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 throughout Central America — for nearly 20 years doing humanitarian work. In my 30-plus years of experience in public service and my humanitarian efforts, 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, prosperity and self-worth for the betterment of life. El Salvador — the home of MS — 13 gang members—is ravaged by gang violence, a communist regime, and hopelessness. Often, the Salvadorans migrating to the U.S. 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. My work in El Salvador is only one working example of many around the world. The United States has the means and the resources necessary to address hopelessness and our immigration policy at its core, 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 NGO’s (non-government organizations) around the world that are addressing these issues each and every day. The U.S. government can create private-public partnerships that embrace and engage these NGO’s while leveraging existing resources. The cost of diplomacy and NGO engagement is far less expensive than the current taxpayer dollars being spent.
Ultimately, taxpayers, the American people, lose the most when our government fails to address diplomatic and humanitarian solutions. As of 2017, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has accounted for the allocation of approximate taxpayer dollars spent annually on illegal immigration: $134 billion in total expenditures; $115 billion in total economic impact (Total Expenditures — Total amount of taxes paid = Total Economic Impact); $46.2 billion spent on illegal families. This is an atrociously large amount of taxpayer dollars spent on illegal immigrants each year. Contrary to the current recurring costs in place, 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. Former President 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, backgrounds, and creeds come to America for the hope of a better tomorrow, for a secure future, and a place of freedom where their families can thrive and prosper.
The United States, in partnership with NGO’s globally, have the resources available to help these countries both efficiently and cost-effectively.
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.
Jeff Cardwell is the chairman of The Lincoln Roundtable, former chairman of the Indiana Republican Party, and senior advisor to former Gov. Mike Pence.