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Opinion

The border crisis is a challenge and an opportunity

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Opinion,Op-Eds,Immigration,Texas,Mexico,Border Security,Honduras,Guatemala

A July 14 dispatch from the Associated Press reported that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials had returned 40 people, adults and children, from Roswell, N.M., to Honduras.

More from the same surge of arrivals are expected to be returned soon to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

This may represent a growing reality that rapid-status determination and early returns to their home countries represent a reasonable way out of our current crisis, and a promising deterrent to future arrivals.

But such relief may be short lived if federal officials neglect these important elements of a responsible return policy:

• We need to facilitate arrangements in the receiving countries to insure humane reception, response to immediate needs, and transport to — and re-integration within — their home communities. Otherwise, such returns may prove to be neither humane nor sustainable.

• As a quality check on our return policy, we have in the past facilitated follow-up assessments of the safety and well being of persons sent back. This could be especially important for the current returnee caseload.

• The U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development have a unique opportunity to cooperate, both with each other, and with the sending countries, to help insure that these returns are humane, safe, and sustainable.

But isn’t this too much for the federal government to contemplate in places such as Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala? Yes, if we tried to do it on our own.

But it’s eminently worth our consideration were we to work through a highly professional, sensitive, and time-tested international organization, in this case, the International Organization for Migration.

Fortunately, this remarkable capability already exists, and the IOM's reception and reintegration assistance to receiving countries has become one of its hallmarks - historically in Latin America, as well as in other complicated humanitarian and development situations around the world.

Engaging IOM offers the U.S. unique tools of statecraft that go beyond simply reducing the paralysis in our own government over this crisis. Above all, IOM can help provide the best of a bad situation for the children and their families.

And IOM is a proven partner in assisting the countries of origin to manage their borders, to process and assist their returning citizens, and improve the chances of these returnees for a productive future back home.

To avoid an open-ended commitment for the U.S. that might go beyond even the $3.7 billion now requested from the Congress, we need a comprehensive plan of action that would give the Congress a clear blueprint for how the money would be spent. This is what is missing.

With such a plan, it should be possible to defend, even reduce, the resultant price tag. Absent such a plan, government paralysis, and the agony on our border, are likely to continue.

Here is an outline of what such a plan might look like:

First, the recent returns from Roswell, New Mexico, while possibly not eliminating the need to change the December 2008 Wilberforce Act, do point to the appropriateness of rapid-status determinations and returns for these minors.

Applying this principle for new arrivals of should offer an immediate deterrent effect. Streamlining status determinations and returns for those already here adds further clarity, decisiveness, and hope in working our way through to a solution.

The State Department Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, together with should immediately contract with IOM for the specific reception and re-integration tasks specified above.

Sustainment of these returns — that is, providing sufficient hope to avert returnees eventually plotting to repeat the hazardous journey through Mexico — requires more intervention than IOM can provide on its own.

Keeping the returnees back home offers the opportunity for PRM and USAID to re-invigorate their highly successful partnership for victims of violence in El Salvador in the 1980s.

There, PRM’s predecessor organization, the Bureau for Refugee Programs, joined USAID in developing and monitoring rapid-impact efforts that were immensely helpful in providing jobs in community development projects for hundreds of thousands of returnees (including from the U.S.) and internally displaced persons.

These longer-term initiatives also offer constructive partnerships with countries of origin to serve the following purposes:

• Humane and targeted re-integration support, plus training and job creation through light infrastructure projects contributing to community sanitation, public safety, and common services.

• Helping sending countries control their own borders.

• Community transition initiatives dealing with violence, corruption, conflict resolution and anti-gang interventions.

• Public information campaigns that publicize the risks of flight to the U.S., and the increased hope for a future in one’s own country.

There is a way out — not just for the U.S., but also for the children and their parents, who need an alternative to the current hopelessness of remaining in, or returning to, their own countries.

This combination of multilateral assistance, and unilateral unity of effort could mark the beginning of such a solution.

Arthur G. Dewey is the former assistant secretary of state for the Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and James Purcell, former director general of the International Organization for Migration.
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