The topic of immigration at our southern border has been heated, controversial, and political. From debates over reparations for families separated at the southern border to news of thousands of Haitians fleeing their country and seeking asylum in the United States, it’s an issue that draws constant attention.
Over the years, elected officials have suggested various solutions to stem the flow of immigration to our southern border, from border walls to more people. Unfortunately, many of these solutions seek to address the symptoms of migration rather than the root causes. Instead, our country’s leaders should look to the factors driving Central American immigration, such as the financial and logistical support these countries desperately need.
One often-overlooked solution involves investing in Central America's promising industries, such as apparel. Deterring Central American migration by investing in clothing factories in countries such as Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua would not only allow people to find prosperity in their own communities but would also provide the U.S. with a unique opportunity to expand our own economic outlook.
Investments such as those in clothing factories create jobs that reduce poverty and, in turn, contribute to each country’s economic growth. About 76% of the workers in the Northern Triangle have low-paying jobs, often with little job security. These clothing factories would provide higher wages and job security for countless citizens. Beyond just financial growth, investment in this region will provide stability, something that the region greatly needs.
Placing American-owned clothing factories in Central America is not just a humanitarian move. By expanding our clothing product supply chains close to home, we can continue competing with other regions of the world while making our products cheaper for American workers and consumers. And right now, during heightened inflation, we need to use every available tool to ease rising costs on American workers and families.
The U.S. wouldn’t lose jobs due to outsourcing factories, either. Many Central American clothing factories receive cloth and fabrics made in the U.S., which are then made into items of clothing. From there, the clothing made in Central America gets shipped back to the U.S. for consumer sale, and the lower costs benefit everyone.
This type of cost-saving maneuver strengthens both our economy and those of our allies in Central America. And these efforts could be even more effective if certain trade restrictions, such as the Dominican Republic-Central America FTA’s rules of origin, were expanded to allow more products sold between these countries to be duty-free.
We have the tools available to help Central American countries and help ourselves; we just need to be able to use them. We need President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to understand what is at stake. We need American clothing manufacturers to be able to operate in Central America with ease and less red tape. There are existing trade agreements, but they can be quarrelsome and difficult to maneuver.
The Biden administration is seeking solutions to the problems at our border, and we need them to understand that economic expansion can be a powerful tool to achieve that goal. Placing clothing factories in these countries will give Central Americans who would otherwise immigrate to the U.S. greater opportunities to seek economic prosperity and stability at home.
Supporting economic investments in these countries has the potential to bring long-term growth to the Western Hemisphere, allow American manufacturers to reach their full potential, and create an inclusive economy for workers throughout the Americas.
Cesar Chavez is a state representative in Arizona and the vice president for membership at the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators.