Reagan Was Right: Intervention in Central America is Sometimes Inevitable

In seeking a solution to the border crisis, the president and his advisors seem determined to put all their eggs in one basket: strong border security and changing our immigration laws.

What I must tell the president is that make our immigration laws as stringent as you will, and reinforce the border as strongly as you may, the crisis at the border will not come to an end, and neither will the flow of immigrants from Central America.

As Bureau Chief for Central America in the 1980s for one of the national Spanish-language television networks, I have come to know the region quite well. As I write, a whopping 69% of Hondurans are unemployed or underemployed. Business groups say that about 80% of workers are paid below the minimum wage. Most alarmingly, it an estimated 60% of Hondurans live in poverty, making the inequality index of Honduras among the highest in the world.

Nothing less than a Marshall Plan for the region is called for if we are serious about a permanent solution to our immigration woes.

When you add to these numbers the fact that Honduras is one of the most violent countries in the world, it is a no brainer that thousands of Hondurans would choose to walk the 1600 miles to get to the U.S. border. Geographical proximity to the U.S. makes the trek on foot a realistic possibility for even the poorest and most desperate—which is the majority of Central Americans.

What these numbers mean to me is that becoming fixated on securing the border, including changing our immigration laws, will not do one thing to stem the flow of migrants from Honduras and other Central American nations. Securing the border is without a doubt part of the solution, but it is clearly not the only or the most effective solution to our immigration crisis.

As president Reagan understood in the 1980s, intervention by the U.S. in the region will be necessary if we want to prevent a greater calamity to befall the region—in his time, Communism; in our time, an uncontrollable exodus of migrants toward the U.S. By “intervention” I don’t mean “military intervention.” I am thinking more in terms of a relative who has become dysfunctional through some addiction, and the family members decide to intervene to prevent death or total collapse. As our neighbors, these countries are our relatives whether we like it or not.

That is what Honduras—and I would add, Guatemala and El Salvador—have become; and unless we find a way to facilitate some type of economic revival in the region, the migrants will keep coming. It is high time that we stop pretending that we are dealing with functional, stable countries when we are in fact dealing with failed states that cannot meet the needs of their citizens.

Right now, we are giving millions of dollars to private companies to house migrants in facilities in the U.S. I ask myself, what the hell are we doing? Those dollars would be better spent in the countries where the flow of migrants originate. We helped to rebuild Europe after World War II with the Marshall Plan. Nothing less than a Marshall Plan for the region is called for if we are serious about a permanent solution to our immigration woes.

Otherwise, get ready for more shelters and to pay billions of dollars to the private contractors that build them.