The immigration crisis on the border is one of those issues where people address symptoms, not causes. They refuse to get to the root of things.
The media show people streaming across the border. Some propose building a wall as a solution. However, as much as a wall would be helpful, it does not address the reason why people are coming in the first place. Unless the faucet is turned off, the water will keep on flowing.
Many may recognize that these immigrants are the victims of violence, gangs and poverty. However, they refuse to believe that anything can be done to fix these problems and thus insist that these poor, suffering people must be allowed to come to America, regardless of their legal status.
And so year after year, the people stream across the border, without dealing with the causes of violence, gangs and poverty. Americans are exasperated by the problem.
Can Chicago Learn Something from El Salvador?
The situation does not have to be like this. There are ways to address the root causes of illegal immigration—and it does not have to cost too much.
Recent developments in El Salvador point in the right direction. The small Massachusetts-sized Central American nation has a population of 6.8 million people. For decades it has experienced the highest index of violence in the region.
The nation boasted one of the highest murder rates in the world. Extortion was common among the business community. Children often had to ask permission to play from neighboring gangs. The country was a veritable war zone where life was cheap. The gangs had turned the nation into a giant prison. Many saw no other option but to leave. Indeed, Salvadorians were one of the largest immigrant groups entering America.
In 2021, Presidential candidate Nayib Bukele entered the scene and ran on a law and order anti-corruption platform. He put in place a program to make El Salvador livable again, and has succeeded beyond all expectations.
Homicide rates are down 92 percent from 106 per 100,000 inhaibatnts in 2015 to 7.8 in 2022—better than some American cities. Illegal immigration to the U.S. has dropped by 44 percent. The president enjoys the enviable support of 9 of 10 El Savadorians.
The Bukele Formula
The new government strategy consisted of putting together several things.
First, the administration built a large prison that could hold tens of thousands of prisoners.
Second, the President called a state of emergency that allowed police and security forces to arrest en masse all those suspected of being part of the brutal MS-13 and 18th Street gangs that terrorized. The move has resulted in the arrest of 68,000 people, one percent of the population.
Finally, all prisoners remained in jail until brought before a judge and the guilty are sentenced. Criminal elements are responsible for nearly 80,000 deaths over the last 30 years. The government is intent upon putting those responsible behind bars.
The result of these measures has transformed El Salvador. Businesses can now flourish without gang extortion. Children are playing in the street without danger. Public transport is now considered safe. The economy is starting to boom, with investment opportunities opening up. Emigration is dramatically down, and people might return home.
The Liberal Opposition to Bukele
The Bukele program is now serving as a model all over Latin America. Many see this hardline approach as a way to break the cycle of violence caused by decades of corruption and leniency.
However, the program does have its opponents. Liberals the world over are criticizing the measures as overly severe. They cite alleged human rights violations, deaths and mistaken arrests made during the extended state of emergency. They protest food and lodging conditions in the crowded new jails.
Some of these criticisms may have elements of truth. Everything must be done to ensure justice is observed and conditions humane. The rule of law must be maintained.
However, it is not the alleged mistreatment or mistaken arrests that bother the liberals. They oppose in principle the idea of restraint and the “lack of understanding” of evil people.
They are always willing to give the criminal the benefit of the doubt, even at the expense of the victims. Such is the case of American liberals who insist upon releasing criminal suspects who then feel free to continue committing crimes. Such is the case of liberal critics who saw that the criminals turn El Salvador into a prison with no pity for the population.
Several Bukele critics have called for schools, education, “spaces for dialog” and improved democracy. This is consistent with the faulty liberal dogma that to open schools is to empty prisons. These liberals believe no one commits crimes save through ignorance or lack of education. It is never the fault of the criminal. It is even the fault of the victims for failing to provide the criminals with the needed education and support.
The failure of this radical liberal model is only too evident in the case of El Salvador. Fortunately, the population can now live in their homeland in peace. Fewer citizens feel the need to emigrate to America.
The Problem with the Bukele Program
However, the Bukele program is not the solution to the problem. It gets closer to the root of the problem but not close enough. It will eventually fail.
In a climate where crime rules, the government can call a state of emergency. For the sake of the common good, it can suspend individual rights and exercise greater public power. This must be done to protect, not subvert order.
However, the source of order is not the heavy hand of the government. This power is merely a temporary instrument. The tendency in Bukele-like solutions is to make these measures permanent after the emergency is over. Mr. Bukele who calls himself the “cool dictator” shows no signs of quickly restoring the rule of law. He is even proposing to sentence groups of up to 900 accused gang members at a time as a means to streamline the judicial process.
The goal for society must be a return to order and normality as soon as possible. A state of emergency should seek to put an end to its reason for being when conditions improve.
The Incomplete Lesson of El Salvador
Real solutions must also seek out the true source of order.
This is where the Bukele program falls short. The real root of the reason people join gangs and become criminals is a moral problem not a policing one.
Only a moral conversion can serve as a foundation for an ordered and Godly society. Modern liberal society wants to avoid this at all costs.
However, there is no other way out. A society filled with immorality, lust, sin and dishonesty will always give rise to a criminal state of things sooner or later. The Bukele solution postpones the next crisis by failing to address the decadence in society. At the first opportunity, the problems will return with a vengeance.
The Church is the ideal means to bring about such a conversion since it inspires in souls to the love of God and neighbor. Its action leads people to practice virtue freely and live inside the tranquility of order.
Photo Credit: Nayib Bukele – WIKIMEDIA COMMONS