Actions have unintended consequences. Even actions with a high moral purpose behind them can turn out to cause unforeseen problems far down the road.
The United States has waged war on drug gangs at home and drug cartels abroad. The two targets overlapped in Southern California. There, two big street gangs—MS-13 and MS-18—recruited large numbers of their members from Central American illegal immigrants. The gang members came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. In the late 1990s a US law allowed the deportation of non-citizens who committed a crime in the United States. Between 2000 and 2010, the US deported 100,000 gang-members back to their country of origin in “Con Air” flights.
The deported gangsters just took up where they left off, only in countries with far less robust law enforcement. As has been the case in Mexico and Columbia, the drug gangs used violence and money to take over big sectors of the economies and societies of their new “homelands.” The homicide rate in San Pedro Sula, for example, is 187/100,000 people. (That’s bad: the over-all US rate is 5/100,000.) The violence terrified many people in these countries. It also terrified parents who had migrated illegally to the US while leaving their children behind in the care of relatives. Some of those people sought to get their children to safety.
Enter the unintended effects of other US government actions. For decades, high-minded people have been worried about human-trafficking. The possible sexual exploitation of children as part of this trafficking really sets off alarm bells. In 2008 a US law required that unaccompanied minors from Central America caught entering the US illegally be given a hearing before being returned to their homes. The Immigration courts are under-staffed, so this whole process can take a year. (Meanwhile, the children are released to relatives or volunteer host families and just disappear.) Then in 2012, President Obama ended the deportation of young illegals who had lived in the US for at least five years without blotting their copy-books.
In Central America, “coyotes”—human traffickers—saw a market need and rushed to fill it. They told worried parents that illegal immigrant minors could not be deported from the United States. The parents did what any parent would do in similar circumstances. They paid the “coyotes.” The “coyotes” did what any businessmen would do in similar circumstance. They provided the service for which they had been paid. In Spring and Summer 2014, almost 60,000 children of various ages illegally entered the United States. They came by way of Mexico, but they came from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.
Having already taken actions that unintentionally caused the problem in the first place, the US government is now dead-locked about what action to take to make it go away. The Republicans want to change the 2008 law so that the Immigration Service can put the new immigrants on kiddy versions of “Con Air” flights as soon as they show up. The Democrats want to throw money at immigration judges to legally process the new immigrants under the existing law. Given how actions have unintended consequences, maybe inaction is the best thing. Although, philosophically speaking, inaction is a kind of action.
“The origins of the border crisis,” The Week, 15 August 2014, p. 9.
 Although, curiously, not from Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or Panama.
 The Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System, run by the US Marshal Service, inspired the movie “Con Air” (1997, dir. Simon West, prod. Jerry Bruckheimer), but bears no resemblance to it. If it did it would probably try to enter the Witness Protection Program and live as an insurance agent in Dubuque.
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