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The Wall will deprive corrupt Latin American governments of their lifeline

Some governments south of the border are fueling illegal migration into the United States as a matter of policy.

Mass illegal migration is a safety valve for corrupt governments. It relieves economic and political elites of social pressures to reform, while generating steady streams of hard currency into their inefficient economies.

Some of the government in the region, though, want it both ways. They want to take US aid dollars AND push mass illegal migration.

Building a wall along the Mexican border to stop illegal immigration is another way to force Latin America to confront its endemic corruption process.

The $5 billion wall costs less than the $7.8 billion that the Trump Administration has already committed to Mexico and Central America to discourage mass migration.

Illegal migration is a relief valve for corrupt, inefficient governments

By encouraging the illegal migration of their poorest citizens, those governments relieve themselves of some of the urgency to impose difficult internal reforms. Mass illegal migration reduces the need for spending on social services, education, infrastructure, police, and all the other elements of normal government spending and welfare state patronage.

Mass illegal migration to the US also means huge, regular, predictable cash remittances back home. There’s no need to implement internal reforms when mass illegal migration remains an option.

So no matter how much “aid” money the US sends into Central America, most of those governments are not going to change their ways.

The Wall will deprive corrupt governments of an option to stay corrupt

The only way to make those governments break their habits is to strip them of the option for mass migration. The only feasible and humanitarian way to do that is to build the wall.

El Salvador is one of the worst culprits. Fifteen years ago, El Salvador was becoming a market-oriented miracle under a series of pro-business presidents whose policies attracted investment from around the world.

That changed when Salvadorans elected two successive Marxist governments nearly a decade ago. Those governments were hopeful for massive bailouts from Venezuela. The bailouts worked for a while, but have since collapsed.

El Salvador ranked as about the 68th least corrupt nation out of 175 countries from 1998 to 2017, according to Transparency International, but spiked to 112 – one of the more corrupt on earth – in 2017.

As a result, the Salvadoran government is relying more than ever on dollar remittances from its citizens working in the United States.

President Salvador Sánchez Cerén has persuaded Washington to keep pouring aid into his country while simultaneously encouraging caravans of his citizens to migrate illegally into the United States.

Sánchez Cerén is a communist and former leader of a Soviet-backed insurgency that targeted US soldiers and Marines for assassination.

US should not reward corrupt welfare states

The US should not reward El Salvador – either its Marxist government or its citizens who elected such a government – by funding aid projects that are ostensibly designed to reduce immigration.

In December, the administration, along with Mexico, announced a joint project to pour $5.8 billion of taxpayer- and private funds into Central America, and $2 billion into southern Mexico where Central American migrants could be employed.

That’s more than the stated price for building the wall along the Mexican border.

The administration should re-program those funds from the State Department toward funding the wall.

The last 30 years have shown that no amount of US aid to El Salvador will significantly stem illegal migration into the United States.

The best way to work with El Salvador is to force the country to help itself by giving its government no alternative but to institute internal reforms needed to stop corruption and attract foreign investment.

Mexico shows that the best way to stop migration is to create opportunity at home

Mexico is a great example of how deep economic and political reforms can stop illegal migration into the US, and even attract their citizens to return home. With the reforms in Mexico over the past 25 years, the country has become a powerhouse, attracting investments and creating so many jobs in Mexico that Mexico is actually welcoming Central American labor because there aren’t enough Mexicans for the jobs.

Building the wall can help force El Salvador and other countries in the region to make similar changes, because it will deny those governments the relief valve of exporting their workers illegally to send American remittances back home.

About J. Michael Waller

J Michael Waller is a Senior Analyst for Strategy at the Center for Security Policy. He was a founding editorial board member of NATO’s Defence Strategic Communications journal, and for 13 years held the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Chair as a professor at the Institute of World Politics. He holds a PhD in international security affairs from Boston University.