Friday, July 06, 2012

Drug-War Refugees Redux

Earlier today, I posted an article -- from Fox News of all places -- about the difficulty of obtaining asylum faced by refugees from northern Mexico's drug war.

A friend asked a good question about why the United States should take responsibility for this problem. Aside from the general responsibility that all countries have for providing asylum to refugees, I see responsibility in this case falling in three main areas. 

First, of course thugs in Mexico are directly responsible for being thugs. Looking into deeper sources of the problem does not excuse the inhuman behavior of the cartels -- and particularly of those who once served as narcotics police.

But second, just as in Colombia, the stronger the interdiction, the more vicious the criminal element it attracts. So the first part of our responsibility is that we prohibit something that so many of our people are willing to buy, and we shift the burden of prevention to supplying countries. And that burden results in thousands of innocent dead and -- as I wrote back in 2010 -- large areas in which regular people cannot safely live. One difference here is that much of the violence relates to pot, of which possession in small quantities is a misdemeanor in many places.

And third, the weapons increasingly come from the United States, where there are essentially no limits. Mexico tries to stop the guns at the border, but there they are so easy to obtain in large quantities at gun shows -- particularly in our border states -- that even legitimate Mexican authorities would be hard-pressed to stop them. And the money corrupting authorities on both side means that even those efforts will be minimal.

This is a HUGE case of the proverbial cat out of the bag, and I do not know anyone with a cogent solution in the short term. Last weekend's election is the result of a rather desperate desire for change but it is not clear what the PRI will be able to do, other than distance itself from U.S. policy.

Without any cogent solution, though, we have an obligation to accept refugees, under international agreements. The United States always is very selective in its application of refugee status, refusing to designate people as refugees if they are fleeing situations for which we are in part to blame (see: Central America in the 1980s). As unpopular as it would be in this election year, however, there is added moral urgency to provide some relief for those whose circumstances we have helped to create.

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