We are not going to stop sending people, and you guys are not going to be able to stop them from getting in.
These are the words of Lt. Col. Reyes Garcia, a Honduran military policy leading an operation to break up an extortion ring used for trafficking women and contraband cigarettes.
When I last addressed this issue, I was prompted to do so in response to the news report of the hundreds of people from Ghana, Eritrea, and Somalia who drowned off the coast of Italy attempting to enter the European Union in search of work and a better life. I wrote then that these tragedies happen because, as the barriers to the movement of goods and services have fallen, those facing people who merely seek the opportunity for a decent life continue to go up.
This time, the focus is on the United States, where the latest humanitarian crisis involves tens of thousands of Central Americans, many of them children, who have overwhelmed US border facilities. They flee violence and despair in search of a “good job” – sewing underwear in a sweatshop for a weekly wage of $47.00.
Here is the irony – similar jobs used to proliferate in Honduras, El Salvador and the other Central American countries at the heart of this story. The ease with which capital can move in search of even higher returns has relocated many of the factories to countries in Asia, such as Bangladesh, where they find cheaper labor and fewer regulations. The people left behind are people like Waldina Lizeth Amaya, a 37-year old mother of four from Honduras who worked for several years in a factor making bras and panties. Now, after trying unsuccessfully to find work in Honduras, she is one of the tens of thousands of persons determined to make it to the U.S. in search of the jobs there.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) writes that:
When properly managed, labour migration has far-reaching potential for the migrants, their communities, the countries of origin and destination, and for employers.
In 2011, there were 105 million people working in a country in which they were not born, generating income of US$440 billion, of which US$350 billion was sent back to their home countries. International aid agencies now treat these remittances as an important source of “foreign earnings” for the receiving countries.
Yet, the rules to manage and legitimize the economic migration of persons remain sketchy, at best. The World Trade Organization (WTO) rules recognize the movement of people as service providers as a delivery mode for trade in services. However, existing rules focus on movement of professional and highly-skilled workers. The low-skilled or unlicensed service provider continues to be marginalized, despite the continued high and ongoing demand for their services, particularly in developed economies.
In the face of this Central American influx, the United States does not have to wait for new WTO rules – it can unilaterally address the issue through a rational approach to immigration, which also takes into account the reality of labor and economic migration – persons who want to temporarily migrate just to work. The tragedy is that neither the WTO nor the US seem inclined to do so.