Ted Galen Carpenter / Washington Post
The surge of unaccompanied minors coming across America’s southern border has given rise to a humanitarian crisis, and with it, debates about immigration policy and border security. Lost in these discussions, however, is the role the American drug war has played in creating the crisis. And this is only the latest crisis. For decades, Washington’s crusade against illegal drugs has destroyed lives, destabilized civil society and generally wreaked havoc on Mexico and the countries of Central and South America.
Since October, more than 50,000 children and adolescents (mainly from Central America) have successfully made the trek through Mexico to reach the United States. Others have perished at the hands of the drug gangs that control the trafficking routes. Extortion, kidnapping and rape are all-too-common along these routes. Traffickers frequently force refugees passing through Mexico to become drug mules — they’re forced to smuggle small shipments of drugs as they make their way to the United States.
The refugees are fleeing not only grinding poverty but widespread carnage, inflicted mostly by powerful Mexican-based drug cartels and other criminal gangs. Journalists, politicians and pundits have had no qualms about connecting the refugee crisis to the drug cartels. Daily Beast columnist Caitlin Dickson is correct that drug traffickers have made those countries “virtually unlivable for its poorest citizens.” She’s also correct that this creates “an incentive to flee, thereby providing themselves with more clientele for their human smuggling business.” NBC correspondent Luke Russert blamed casual drug users, not just for this crisis but for the widespread devastation the illicit drug trade has inflicted on Latin America.
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