For example, legal pathways tend to take pressure off irregular migration by giving people alternatives they can aspire to, a key starting principle. The United States, Mexico and Canada have been jointly trying to expand short-term labor visas for Central Americans to give them another option besides irregular migration. The Cuban parole program also did this by allowing a certain number of Cubans to travel legally to the United States each year.
The U.S. government might also think about opening up a special parole program — an express legal entry — for a limited number of Haitians who want to move to the United States and reopening the one for Cubans, which has been suspended in practice for four years. If some Haitians living in Chile and Brazil were eligible for entry into the United States under this approach, many would decide to avoid a dangerous journey through the Darién Gap.
Such a program would also make it easier for the U.S. government to negotiate the return of Haitian migrants who reach the border to these countries, where many have lived for years, instead of to Haiti. This is another useful principle: the idea of returning people to countries where they have been settled for many years, rather than back to countries of origin that are in deep crisis.
Another principle might be burden sharing. The United States and Canada have already been trying to expand their resettlement efforts for imperiled Central Americans. Speeding up this process and extending it to Venezuelans and others would provide another important alternative to irregular migration for those in imminent danger.
Meanwhile, U.S. policymakers could also do much more to help countries in the region get back to economic health, starting by donating far more Covid-19 vaccines. And the international community can provide additional resources to host countries with large migrant and refugee populations so they can accelerate access to legal status, education and health care, all of which remain major issues in integrating recent arrivals.
By working together, the countries in the region could begin to create more orderly and far safer migration flows, and provide a measure of hope as a bulwark against the despair that so often drives people to take dangerous journeys.
Andrew Selee is the president of the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank that seeks to improve migration policies, and the author, most recently, of “Vanishing Frontiers: The Forces Driving Mexico and the United States Together.”
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