Truths about illegal immigration to the United States from our southern border:
1. It isn’t possible to stop illegal immigration to the United States. No wall, electronic eavesdropping, drones or tunnel flooding can stop it. We can only it slow down.
2. Our neighbors to the south–Mexico, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, the latter three virtually failed states–will not only not try to stop it, they benefit mightily from it. Individuals and families support families by sending remittances home, or take jobs here which employers have no incentive to report, their governments export the least productive members of their society or outright criminals, their officials get payoffs from coyotes who ferry the illegals here.
3. Those aforementioned countries will continue to succumb to corruption and violence, unless miracles happen, and the United States will become more attractive inversely.
4. Our choices here are: continue on the path we have been on, which isn’t an effective long term solution; help make their home countries more livable, to the extent we can, hoping that improved economic opportunities and personal security at home will become more attractive than the perilous journey north.
5. The waste of human capital in those countries is so tragic because, as the example of the children of DACA parents in the U.S. have demonstrated, they can become so much more.

How can we, the United States, help make our southern neighbors more attractive places in which to live? The problems that drive these people north are: poverty and lack of economic opportunities; gang violence, primarily drug related, aided and abetted by corrupt, ineffective law enforcement and corrupt officials; an endemic and historic culture of corruption; militaries which oppress rather than serve the people. Did I mention corruption? Is there a model of recovery from such conditions? Rwanda maybe?

During the worst moment of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide, between 800,000 to 1 million people were killed in 100 days. Most were hacked to death with machetes. Neighbor turned on neighbor. Villages lay strewn with bodies. The massacre, and carried out by the in-power Hutu majority, mostly against the Tutsi minority, rocked this tiny nation and sent shockwaves across the world. According to the United Nations, to establish swift justice for the thousands accused of committing genocide, the Rwandan government re-opened the country’s traditional court system known as “Gacaca.” Trials were conducted by locally elected judges, and lower sentences were granted if the defendant repented and tried to reconcile with the community. Forgiveness was asked for and granted publicly, establishing unwritten, yet commonly held and understood, social expectations from the community and the perpetrators. One of the most fascinating outcomes of the Gacaca courts was the responsibility given to perpetrators to not only serve a sentence, but to do so by doing good to their victims. A Hutu man who had killed a Tutsi woman’s husband would come back and help her rebuild her house. Cases like these helped Rwanda find reconciliation where no one else thought it possible. 

Today, I stood in a valley outside of Kigali where blood once flowed. But like so much of Rwanda, forgiveness has transformed this valley from a place of death to a place of life. Tools that were once used to take lives, now give life by producing crops and raising livestock. With pride, people work together side-by-side despite their past. Most of the women (70%) lost their husbands in the genocide. But today, it does not matter what side they were once on, all that matters now is their future. This is reinforced by the literal translation of their village’s name: “do something with your life” and their sheer determination to do just that, is palpable. In the end, only reconciliation and forgiveness can bind up a nation after genocide. Through pain and perseverance, Rwanda is conquering her dark past. (By Noel Yeatts, “advocate for social justice”, from The Christian Post, Nov. 26, 2016).

Some major things this post doesn’t say: 1. The genocide was stopped by the “rebel” army of the minority Tsutsis. This army came from surrounding countries. 2. The Hutu/Tutsi categories were not rigid ethnic distinctions; instead, they were economic. Tutsis who gave up their cattle and focused on farming began to be considered Hutu. Hutus who developed cattle herds became Tutsi. They shared the same language, Kinyarwanda, and almost all became Roman Catholics under colonialism. However, cattle became a basis for economic trade and those who were identified as Tutsi were more likely to become a merchant class. 3. As the new government sought to move ahead, it initiated some outstanding practices. It is against the law in Rwanda to label people by race, ethnicity, or tribe, or to organize people along those lines. Young people in school are taught to identify as “Rwandans.” 4. Rwanda is now an island of asylum in a sea of ethnic conflict. An NGO leader in 2041 told Dr. Raleigh Bailey (of Univ. North Carolina Greensboro Center for new North Carolinans–that is, refugees) that international businesses and mining companies operating in adjoining countries don’t want to invest in Rwanda. It is not due to lack of infrastructure, he said. They say that it is too hard to bribe government officials there. 

Lessons from Rwanda show that deep change is possible after even the worst of human cruelty. Is rescuing the Central American big three of violence (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, or EGH) analogous to Rwanda in any way? 1. First, order must be imposed somehow, or the killing will continue. The violence in EGH is not ethnic, religious or even social class related. To sum it up: Major and growing illicit trafficking networks link Latin America to Europe, Asia, and North America. Through these networks, illicit drugs and trafficked human beings flow towards the developed world, while dirty money and smuggled guns flow back in return. The criminal enterprises that administer these networks contribute to making Latin America the only region of the world where violent crime, as measured by rates of intentional homicide per 100,000, is rising rather than declining. Countries in the region that sit astride the main nodes in the illicit trafficking networks are the ones that suffer from the worst of the criminal violence. 2. Major impediments to controlling the violence are the power of the drug cartels (money, weapons, organization) and corruption throughout the culture and all levels of power (police and law enforcement, military, political), all of which is fed by the money and weapons flowing to these countries. Corruption must be dealt with harshly. But how, and by whom? 3. In Colombia, the violence of the drug cartels was weakened mainly by turning cartels against each other. Many cartels are still powerful, but a lot less violent, especially against the citizenry. Why? The threat that finally scared cartel leaders and soldiers into informing on each other was extradition to the U.S. and our justice system! 4.  There will probably never be enough of an economic incentive from within EGH to remove corruption and lawlessness, but they must be radically diminished for any other effective economic incentives to emerge and thrive. My next post will look at methods and obstacles.