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To End the Child Migrant Crisis, End the Drug War

As children from Central America continue to pour across the U.S. border, pundits and politicians are still searching for a scapegoat. 70,000 unaccompanied minors [1] are expected to cross the border this year, highlighting an urgent need to fix whatever precipitated the problem. Unfortunately, the real culprit that both sides of the aisle continue to ignore is one of the federal government’s own making—the War on Drugs that has incited violence south of America’s border for decades.

Americans shouldn’t expect their elected officials to comprehend the current crisis’ root cause anytime soon. Earlier this month, 33 House Republicans pointed the finger at President Obama in a recent letter, pointing to his 2012 executive order [2] deferring court action for child migrants. However, this explanation is unlikely since the program only applies to children that arrived prior to 2007 [3].

Meanwhile, many Democrats are eager to point out that most of the current immigration policies were implemented under the Bush Administration, including a 2008 law [4] giving children from non-contiguous countries the right to a court hearing. Yet, even this does not address the motivation behind why thousands of Central American children are willing to risk their lives to cross a vast desert for the mere chance of a sympathetic court ruling.

Fortunately, there is one true impartial expert who is not afraid to speak truth above this bipartisan hullabaloo. Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, head of the United States Southern Command, penned an essay for Military Times [5] earlier this month pointing to the direct cause of the problem: “Drug cartels and associated street gang activity in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, which respectively have the world’s number one, four and five highest homicide rates, have left near-broken societies in their wake.”

Conservatives may be skeptical that the drug violence is the immediate source of the problem, since Central American countries have been in a state of unrest of decades, but the most recent crime statistics are hard to ignore. “By U.N. statistics [6], Honduras is the most violent nation on the planet with a rate of 90 murders per 100,000 citizens,” Gen. Kelly points out. Bordering Central American countries are not too far off either, with Guatemala at 40 and El Salvador at 41. By comparison, the murder rate in current combat zones like Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are starkly lower at 28 per 100,000 as of 2012.

The dramatic surge in violence in recent years is indisputable. In 2000, the murder rate per 100,000 people was just short of half of what it currently is for Guatemala and Honduras at 26 and 51, respectively. Given these stark statistics, it’s no surprise that a recent UN survey [7] found violence to be a top reason many migrant children cited their motivation to leave their homeland, such the 57 percent of those from Honduras whose reasons for leaving “raised potential international protection concerns.”

The United States is in large part responsible for precipitating the problem. It should come as no surprise that the production of narcotics, like any other black market good, was pushed into the hands of disreputable characters once the federal government started ramping up prohibition enforcement in the 1970s. In the decades since, thousands of Central American gangsters [8] have been deported upon serving sentences in the United States, allowing violent criminals to dominate the drug trade south of the border.

In recent years, the U.S. has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars [9] to Mexico and Colombia to help the countries fight their drug wars.  Consequently, as the Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter explains [10], “leading Mexican cartels began to move operations into Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in 2008 as the pressure in Mexico mounted.” Drug warriors can spend billions and arrest thousands, but their tactics simply can’t suppress human demand for narcotics. “It’s a game of ‘squeeze the balloon,’” Carpenter explains. “Put pressure on the drug cartels in one area, and the drug trade just pops up somewhere else.”

Sadly, this stark failure is all too common for the drug war. Despite over $1 trillion [11] in prohibition enforcement expenditures, there have been no measurable decrease in abuse rates [11] in the U.S. Furthermore, mandatory minimum sentencing have overcrowded America’s prisons to the point that states like California have received court orders [12] to decrease their number of inmates.

Decriminalizing or even legalizing drugs, on the other hand, could decrease crime by shifting the sale of narcotics from the dangers of the informal economy to the legal market where it can be taxed and regulated by the government. Drug reform could help put Central American cartels out of business through good old-fashioned American capitalism.

In short, the War on Drugs has fomented violence in Central America that has in turn created the current migrant children crisis. Partisans can quibble about which side of the aisle is more responsible for the current crisis, but the fact remains that these children will continue fleeing their homeland—be it for the United States or another country—unless the federal government ends the drug war.

Casey Given is an editor at Young Voices [13], a project aiming to promote Millennials’ policy opinion in the media.

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#1 Comment By libertarian jerry On July 25, 2014 @ 9:09 am

The War On Drugs is a war on rights. Like most of the other “wars” undertaken by the government it is meant to enhance the power of the state,increase the state’s share of the wealth of the nation and provide “employment” to millions of people who can’t make an honest living in the American Free Enterprise system. Most of the people who are incarcerated for drug “crimes” in America are done so for non-violent crimes and over 2/3 of those are made up of minorities. Besides the high enforcement costs,the money spent on incarceration is in the billions. Added to this is the corruption of law enforcement through payoffs and seizures plus money laundering done by banks,both domestic and foreign,on an international scale. In essence the drug problem is not a law enforcement problem but a health problem. Why don’t we ban alcohol and tobacco products? Those two do much more damage to people then illegal drugs. These reasons plus the ones stated by the author in the above essay means that it is finally time to end the war on drugs.

#2 Comment By Kasoy On July 25, 2014 @ 9:23 am

The author should read the latest news to learn what the Latin American presidents say were the true reasons people are flocking the US border. They all agree that there has been a misconception that it is easier now to illegally migrate to the US and stay indefinitely. Of course, poverty is the main driver to migration. The best way to stop illegal migration is make sure it DOES NOT PAY. Immediate deportation is the answer.

Illegal drug trafficking will always be there with or without illegal migration. Illegal migration only offers an extra business for drug traffickers. The best way to stop drug trafficking is to make penalties even more severe to illegal drug users & pushers in the US. Dry up the market, & drug trafficking will close shop.

#3 Comment By Kirchoff On July 25, 2014 @ 9:56 am

@Kasoy

Really? Because penalties now are low, and enforcement so limp-wristed? If stricter rules, more enforcement, and more severe penalties are the key, why is it this has yet to show any discernible sign of success, ever?

America spends more than it ever has on attempts to “dry up the market”. Yet the market thrives. Revenues for the bad people bans empower are up higher than ever–except in marijuana, the only drug to see some glimmer of legalization. Usage rates remain unaffected, though each effort to stop on drug pushes users to ever-more-dangerous alternative drugs. To think that you could destroy a market with force this way is ludicrous. Rank ignorance of economics and history.

#4 Comment By Adam Kolasinski On July 25, 2014 @ 10:41 am

“The best way to stop drug trafficking is to make penalties even more severe to illegal drug users & pushers in the US.”

That’s right. Lets just continue to double down on policies that aren’t working.

#5 Comment By Joe On July 25, 2014 @ 10:48 am

@Kasoy

“The best way to stop drug trafficking is to make penalties even more severe to illegal drug users & pushers in the US.”

So what would these “more severe” penalties for users be? Fifty years for snorting cocaine? Execution for dropping acid? The most inhumane and wrongheaded thing happening right now is sending non-violent drug users to prison–creates overcrowded prisons and, when released, even more messed up people. I agree pushers should be punished more severely, but the fact that you include the users just shows incoherent thinking.

#6 Comment By Jeff On July 25, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

You’ve all swallowed the look aid. There is no real war on drugs; the claim that our prisons are overflowing due to non violent drug use is a myth. What drives the supply of these drugs? The demand. Demand caused by rich western kids-demand that causes violence all over Latin America. Drug use is not a victimless crime; it causes damage to the user and indirectly to the users family and friends. We need tougher penalties on users so as to deter others

#7 Comment By M_Young On July 25, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

Plus one Kasoy — that’s exactly what the president of Honduras said to Greta van Susstren (sp?). He has more realistic grasp of the situation than our political leaders, btw.

In fact, violence (as measured by murder rate) topped out in 2009 in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. El Salvador has seen a particularly steep drop in the last two years. Honduras did see a steep rise from 2009 -2011, but 2012 saw a slight drop.

The real reason these ‘children’ are coming is economic. The whole violence narrative was no doubt cooked up by some in the immigration-industrial complex.

#8 Comment By M_Young On July 25, 2014 @ 12:41 pm

BTW, I understand that meth is the big drug coming across the border now…after all, MJ is practically legal in most states, including limited grows.

I don’t think there is any way in hell we are going to look the other was as to large scale meth importation. The drug does too much damage.

#9 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 25, 2014 @ 2:40 pm

This is the same ol’ incomprehensible logic as usual from the legalization crowd.

If we legalize drugs, then it won’t be a crime. People will not battle for their lucrative profits.

First, that has nothing to with the increase in illegal immigration. The drug war has been going on for forty yeas . . . and illegal immigration longer.

The push to make illegal immigration is what has fueled this — and of course the national healthcare — which is not yet what the invaders think it is yet.

It has been our sloppy and careless border management that has fueled this . . . and since 9/11 it has just gotten sloppier, as both the business community and politicians and assorted bands of liberal panderers have come out of the closet to advocate for this silliness. And of course writers such as yourself — who latch onto anything to push the matter.

How about this for a solution — all countries enforce the law — against illegal economic enterprises. Evidence as to whether enforcing the law works is provided by your article. Cartels, having been thwarted in Mexico are fleeing to . . .

Deny a criminal anywhere to flee and you will thwart his enterprise.

This is the contend of a child. Ohhh it is so hard, can’t we just let them do it.

“No.”

Try taking a look at the damage done by alcohol and compare that to the tax revenues and income stream which has been argued would more than compensate for the same. It doesn’t even come close. And alcohol is relatively mild in consequence when compared to cocaine and heroin. The only real benefit is that most people don’t either, in large part because it is illegal.

The game being played ere fueled by liberals, business interests and social engineers is fairly naked. This not Alabama where the police are beating little black children in the streets for desiring an equal education and petitioning against denying the same.

These are children being manipulated into thinking that the US is the land of milk and honey for anyone who so desires, by their parents, their politicians, their business interests who would rather ignore their responsibility to provide, care and raise their children, which they have fostered of their own volition. With no small aid from a rather ignorant Pope, who seems to think that his voice trumps scripture, and other so called Christians who think Christ was a government or charitable organizational social worker with a mandate to give beyond their means. This is as with most liberal causes emotional blackmail and extortion.

The US citizen already funnels millions of dollars beyond the drug war, to support humanitarian causes south. We send food, supplies, education and construction assistance to build wells, waterways, water purification, bridges, roads, etc. Our NAFTA trade packages have damaged the US worker here in the US.

We have a negative trade balance, that means, there’s more money leaving the US than is coming in. Our annual expenditures outpace our tax revenues. And the cumulative debt which exceeds 18 trillion dollars continues to expand. No, the overall tax revenues would not cover the debt, even if the government had the guts to increase the tax base that high and would make the French Revolution look like a stroll in central park.

Here’s what the Christian thing to is. ensure the kids are safe while here. Feed them and see them safely home to their parents. l’est we deprive some would be angel of our entertainment.

That’s it done. Secure the border, including the brutal tactic of mining and walling. I am all for reforming drug laws. Let’s star by equalizing the penalties for drugs use. matters not if it is crack cocaine or cocaine regular —

No more exceptions for wealthy whites who manipulated to the cocaine laws to accommodate their pals, husbands, wives, girlfriends and sons and daughters. No more carve out for whites on any level of the drug abuse issue. No more pandering to the elites who have access to making consequence easier on themselves.

The US is one, if not the most generous country on the planet, doing so even when we don’t have it to give. Earthquake, flood, famine and pestilence – we give.

Pander your guilt where it belongs to the countries south, who are so irresponsible and manipulative that they would abandon their children to get a buck, instead of making the land they call home better.

#10 Comment By EliteCommInc. On July 25, 2014 @ 2:49 pm

“So what would these “more severe” penalties for users be? Fifty years for snorting cocaine? Execution for dropping acid? The most inhumane and wrongheaded thing happening right now is sending non-violent drug users to prison–creates overcrowded prisons and, when released, even more messed up people. I agree pushers should be punished more severely, but the fact that you include the users just shows incoherent thinking.”

I have to responses:

1. don’t use addictive narcotics

2. no prison release unless one successfully completed a rehab program — regardless of whether time is served or not

3. Mandatory continued rehab facilitation

And according the NIH, addictive drug use is decline, Apparently the only drug use that is on the rise is marijuana, soon to be another social mess.

#11 Comment By cka2nd On July 25, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

Casey, “true impartial expert” should be either “true, impartial expert” or “truly impartial expert.”

And unless Young Voices is a single issue group, I believe it exists to promote Millennials’ policy opinions in the media.

#12 Comment By cdugga On July 25, 2014 @ 5:19 pm

Cheapest answer might be to let the kids integrate into the US while prosecuting the employers of illegal adults.
Tougher drug laws to deter users might be okay if we simply accept that half the country should pay to house the other half in prison until they get out and go back in over and over again. Securing the border with more soldiers and walls might work if we get enough illegals to build thousands of miles of walls and shoot anyone climbing over them with drones or from balloons. It would make a pretty good movie too, about the ones that ran the gauntlet and got through. A better deterrent might be to spike enough of the really bad stuff coming in with something that causes pain or death. Kind of a biological control. Or, we could chop off fingers one at a time of the immigrants that are caught. Like, look how many times this one’s been caught. Wonder what job he was going for? Note that I borrowed those solutions from a guy waving a sign that said keep the government out of my medicare and no kids in my back yard, and not from the guy that says we need to mine the desert!
Yes the war on drugs has been a failure, and its biggest victim has been the youth of the US who start out with the easier to get and cheaper meth that is addictive almost immediately. Now that demon weed is just something to do while on a 3 day meth high. The paradox of the trueth concerning the gateway drug of mj ended up being that most initiates now, just skip on by the gateway to the cheaper and longer lasting escape of meth. Some things are too late to fix, and maybe allot of them could not be seen ahead of time. The US drug epidemic might be one of those things, but I still think that drugs’ prevalence is due to a lack of economic mobility in our new economy while there is always more room at the bottom.
A large amount of americans are now on some kind of prescription drug on top of the over the counter stuff and so our society believes in pills to begin with. Maybe we need all those pills in the society we created. And then how long will our youth be mesmerized by little 2D interactive screens as a substitute for reality? When we run out of chicken tenders? Hey, somebody put fish product in my chicken product. Somebody put chicken product in my fish product. Yuk! Here, take this pill and it will taste good.
No, legalization is not the answer, but if there is an answer, decriminalization of small amts has to be part of it. As with so many problems, personal and national, we have to start somewhere because there is no all encompassing solution, no magic bullet. One supposed advantage of our government has been the ability to legislate and then change legislation as needed. Starve the beast and just say no destroyed that. There is no genuine leadership in saying there is nothing we can do, let the free market decide, god willing. What does the free market say about drug commerce? What, sometimes the free market solution is incorrect?
Wonder how many of us would send our children off on their own on a long journey to heaven from hell? Do we have to spend a fortune and send the kids back to hell to prevent hell from establishing itself here? Too late? After all we did elect a black man to the presidency so hell can’t be far behind, right? The right again.

#13 Comment By Freedom_First On August 1, 2014 @ 8:43 pm

Jeff says, “We need tougher penalties on users so as to deter others”

Kasoy says, “The best way to stop drug trafficking is to make penalties even more severe”

I have a better idea. Every Drug fighter, gun grabber, illegalizer, and every other enemy of freedom should be required to meet with a defender of freedom on the Field of Honor. This simple requirement will cause more than 99% of all the drug fighters, gun grabbers, and other illegalizers to disappear. It would be like turning on a light in a dark room and watching the cockroaches run for cover. Why? Because enemies of freedom, like all other fascist thugs, are not honorable people. Their idea of a fair fight is to employ a dozen government goons to point a dozen guns at one head.
— Rick [Freedom_First (at) verizon (dot) net]

#14 Comment By Freedom_First On August 1, 2014 @ 9:57 pm

EliteCommInc. says, “Try taking a look at the damage done by alcohol..”

You have been mis-informed. Inert substances have no will and therefore cannot cause damage or anything else.

You also sound like you have never heard of Al Capone and Elliot Ness. So, I will help you. When drug fighters and illegalizers were allowed to illegalize the drug alcohol and allowed to conduct a war against millions of alcohol consumers, producers, and dealers, the results were shootings, gangs, gang warfare, and massive civil rights violations by the police which continued untill that war was ended by giving all the drug fighters and illegalizers a kick in the rear and sending them home. The violence was ended when alcohol was legalized and the illegalizers were no longer allowed to treat millions of innocent Americans as criminals.

#15 Comment By Freedom_First On August 1, 2014 @ 10:01 pm

M_Young says: “The drug (meth) does too much damage.”

Drugs like “meth” and “crack” were created by drug illegalization just like “bathtub gin” and “white lightning” were created when the drug alcohol was illegalized. The people are responsible for creating those drugs are all the drug fighters and illegalizers.

#16 Comment By Chris On August 1, 2014 @ 11:08 pm

Good try, but you’re conflating issues. Drug legalization/decriminalization isn’t the issue – screwing the citizen by not securing the border is. The consistent flaw of the Libertarian movement is that so many of its followers still justify open border immigration policies. They constantly cite and quote Milton Friedman, while completely ignoring his prescient wisdom on the issue of immigration – when your nation has a “welfare entitlement state”. Until this stupidity is fixed within the Libertarian movement, it will never gain mainstream acceptance.