Make Honduras Great . . . Again?

As we near the completion of President Trump’s third year in office, the partisan divisions on the problem of illegal immigration grow ever deeper. For the first two years, Democrats and the mainstream media insisted that there was no crisis at America’s southern border: it was a “manufactured” situation, fake news designed to manipulate the purportedly nativist impulses of Trump’s base. We knew from the 2016 campaign that the Left (newly) viewed a border wall as morally unconscionable. Then we learned that their attitudes on deportation had significantly “evolved” since Barack Obama’s tenure⁠—it, too, was an inhuman and inhumane practice.

Then, we were aw(o)kened to the fact that even briefly detaining people who enter the country illegally is an ethical travesty. And we’ve been aware for a decade that the Left wouldn’t allow law enforcement to ask for identification at routine traffic stops when they believe the parties may be in the country illegally. Remember the controversy in 2010 over Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

In effect, by 2018, the Democratic party had dismissed virtually every policy that might meaningfully address the border crisis as racist, fascist bigotry. And yet, as the four recent Democratic debates have shown, the candidates are newly convinced of the existence of the crisis. This shift occurred around the time that the media circulated the photo of the corpses of Oscar and Valeria Martinez floating in the Rio Grande after the family had grown impatient waiting for their asylum claims to be processed. According to their living relatives, they had undertaken the trek in search of “a better life,” an aim that isn’t traditionally recognized as legitimate grounds for asylum. So, in the wake of these unnecessary deaths, the Democrats conceded the legitimacy of the crisis. But their framing of the crisis remains a denial of reality.

For them, the urgency of the situation at the border isn’t defined by the massive migrations of Central Americans. Rather, the crisis is located in our inability or reticence to promptly admit each and every one of these people into the United States.

As the primary debates have shown, the mad rush to the left has ensured that speaking favorably about any policy that might actually be effective is tantamount to ideological heresy. In negotiating this bind—admitting there is a crisis while insisting we shouldn’t take any meaningful action to solve it—the candidates have resorted to policies that would nurture and enrich the nations to our south.

In the first debates, former Health and Human Services Secretary Julian Castro promised that among his first actions on immigration would be to get to the “root cause of the issue” by instituting “a Marshall plan for Honduras and Guatemala and El Salvador so that people can find safety and opportunity at home instead of coming to the United States to seek it.”

U.S. Senator Cory Booker (N.J.) made similar commitments: “We need to make sure that we address the issues that made Oscar and Valeria come in the first place, by making major investments in the Northern Triangle.” Never one to be out-woked, former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke called us to “invest in solutions in Central America, [and] work with regional stakeholders so that there’s no reason to make that 2,000 mile journey to this country.” Representative John Delaney (D-Md.) also jumped on the Central American Express: “we really have to talk about why these people are coming to our country […] and what we’re going to do to actually make a difference in these countries.”

Uncle Joe Biden, terrified by seeming an outsider in a party that has somehow moved to the left of the leftist hinterlands they inhabited when he was vice president, dutifully promised the same. “I’d surge immediately billions of dollars’ worth of help to the region immediately […] [to address] the root cause of why people are leaving in the first place.” Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan is also on board, demanding that we “go fix the problem at its source and use diplomacy to do it.” Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) wasn’t going quietly into that good night, either: “So what we will do, the first week in the White House, is bring the entire hemisphere to talk about how we rebuild Honduras […], Guatemala and El Salvador so people do not have to flee their own countries.”

Needless to say, none of the candidates had any interest in explaining how we might pay for these multi-billion dollar aid and infrastructure packages for multiple Central American nations. And, needless to say, the “moderators” didn’t ask.

But it is critical that undecided voters understand what this consensus among the Democratic candidates would mean in practice: whichever Democrat wins the presidency, it appears he or she would devote an overwhelming amount of time, funding, and policy-making at improving life in the Central American countries rather than addressing the problems that mass illegal immigration is creating for American workers, institutions, and governance.

In short, rather than recognize the sovereignty of the United States and fulfill their rightful obligation to steward and nourish this nation, the democratic candidates want to devote American capital to performing the functions of government in societies where America has no claim to political authority. If “Free Everything for Everyone” somehow lost the contest to be the motto of the Democratic Party, “Make Honduras Great Again” would likely be the winner.

The problem here should be obvious. There are many wonderful things about Honduras and the other nations that are candidates for bailouts. They surely have many good people, as does every nation on the planet. But they were never “great” in the sense denoted by American greatness.

Before anyone subscribes to the Democratic plan for addressing the immigration crisis on the southern side of the border, we need to consider another question: Could an aid package of any amount make Honduras great enough, in comparison to the United States, that people like Oscar Martinez wouldn’t look to the Rio Grande and see a “better life” on the northern side? If the answer is “no,” (and I think it is), we have to concede that this plan to address the border crisis is fundamentally unserious.

But even if the answer was “yes,” how long would it take for an El Salvador, flush with American money, to become great enough to stop feeding the caravans? 20 years? 40? 60? How much damage would be done to America during the decades we spend waiting for the return on our investment, while the flow over the border continues apace? To ask the question is to answer it.

Finally, none of this even addresses the many other concerns. Given the federal government’s decades-long failure to meaningfully address poverty, or infrastructure, or substance abuse, or health care reform in America, what lunacy is it to suppose that their efforts would be more effective in Honduras. . . and Guatemala . . . and El Salvador? Do those nations even want our help, given that the influx of cash would come with some degree of oversight? Given their disdain for foreign adventurism and neo-colonialism, would a Democratic administration even be willing to conduct the oversight necessary for the productive expenditure of the money? Or would these expenditures simply be a bribe to the shaky governments of these regions? We line your pockets, you do something to keep your people in your country?

The monetary fix⁠—the plan to make Honduras great (for the first time)—is evidence that the Democratic party still hasn’t come to grips with a central message of 2016: national sovereignty is important to Americans. As Democrats foreshadow the abdication of their responsibility to ensure American sovereignty, they promise once again to stick America’s nose where it isn’t wanted or needed in service of a fool’s errand: promptly making these small Central American nations into places where it is comparatively desirable to live. In attempting to do so, they claim a sovereignty that isn’t theirs to claim and fritter away further resources that will never help the Americans who need and deserve them.

Hey, it’s better than actually addressing the crisis.

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About Adam Ellwanger

Adam Ellwanger is an associate professor of English at the University of Houston – Downtown where he directs the M.A. program in rhetoric and composition. His new book, Metanoia: Rhetoric, Authenticity, and the Transformation of the Self, will be released from Penn State University Press in 2020. You can follow him on Twitter at @DoctorEllwanger

Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

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