Jacob Sullum
As thousands of children fleeing violence in Central America seek refuge in the United States, some commentators are blaming American drug users. "If there weren't a lot of Americans seeking marijuana and heroin and cocaine," says former Labor Secretary Robert Reich, "there would not be a drug war."

Wall Street Journal columnist Mary Anastasia O'Grady seems to agree. "This crisis was born of American self-indulgence," she writes.

If so, it was not the self-indulgence of people who consume arbitrarily proscribed intoxicants. It was the self-indulgence of prohibitionists who insist on exporting their disastrous policy to other countries.

Although O'Grady mentions "rethinking prohibition" as one possible response to the flood of refugees, she clouds the issue by saying "the demand for drugs ... fuels criminality." In truth, the government's response to that demand fuels criminality by creating a black market in which thugs violently vie for artificially high profits.

That policy is one of the main factors driving the recent surge in unaccompanied minors making their way to Texas from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. The number of such children apprehended by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) more than doubled in fiscal year 2012, from 4,059 to 10,443, and then doubled again in fiscal year 2013, to 21,537. The Obama administration expects the number to be about 90,000 this fiscal year.

In a 2013 survey by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, 66 percent of children from El Salvador, 44 percent of children from Honduras and 20 percent of children from Guatemala mentioned "violence by organized armed criminal actors" as a reason for leaving home. CBP notes that Salvadoran and Honduran children "come from extremely violent regions where they probably perceive the risk of traveling alone to the US preferable to remaining at home."

In a recent Military Times essay, Gen. John Kelly, who runs the U.S. Southern Command, estimates that "perhaps 80 percent" of the violence behind "the mass migration of children we are all of a sudden struggling with" is tied to the illegal drug trade. That sort of violence has intensified in Central America partly because of crackdowns on drug cartels in Mexico and Colombia, which Honduran President Juan Hernandez identifies as "the root cause" of his country's astonishing homicide rate: 90 per 100,000 people, by far the highest in the world.


Jacob Sullum

Jacob Sullum is a senior editor at Reason magazine and a contributing columnist on Townhall.com.
 
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