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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Immigration and the Drug War

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Immigration and the drug war provide a classic example of how two government interventions can intersect, reinforce each other, inflict ever-increasing misery on people, and destroy freedom, security, and prosperity in the process.

Why do so many people from Mexico and Central America wish to come to the United States? Why are they so willing to risk their lives to come here? Why are they willing to pay $12,000 to a smuggler to get them here?

One reason is economic. Many foreigners are just like many Americans. They want to make money. They want to get rich or at least accumulate wealth that vaults them into the middle class. They want a better economic life for their families. They want to give their children a better education. They want a more prosperous life.

That’s why many of them come here. There are jobs waiting for them and employers eager to hire them. Even after paying $12,000 to a smuggler, they figure that the jobs they get here will more than compensate for that smuggling fee.

What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with pursuing happiness? Doesn’t the Declaration of Independence state that everyone, not just Americans, has been endowed with that fundamental, God-given right?

But another reason is safety. Many Mexicans and Central Americans come here to save their lives from the violence that has engulfed Mexico and Central America. Those are the ones who are seeking asylum. They just want to keep from being killed by the violent gangs that threaten their lives.

That brings up the drug war, which is the root cause of the massive violence that has engulfed Mexico and Central America for the past several decades. It is the drug war that has given rise to drug gangs, drug cartels, drug lords, and the massive violence that has come with them.

I grew up on farm on the Rio Grande just outside of Laredo, Texas. Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Laredo was a mecca for Americans tourists who wanted to get a taste of “Old Mexico.” All they had to do was go to downtown Laredo and walk across the international bridge, where they would enter Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. In Nuevo Laredo, tourists would visit the market, have tacos or enchiladas and a drink at the Cadillac Bar, and attend a floor show at night. Tourists always had a great time.

In fact, given that 14-year-olds could get their driver’s license back then, many of us high-school students would oftentimes take our dates into Nuevo Laredo, especially given that there was no drinking age. Mind you, few of us had parental consent to go into Nuevo Laredo, but that didn’t dissuade very many high-schoolers, both boys and girls, from doing it anyway. No one feared kidnappings, assassinations, or other acts of violence.

It was the same for all of Mexico. My parents drove to Acapulco for their honeymoon in the 1940s. In the succeeding two decades, Americans would travel all over Mexico without any concern whatsoever for kidnappings, assassinations, murders, rapes, and the like. My bridge partner and I traveled to Monterrey once to compete in a bridge tournament, and the only problem we encountered was a Mexican customs official who found some shotgun shells in the trunk of my car, which he insisted was illegal. My bridge partner’s bribe handled that situation.

Not anymore. Mexico is riddled with massive violence. A cousin of mine in Laredo tells me that no one in his right mind would go into Nuevo Laredo just to have fun, as people used to do. The risk of being kidnapped and murdered is just too high.

The reason? The drug war, which is led and driven by the U.S. government. The drug war is the root cause of violence in Mexico and Central America. It has destroyed that part of the world. It is the black market in drugs that has brought into existence the drug cartels, the drug gangs, the drug lords, and the drug fights.

If the drug war were ended — that is, if drugs were legalized — the black market would immediately disappear, along with all the drug gangs, cartels, and lords. That’s because they are unable to compete in a legal market. That’s why the booze gangs, lords, and cartels immediately went out of business with the end of Prohibition, not because of Eliot Ness and the Untouchables but because alcohol was legalized.

That’s what needs to be done. Drugs need to be legalized, all drugs, not just marijuana. That would enable countless people in Mexico and Central America to no longer have to flee their countries in fear of their lives at the hands of the drug gangs. Sure, there would still be economic impoverishment owing to the socialist and mercantilist economic systems in Latin America but at least the drug war violence would be gone. Mexico and Central America would be restored to their pre-drug-war status, when American tourists could freely travel in that part of the world.

Most everyone now concedes that the drug war is not only one big failure but also that it has destroyed countless lives. So, why is it still in existence? What is the obstacle to ending it?

Money. That’s the obstacle. Government officials on both sides of the border have come to depend on the drug war to line their pockets. This comes in the form of bribes and salaries. Government officials are paid to look the other way when it comes to drug smuggling. They also have jobs that depend on the continuation of the drug war. If the drug war were ended, all those DEA agents would no longer be needed. The same applies to hundreds of federal prosecutors, federal judges, and judicial clerks whose employment revolves around drug war prosecutions.

It’s really up to the American people to bring an end to the drug war. Once the United States ends its drug-war madness by legalizing drugs, Mexico and Latin America will follow suit. People will still come to the United State to make money (and what’s wrong with that?), but at least people would no longer have to flee their countries in fear of their lives.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.