This article by Steve Slattery originally appeared in National Review. You can find the original article here.
The Biden administration recently announced that it would bolster asylum restrictions at the U.S.–Mexico border to crack down on unauthorized crossings. This is just a month after President Biden traveled to the border for the first time in his presidency — underscoring just how acute the migrant crisis has become.
In fiscal year 2022, U.S. immigration authorities recorded 2.38 million migrant encounters at the southwest border. According to an analysis of government data by the Migrant Policy Institute, for the first time in history, U.S. Customs and Border Protection encountered more Venezuelans, Cubans, and Nicaraguans during FY 2022 than migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Adding political refugees to the influx of economic migrants has exacerbated the border crisis overwhelming cities like El Paso, Texas. As Salvadoran president Nayib Bukele said in a 2021 interview on American television, “it is obvious our country has failed to provide two basic things which are the two main drivers of immigration, which are the lack of economic opportunity and a lack of security. . . . [But] most people don’t want to leave their country. They like their country, their food, weather. . . . And they have their family members here and their friends.”
Human-rights watchdogs have been justly critical of Bukele’s purging of judges and imprisoning political opponents, but his forthright attitude on migration is spot on. While the immediate crisis is at the U.S. border, the solution lies south of it, where political and economic freedom are foundering. On visits last year to the capital cities of both Guatemala and El Salvador, I saw bustling economic activity and noticeable improvements in infrastructure. But lurking beneath the veneer of progress and prosperity are poverty and struggle. A young Salvadorean business executive who works for a major international company told me the underlying problem is lack of education. He often has trouble filling good-paying jobs because of a lack of qualified applicants.
Beyond educating people to fill professional jobs, countries in the region need a new cadre of intellectual and political leaders. My organization, The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), has been working in Latin America since 2008, identifying the most promising young minds and bringing them together in immersive seminars on the principles of a free society.
At our program last summer, held in partnership with Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City, we gathered young leaders from struggling countries like Brazil, Argentina, Nicaragua, and Peru, as well as countries that are bucking the leftward trend in the region, such as Ecuador and Uruguay.
It was uplifting to see, in a region troubled by economic problems and authoritarian governments, that our students had good humor and an overwhelming sense of optimism. When convening for group projects about the migrant crisis, they came up with brilliant and compassionate ideas that addressed both root causes and immediate humanitarian needs. Each time I discussed with a student the state of affairs in his or her country, I saw impossible situations. But from Daniel Mayorga, who established the first and now largest library of libertarian books in Ecuador (the Antigona Libreri), to Alejandra Moreno, who helps hold discussions on independence through the Ladies of Liberty Alliance in Colombia, these emerging leaders are truly making a difference.
Recently, another group of similarly impressive students gathered at the annual TFAS program at the University of the Andes in Santiago, Chile. It’s a fitting backdrop for lessons on freedom and liberty, as Chile’s leaders engage in an epic struggle over writing a new constitution. At stake is the future of the free-market reforms — adopted by Chile in the early 1970s — that helped the poverty rate to drop from 56 percent in 1990 to 8 percent in 2020 at the same time that gross national income per capita increased from $4,200 in 1990 to $26,720 in 2021.
Time will tell if Chile’s leaders choose to keep an economy that’s made their country No. 1 in the world in social mobility, or instead follow the road to serfdom and decline. However, it’s encouraging to work with these talented students and intellectuals. What happens next to Chile and other Latin-American nations depends greatly on educating and uplifting the next generation of young regional leaders.
Steve Slattery is executive vice president of The Fund for American Studies (TFAS), a nonprofit organization that teaches the principles of limited government, free-market economics, and honorable leadership to students and young professionals in the U.S. and around the world. Since 2008, TFAS has reached more than 600 students and young leaders in Latin America through its programs in Chile and Guatemala.