The root cause canard on the border and elsewhere

Vice President Kamala Harris releases a long awaited strategy to address the “root causes” of the surge on the border, but a closer look at the document and the complete lack of details reveals they don’t plan to do anything at all that hasn’t been tried for 50 years.  Alas, it’s the same situation with the spike in violent crime.

There’s little debate these days over whether or not the southern border of the United States is in crisis.  The number of migrants interacting with law enforcement, entering the country illegally, and the accompanying stream of unaccompanied minors, many in custody in cages, are undeniable. These are striking increases from even the recent past: Close to 180,000 individuals were detained by immigration crossing the border in June, continuing an unfortunate trend. Since January of this year, there have been 866,884 encounters with law enforcement, and over the past three months the number has been consistently over 170,000 per month.  The images are stunning, some 22,000 kids in cages, and hundreds of people massed at the border on a daily basis.  Almost all of this has occurred on President Biden’s watch, after he proclaimed migrants were welcome during the campaign and promptly rescinded successful policies like Remain in Mexico.

In March, President Joe Biden tasked his Vice President, Kamala Harris, to spearhead an effort to stem the tide.  Let’s be charitable and say she hasn’t exactly gotten off to a fast start. Vice President Harris didn’t visit the border until late June, after a widely panned trip to Central America to meet with foreign leaders earlier that same month.  On her visit to Central America, she repeatedly stressed the idea that the administration was focusing on the “root causes” of migration, rather than re-implementing the Trump era policies that had secured the border before Biden took office.  While in Mexico, she said, “I also believe that if you want to fix a problem, you have to go to where the problem exists. If you want to address the needs of a people, you must meet those people. You must spend time with those people.  Because the only way we can actually fix the problem is to understand the problem.”  In Guatemala, she was pressed about why she hasn’t visited the border yet.  “I’ve been to the border before. I will go again.  But when I’m in Guatemala dealing with root causes, I think we should have a conversation about what’s going on in Guatemala.”  When pressed once more on the issue, she dodged it, citing root causes again, “the issue of root causes is not going to be solved in one trip that took two days.”

It wasn’t until last Thursday, however, that Vice President Harris finally released her plan to address these root causes.  Described by CNBC as a “sweeping” strategy that promises “more sustained efforts to address motivations for migration,” Vice President Harris begins by blaming the pandemic and climate change for  the recent surge, plus the usual litany of corruption, violence, trafficking, and poverty.  “In Central America, the root causes of migration run deep — and migration from the region has a direct impact on the United States,” she wrote in a cover letter for the plan. “For that reason, our nation must consistently engage with the region to address the hardships that cause people to leave Central America and come to our border.”

How does Vice President Harris plan to consistently engage and address these hardships?

In short, we are hoping to transform Central America into a southern United States, albeit an improved version from what I can tell.  I’m only slightly exaggerating here, but the plan did identify five pillars of a successful strategy, most of which contain the sort of progressive boiler plate used to criticize the United States itself for our various sins and failures.  First, we must address economic insecurity and inequality. Second, combating corruption, strengthening democratic governance, and advancing the rule of law.  Third, promoting respect for human rights, labor rights, and a free press.  Fourth, countering and preventing violence, extortion, and other crimes perpetrated by criminal gangs, trafficking networks, and other organized criminal organizations.  Fifth, combating sexual, gender-based domestic violence. 

The plan starts by describing the “strategic environment” of Central America, namely “Weak investment in infrastructure and education and poor rule of law leaves Central America at a competitive disadvantage for external investments, economic growth, and talent retention. Weather shocks due to climate change contribute to growing poverty, homelessness, and food insecurity. Corruption and other government actions to undermine transparency and democratic governance limit confidence of the public in their governments and discourage domestic and foreign investment. Threats such as gang violence, criminal activity, and illicit drug flows challenge the security environment in Central America.”  All true, except those issues have persisted there for decades, more on that in a moment.  The Vice President proceeds to define the “desired end state,” seen as “A democratic, prosperous, and safe Central America, where people advance economically, live, work, and learn in safety and dignity, contribute to and benefit from the democratic process, have confidence in public institutions, and enjoy opportunities to create futures for themselves and their families at home.”

Ironically, many progressives don’t believe we have all those things in the United States right now, but, sure, we can export them to Central America easily enough.  Thus, almost the same as here, economic growth in the region requires, “structural reforms to address impediments to investment, economic diversification, increased judicial transparency, improved governance and transparency, expanded access to financial capital for businesses, streamlining of government procedures to start businesses and pay taxes, investment in workers, and formalization of the economy. Inclusive growth, that reaches women and marginalized populations, and includes decent work, will be critical to creating hope among citizens in the region.”  Likewise, “Marginalized populations, including women and girls, indigenous, Afrodescendent, and LGBTQI+ populations often suffer discrimination and may be victims of hate crimes.”

In order to address these, and a number of other issues that runs close to twenty pages, Vice President Harris describes certain “lines of effort,” complete with both bullet points and sub-bullets, so you know there is plenty of detail.  We’re going to do things like “Foster a business-enabling environment for inclusive economic growth.”  This includes promoting “legal certainty,” “investment-enabling reforms,” embracing “technological solutions,” and expanding “opportunity for women, youth, and minorities.”  Other lines of effort include, enhancing “workforce development, health, and education” by increasing “access to quality education” and improving “health.”  Of course, no document produced by the Democrat party could be complete without peons to climate change.  In that regard we’re going to “build resilience” and “increase resilience” and even “enhance renewable energy.”  Otherwise, there is the usual laundry list, complete with creating “safe spaces” and reintegrating “offenders,” more colloquially known as freeing violent criminals.

Only two things are missing from this modest proposal:  A price tag and a timeline as to when we can expect these miracles to occur.  Instead of those unnecessary little details, Vice President Harris provides an “implementation sequencing highlights” section, whatever that may be, helpfully organized into short-, medium-, and long-term initiatives.  In the short term, we will “build partnerships,” “mobilize investment,” “address acute causes,” and “communicate.”  The medium term imagines us promoting reforms, creating economic opportunity, fighting corruption, combating insecurity, addressing climate change, and, once again, communicating, apparently we will be doing a lot of that.  Finally, in the long-term we will “deepen partnerships,” “institutionalize programs,” and “integrate regionally.”

That’s it.  That’s what Vice President Harris has been working on for over four months.  Washington DC is legendary for ridiculous plans, position papers, documents, platforms, and every other conceivable variety of nonsensical document, but even in that rarified air, this “sweeping” strategy has to be one of the most insane we’ve ever seen.  Reading it prompts regular bouts of both laughter and tears.  This is nation-building on a cocktail of steroids and crack-cocaine. Have we learned nothing from our forays into national building in the Middle East?  Why would anyone of sound mind and body believe we can do this in Central America after similar programs have failed every time they’ve been tried and we’ve been funneling money south of the border for very similar purposes for decades?

If you’ve never heard of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson’s Alliance for Progress, or the Kissinger Commission on Central America, or the Central American Security Initiative, or the Alliance for Prosperity, or the Strategy for Engagement in Central America, that’s because they’ve all failed, miserably.  And they haven’t failed because they haven’t been funded.  As recently as 2016, Congress appropriated $3.6 billion for the Strategy for Engagement in Central America alone.  Nor have they failed because they didn’t support the same goals Vice President Harris is striving towards.  Since at least the 1990’s, we’ve been focused on furthering economic growth and agriculture development, combating violence and insecurity, empowering youth and women, strengthening the rule of law, and fighting corruption.

Why would anyone believe we’ll get it right this time around?  Sadly, I don’t think they truly do.

There is little doubt this “sweeping” strategic blueprint is intended primarily as political cover to hide the underlying truth that the Biden Administration plans to do absolutely nothing about the ongoing crisis at the border.  For whatever reason, they’ve decided hundreds of thousands of people streaming into the country illegally and the resultant chaos is not a problem worth addressing and so they’re babbling about fixing the “root causes” with a plan that might well be cribbed from the 2024 Democrat Party platform for the United States itself.  There is nothing remotely new, innovative, or insightful in it, nor is there anything resembling the detail required for a real plan.  This is because no one truly believes this will ever get done, even if Congress did increase funding substantially.  Even on the off chance it was put into effect, the impacts would be years if not decades down the line.

In other words, the focus on root causes is a canard to hide their desire to do nothing.  Sadly, this is the same approach that Democrats have taken with the startling increase in crime, especially concentrated in our major cities.  The numbers are as striking as those at the border, increases in violence and murder that we haven’t seen in decades, hundreds if not thousand of people dead that would still be alive if crime rates remained the same as just a couple of years ago.  The overall murder rate throughout the United States increased by almost 25% between 2019 and 2020.  The numbers for urban areas are even worse, up about 40% and continuing to rise.  According to The New York Times, there was an increase of another 18% across 37 cities this year alone.  All told, 63 of the 66 largest police jurisdictions saw an increase in violence.

What’s the plan to address this rapidly worsening situation?  Gun control and an assault weapons ban, of course, despite that many of the weapons used in violent crime are procured illegally and the weapon of choice is normally a handgun.  Also, pay no attention to the explosion of soft on crime policies in progressive circles, from defunding the police, to releasing violent criminals without bail, to calls to abolish prisons.  Clearly, those can’t have anything to do with it, the same way declaring migrants are welcome and rescinding successful border policies didn’t have anything to do with the border crisis.  Instead, we’re going to focus on the “root causes,” systemic racism, guns, equity, education, healthcare, etc., essentially the same list as we have in mind for Central America.  Oh, and we’re going to blame Republicans.  Press Secretary Jen Psaki said yesterday, “It speaks volumes to their complete refusal to tackle the spike in crime we’ve seen over the last 18 months.”

Once again, all of these initiatives strike me as merely cover for failing to implement the policies that have proven to work in the past.  I understand that on both the border and policing there is concern that some of these policies had unintended consequences including humanitarian issues and an impact on civil liberties.  These are fair topics for debate, but we’re not debating policy tweaks to address specific concerns.  We’re wiping out success and then pretending we have no idea our own actions are contributing to the current crises, acting as if there is nothing we can do right now to make an immediate difference.

That’s an entirely false assumption, and people are paying for it with their lives.  So, the next time someone tells you they are focuses on root causes, ask them what they are going to do today, as in right now, to save lives and secure peace and prosperity.  That’s the immediate need and the only question that matters when a situation is rapidly spiraling out of control. People are dying. What is Biden going to do about it? Nothing, it seems…

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