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US Border a 'Safety Valve' for Latin Poor
Published on Wednesday, May 11, 2005 by the Providence Journal (Rhode Island)
US Border a 'Safety Valve' for Latin Poor
by David Taylor Ives
 
Recently, a misguided group called the Minutemen started patroling the Arizona border with Mexico to prevent illegal immigration from our southern neighbors. The same group is now targeting employers who hire illegal immigrants in this country.

Unfortunately, their efforts have attracted strong support from a cross-section of people across the United States who don't understand or care about what drives these people to leave their homes for an uncertain and dangerous journey to the United States.

As a former Peace Corps volunteer in Central America and having returned there often over the years for humanitarian reasons, I know the area intimately. According to the Center for International Policy, 40 to 80 percent of the population in most Central American countries live on less than $2 a day, with the exception of the people of Costa Rica.

Honduras and Nicaragua vie with Haiti for the title of most impoverished country in the Americas and economic conditions are worsening in most of the area.

In most parts of Nicaragua, unemployment is above 50 percent and underemployment is rampant. Even highly trained medical doctors earn less than $100 a month, which does not even come close to covering the amount needed to provide shelter and feed and clothe their families.

A desperate woman I worked with named Pilar lives near Leon, Nicaragua, with three children from ages four to 11. Her ramshackle hovel is made out of rusty corrugated tin sheets and baling wire and she scavenges food off the land in competition with hundreds of others in her community. She is an example of the plight all too many residents of our southern neighbors find themselves. Pilar recently learned she has ovarian cancer.

Her children will soon be orphans and it will not be long before the 11-year-old girl will feel the pressure to earn money for food for her siblings through prostitution. Why would anyone want to live in those conditions when there is the promise of a better life over the Mexican-American border?

Stories like these abound in Mexico and in Central America. The vast majority of the people who try to illegally gain entry to the United States across our southern borders are living in wretched situations and will try to improve their economic circumstances as you or I or the members of the Minutemen would do in the same circumstances.

Nothing will change until we value the human life that lives in the countries south of us and we as a nation promote economic policies that will let people in Central America and Mexico live lives of dignity. When and if that happens, they won't want to come north because their families and loved ones will be able to live in the countries and culture they love and will not worry whether their child will die from malnutrition or related diseases because there is not enough food in the shacks they call home.

If the Minute Men are successful in blocking all illegal immigration across our southern borders, thereby taking away one of the only safety valves available for desperate people to earn a living by working in the United States, then radical political philosophies and violence on and near our borders will increase and countries to our south will become increasingly unstable.

I would encourage the Minutemen to reconsider their actions and instead put their efforts into combating the root of the immigration problem rather than its symptoms by eliminating the poverty that drives most illegal immigrants to come north.

David Taylor Ives is executive director of the Albert Schweitzer Institute at Quinnipiac University, Hamden, Conn.

© 2005 Providence Journal

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