Under Biden, US Failing to Push Latin American Nations to Stem Illegal Immigration: The BorderLine

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The interests of our Latin American friends (and enemies) are not the same as ours when it comes to immigration. They want to get foreign migrants out of their territories while making money. They also want their own access to the U.S. labor market—for example, Mexicans working in the U.S. sent back $55 billion in 2022, and remittances from the U.S. are 19% of Guatemala’s gross domestic product, 28% of Honduras’, and 26% of El Salvador’s.

Our Latin American neighbors have every incentive to pass the illegal immigration buck to us. Only tough diplomacy, backed up by sanctions, will make them stop. Unfortunately, the U.S. response has been weak and deferential, unworthy of the most powerful nation in the world.

In late 2023, President Joe Biden sent his secretaries of state and homeland security with a begging bowl to Mexico to ask for help stemming illegal immigration into the U.S. The U.S. had shown its ability to apply economic pressure on Mexico just a few days before by shutting down commercial ports of entry.

Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (also known as AMLO) offered vague promises to stem the illegal alien flow through his country, but in exchange, he first wanted more aid money for their countries of origin. That’s the same “root causes” approach agreed to in the Los Angeles Declaration—wishful thinking and billions of dollars that have borne zero results.

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The “root causes” approach suggests that poverty in their home countries is what’s driving millions of illegal aliens to the U.S., and if the U.S. just gives those countries more foreign aid, the flows will stop.

Second, AMLO wanted the U.S. to end economic sanctions on Cuba and Venezuela. But while fellow socialist AMLO is friendly with these oppressive socialist regimes, delivering this would be politically hard, even for Biden.

And it’s not just Mexico that’s failing to crack down on illegal migration through-traffic.

Not long ago, Colombia was in the grip of armed insurgents and drug cartels. With U.S. help, the government retook control of the country and reestablished the rule of law. But in 2022, the people elected former rebel Gustavo Petro, a socialist who has allowed criminal armed groups to flourish again. These groups have turned to alien smuggling as a profitable and virtually unpunished enterprise. Until around 2021, there were hardly 20,000 illegal immigrants passing through the Darién Gap between Colombia and Panama each year. Last year, it was over half a million—most, if not all, of them heading to the United States. The Colombian and Panamanian governments are doing little to stop them.

A Colombian transnational criminal organization called the Clan del Golfo is making millions bringing people through the Darién. Clan de Golfo was described by the U.S. attorney general as “one of the largest cocaine trafficking organizations in the world,” involved in the “exportation of massive amounts of cocaine to the United States.” The governor of the Colombian region at the gap, Chocó, seems happy to facilitate. Maybe he gets a cut—or maybe he doesn’t want to end up another one of the Clan’s long list of assassinated government officials.

Nicaragua’s Marxist dictator Daniel Ortega, an enemy of the United States since the Ronald Reagan administration, is making millions by charging transit visa fees to illegal immigrants headed to the U.S. from all over the world and going through his nation. In November 2021, Nicaragua lifted visa requirements for Cubans, then Haitians, Indians, Mauritanians, Senegalese, Uzbeks, and more.

A Florida grand jury reported that Ortega “has used 260 charter planes … from Haiti (approximately 31,000 Haitians and 17,000 Cubans) to charge between $3,000 and $5,000 each to permit the aliens to land in Nicaragua and make their way north to the U.S. border.”

The Guatemalan news site RepublicaGT reported that in 2023, 150,000 foreigners intending to enter the U.S. illegally came to Nicaragua by land and 300,000 more by air, making nearly $70 million for the Ortega regime. According to Manuel Orozco of the Inter-American Dialogue, a U.S.-based international affairs think tank focused on the Western Hemisphere, “Nicaragua is responsible for at least 10% of all migration that has arrived into the Mexico-U.S. border.” Orozco says Ortega’s motive is “a deep hatred of the United States.” As a bonus, Ortega makes money and extorts the U.S. to end economic sanctions.

In response to the conveyor belt of charter flights into the Americas carrying one-way passengers bound for the United States, the Biden administration’s response has been desultory. First, the administration tried asking countries to stop the flights, which worked only with Haiti. Then last November, the State Department targeted the Nicaraguan route by putting visa restrictions on “owners, executives, and senior officials of charter flight, ground, and maritime transportation companies providing transportation services designed for use primarily by persons intending to migrate irregularly to the United States.”

The tactic is as likely to succeed as New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ lawsuit against charter bus companies for bringing illegal aliens from Texas to his city.

In Guatemala, the U.S., until recently, had an ally prepared to help us. Guatemala’s geography is ideal to block mass illegal migration from farther south, which is why the Trump administration made deals with Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras to limit traffic through their countries and accept illegal immigrants returned by the U.S. But newly installed Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo, though much preferred by the Biden administration to his conservative predecessor, is far less likely to cooperate on reducing illegal migration.

In El Salvador, popular President Nayib Bukele charges a $1,000 transit visa fee to people from Africa and India who are clearly heading to the U.S. But an extra grand is hardly going to deter illegal immigrants prepared to pay thousands to get here. One Senegalese man with knowledge of migrant trafficking networks said the going rate was about $8,000 per head. So Bukele can look tough, do little to help, and make a fat profit at the same time.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro hates the United States. For him, sending hundreds of thousands of his discontented people our way is a win/win. When they get here, most will work, legally or illegally, and send money home to prop up the economy Maduro and his communist predecessor Hugo Chavez ruined. As for the criminals, if they are aligned with Maduro’s own interests, he may get a cut of their illicit earnings. If they are rivals, then sending them to the U.S. gets rid of a potential risk to him and dumps it on us.

And it’s not just Venezuelan illegal immigrants Maduro is facilitating—many of the Haiti-to-Nicaragua flights are on Venezuelan charter airlines that could only operate with Maduro’s approval.

American cities are now feeling the presence of Venezuela’s Tren de Aragua criminal gang. According to an FBI agent, the Tren could be working with MS-13. An alliance between two ultraviolent gangs with a reach throughout the Americas is a major law enforcement problem for the federal government and for cities like New York.

Héctor Guerrero, the leader of Tren de Aragua, escaped prison last year and may now be in the United States. It wouldn’t have been hard for him to hide among the roughly 2 million “gotaway” illegal border crossers that Biden’s negligence has allowed in so far.

The U.S. has the diplomatic and economic leverage to make Latin American countries stem the flow of illegal migration through their countries. But rather than do that—and control our own border—the Biden administration asks for billions more from Congress to continue supporting  chaotic and dangerous mass illegal migration.

The BorderLine is a weekly Daily Signal feature examining everything from the unprecedented illegal immigration crisis at the border to immigration’s impact on cities and states throughout the land. We will also shed light on other critical border-related issues like human trafficking, drug smuggling, terrorism, and more.

Read Other BorderLine Columns:

Asylum Zombies

The Gang’s All Here—Thanks to Biden’s Open Border

What I Saw at America’s Wide-Open Northern Border

No Such Thing as a Free Lunch: The Cost of Unchecked Illegal Immigration on Americans

Concerns About Proposed Senate Border Security Compromise

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