. (One recalls an online story: when President Carter asked Chinese Leader Deng Xiao Ping to allow Chinese dissident citizens to emmigrate to the U.S. Deng responded, how many can you take in, one million, five million or more?) Deng apparently understood the root of dissent was mostly because of poverty and the government’s ultimate responsibility is to improve citizens’ economic welfare. China has certainly been pursuing that strategy successfully.
Because of imbalance of trade and increasing competition in technology development with China, the U.S. turned protective in her dealings with China and the world. However, the U.S. must keep an open and fair mind about China’s engagements with the world, from Asia, Africa, Europe to South America. We can not ignore her success and right approach in pursuing win-win projects with developing countries by offering investments and loans to help them to develop their economy. China, still a developing country herself with a large population, perhaps, has a better understanding of what the developing countries really need. It would be a win-win for the U.S and China and the world, if the two great nations could join hand in dealing with world affairs especially the issue of lifting world poverty line.