North America today is criminally unprepared to handle the hundreds of thousands of Central Americans fleeing their countries. Both Mexicans and Americans have been shocked in recent months by the recurring stories of families separated at the border, the conditions immigrant kids face in detention centers (with U.S. officials quibbling over whether they deserve soap and toothpaste), and the scenes of large caravans of Central Americans making their way north to seek asylum in the United States. This week shock turned to utter horror as newspapers featured heart-wrenching front-page photos of an El Salvadoran father and his 2-year-old daughter who drowned in the Rio Grande, and an equally poignant shot of a Haitian immigrant and her small child begging for help in Tapachula, Chiapas.
This awful state of affairs could have been avoided, or at least minimized, if North America had earlier adopted a coherent regional approach to migration. A North American variant of the European approach—humor me for a minute by pretending we had visionary, internationalist leaders in Ottawa, Washington, and Mexico City—would entail having an agreed-upon apportionment of outside asylum seekers among the three partners; a blended corps of Mexican, U.S., and Canadian customs officials along Mexico’s southern border and at other sensitive North American ports of entry; a realistic adjustment of the levels of legal migration within North America; and finally, a comprehensive development package for Central America. Regardless of your views on what the appropriate level of migration is for the United States, or how expansively you want to think of asylum, there is no argument for forcing people to run an unsafe gantlet across Mexico in search of a right they might not be afforded.