Thousands of children are entering the US to escape threats by drug gangs and drug lords. The US has for many years exported its war on drug users to Mexico. The increasing force applied in Mexico has driven the drug dealers to Central America, and now the governments of those countries are being increasingly corrupted and destabilized.
Anti-immigrant voices in the USA are obsessed with the effects of their policies, the child migrants, and seek to strengthen immigration barriers rather than confront the causes. The children are not coming to the USA to take advantage of welfare aid. They are fleeing from physical danger.
The drug gangs in Central America are forcing teenagers to join them, or else get killed. That is how they recruit new members. That is why children are fleeing.
US immigration policy contributes to the problem. With legal immigration restricted, and paths to legal residency blocked, immigrants are forced to work in the underground economy, where they are vulnerable to being arrested by the immigration authorities. The undocumented persons then become victims of extortion rackets. Traffickers tell parents that their children left behind in the home country are in danger, and demand money to bring them into the USA. But often the children are abandoned in the desert or used to carry drugs.
The US government is telling the Mexican government to do more to stop children from entering Mexico. But when a child’s parents have been killed in the drug war, and the children are threatened with death, they will swim across rivers, trek through jungles, and cross deserts to save their lives. The US government is committing policy child abuse by refusing to remedy the causes.
Now US government officials are offering the Central American governments aid to programs to keep children in their home country. But until the violence stops, children will not stay in a school where the drug gangs will kill them or make them miserable.
The only way to stop this tragedy is to end the war on drug users and to legalize immigration. Children are not being victimized in the production and sale of alcohol, because it is legal. When a substance is legal, there is a competitive market, and profits are competed down to normal. There is advertizing, and goods can be transported and traded at normal costs.
When a substance is illegal, we get turf wars and coerced children. The criminal systems treat minors with special care, especially when they have been forced to help criminals. Therefore, the drug lords use helpless children, who are also more dependent on adults.
Besides decriminalizing drugs, as Portugal has done successfully, the US should legalize the immigration of all persons who are not threats. US policy has created violence in Latin America, and then the US refuses entry to the victims of that violence.
Critics of immigration claim that the new residents take jobs from American citizens. This claim has been disproved by economic studies. But immigrants would be even less dependent on governmental welfare if labor were fully legalized. It is illegal even for American citizens to freely engage in labor in the USA; the penalty for labor is a levy on the wages earned. When labor is fully legal, it is free of any tax or minimum wage law. A tax on wages has an excess burden or deadweight loss, making it a penalty for working.
In this way, three deeply unjust policies have created the crisis of immigrant children. First, the prohibition of drugs drives the industry towards drug lords and gangs that enslave children, who seek escape by emigrating. Secondly, anti-immigration policies make children have to suffer long and dangerous trips without protection, to evade immigration controls, and risk getting deported. Third, the children are not allowed to work, work opportunities for undocumented adults are limited, and legal labor is suppressed with heavy taxes.
One hundred years ago, prior to World War I, the US did not suffer this inflow of children. The causes were absent. There was no war on drugs, there were no immigration barriers, and there was no tax on wages. Millions of immigrants entered legally, became employed, and contributed to American prosperity. Now we have a declining labor participation rate, drug violence, and a big immigration problem. Our technology is better, but smarter phones will not save us from fundamentally bad government policy.