Better fences or smarter investments on immigration?

The president's proposals on immigration are sure to draw critics who will argue that the Obama administration goes too far. But Bill O’Keefe, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Relations for Catholic Relief Services, only wishes the administration would go a little further on comprehensive reform. No package put together in Washington is going to have much of an impact on migration from the south if it doesn’t include wise investments aimed squarely at the conditions which push people across borders, he has concluded. What’s most frustrating for him and others who work on immigration reform is that there are a number of practical and effective interventions that could be made but that remain politically languishing.

“There are successful, scalable violence-prevention, education, agricultural-rural programs that could make a difference” in improving economic opportunity and living standards in Central America, where many contemporary migrants to the United States originate, he says.

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“We all know what could be done there in order to help people make the decision to stay,” he said. Why don’t people in Washington who say they want to deter undocumented migration back those plans? “Because we have defined the problem as one of border security,” says O’Keefe. “But building fences has ultimately never worked in human history.

“Rather than building fences, we need to address our indifference to life in Central America, and we can do that and that would be the smart thing to do.”

O’Keefe briefly marvels at the vast sums many in Washington remain eager to spend in the relentless pursuit of better border control. “If the tens of billions we have spent on drones; on fences, walls; on militarizing our border had been spent on helping people in Central America support their families, we would not have this problem now,” he says.

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