American immigration policy has the inconvenient and unfortunate tendency to pit safety and compassion as competing political ideologies. Unquestionably, the United States has an immigration problem; however, American immigration issues stem far beyond our need for strong borders. While securing the borders is an essential priority – including building a wall – we are neglecting the root of the issue.
I have been traveling to El Salvador and all throughout Central America for nearly 20 years doing humanitarian work. During that time and in my public service, I have found there to be two universal truths of government: People need security, and people need and desire economic opportunity.
The people of El Salvador are no different than Americans. We all endeavor to pursue the American dream of growth and prosperity. El Salvador is ravaged by gang violence, a communist regime and hopelessness. Often, the Salvadorans migrating to America illegally are aware of their detainment upon crossing the border. The dim reality is that many would rather be detained in the U.S. than be slaughtered in El Salvador or live at the mercy of a communist regime.
How do we fix the vastly broken American immigration policy? We meet the need where it resides. The United States has a unique opportunity to inspire hope and give relief to the people of El Salvador and all other countries affecting our immigration concerns.
Breaking the cycle of crisis in these countries – and our immigration policy – comes through hope, and hope is not a piece of the puzzle – it’s the solution. For years I have implemented what I call the “Hope Equation” in my humanitarian efforts: approaching housing, hunger, health and education initiatives in unison – to address generational poverty.
This approach has been implemented throughout El Salvador and has directly resulted in the reduction of gang activity, provided organic economic growth and increased job development. The United States has the means and the resources necessary to address hopelessness and our immigration policy, but we lack the congressional leadership and fortitude to do the right thing. Government does not have to provide the sole solution nor reinvent the wheel.
There are hundreds of non-government organizations, known as NGOs, around the world that are addressing these issues every day. The U.S. government can create private-public partnerships that embrace and engage these NGOs while leveraging existing resources. The cost of diplomacy and NGO engagement is far less expensive than the current taxpayer dollars being spent.
Ultimately, taxpayers lose the most when our government fails to address diplomatic and humanitarian solutions. Contrary to the current annual costs of illegal immigration – $134 billion in total expenditures; $115 billion in total economic impact (total expenditures minus total amount of taxes paid equals total economic impact); $46.2 billion spent on illegal families – the wall is a one-time expense of approximately $21 billion.
There are many bad people coming into our country, and that is not to be neglected nor taken lightly. We need a wall. We need security. We need to put America first.
But we also need compassion. Ronald Reagan once said, “Our country is great because it is built on principles of self-reliance, opportunity, innovation and compassion for others.” Our principles have made us a beacon of hope on the world stage and the embodiment of prosperity and opportunity. People from all places and backgrounds come to America for the hope of a better tomorrow and a prosperous future.
We have a unique opportunity to revive common-sense, compassionate leadership in the United States by securing our border, saving taxpayer dollars and creating partnerships that instill hope. I believe in the leadership of the Trump-Pence Administration, their courage and their compassion to lead Congress and do what is right by the American people and the citizens of the world.