The number of people fleeing Central America for a chance at U.S. asylum has prompted extreme ideas, such as shutting down the U.S. border. Amid this, I propose another idea that might seem extreme to some. Those who risk so much on a dangerous journey are perhaps precisely the kind of people we want to welcome.
A preliminary estimate of aggregate smuggling revenue for 2017 ranges from about $200 million to $2.3 billion, combined according to a recently released report by the Rand Corporation. This is a preliminary estimate by country of origin for Guatemala ($88 million to $957 million), Honduras ($48million to $768 million) and El Salvador ($67 to $563 million). The wide range reflects uncertainty about the number of migrants that travel northward, their use of smugglers and the fees they pay.
Rand also states that the fees vary by the services provided. On one end, migrants may pay for the “all inclusive” package “in which migrants pay a large fee to a network that arranges all their travel—and may even send a representative to travel with them.” This can be as much as about $10,000. At the other end, migrants can “pay as they go” and travel on their own for portions of the route. They connect with local smugglers to pay for transportation and logistical support. This may cost much less.
I in no way condone the actions of smugglers or those people breaking current U.S. law, whatever their motivation, but these figures nevertheless bring up the issue of migration and personal risk. Personal risk can be anything that exposes an individual to the possibility of losing something of value. In most cases it may mean a financial investment, but for those heading for the U.S. border, it may also include the loss of one’s life.
Right now, the United States, for all practical purposes, is turning illegal migrant risk-takers back if they are caught crossing the border. While it would require some legislative action, perhaps, with changed laws, we should consider admitting these risk-taking individuals for asylum or residency because they are most likely to be successful once in the country.
Knowledge is linked to success, and one way to accrue more knowledge is to take risks. From a practical perspective, the migrants coming north have hard-earned life experiences that can translate not just to their own success but our national successes as well. Consider that while immigrants make up about 13% of the U.S. population, they constitute more than 40% of new business owners in California, New York, New Jersey and Florida, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research. Nationwide, nearly 20% of businesses are owned by immigrants. And according to research by the Immigration Research Center, between 1990 and 2010, the rate of immigrant small business ownership kept pace with the growing immigrant share of the labor force. That is, an increase in immigrants directly tracked with immigrant-owned new business formation—which in turn drives job creation and economic activity.
All of this means that we may want to figure out a way, within our current immigration system, to attract and admit these risk-takers legally. Many of them have the character traits and the resilience to fuel their own success and America’s more broadly.