Circumstances at the southern border illustrate both America’s greatness and its failings. The promise of this nation’s prosperity is what is drawing desperately poor immigrants from Central America.

“If you work in the U.S., you get paid $12 an hour for eight hours. That’s $96 a day. Here you make 40 quetzales ($5.30) a day when there is work. Not enough to live,” Harim Estrada, a Guatemalan teacher, said in a Wall Street Journal story Monday.

The article reported that 12 percent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product — more than $9 billion — comes from payments sent back home from workers in the U.S. The homes of foreign workers are instantly recognizable for their superiority over the adobe shacks of domestic laborers.

It should be noted that these are migrants with little education, language handicaps and an illegal status that precludes them from many jobs. Yet they make enough doing menial labor in this nation to both support themselves well and their families back home.

When Democratic presidential candidates rail about the need for a living wage, they should look to the lives of Guatemalan immigrants to show that even the poorest people with the fewest resources in America are far richer than most other people in the world.

While the border situation illustrates the great wealth of America, it also highlights one of this nation’s most vexing problems: the inability of the federal government to do just about anything without getting swallowed alive by unintended consequences.

The current illegal immigration problem is almost entirely self-inflicted by dumb American border policy. Here’s the story, as the Wall Street Journal article laid it out:

In 2008 the U.S. passed a law aimed to protect unaccompanied minors from staying for long stretches in official custody or being deported. The goal was to release them quickly to relatives in the United States.

Predictably, by about 2014 waves of children and teenagers traveling alone began crossing the border to their promised land.

So the Obama administration began holding immigrants at detention centers, but in July 2015 U.S. District Judge Dolly Gee found that the law applied not just to unaccompanied minors but also to families with children.

Can you guess what happened next?

Hundreds of thousands of Central American families began streaming across the border. The number of people apprehended in family groups on the U.S./Mexico border increased from 39,838 in fiscal year 2015 to 390,000 so far this fiscal year with three months yet to go.

Unlike earlier generations of illegal immigrants who tried to swim the Rio Grande, scale barriers and avoid border patrol agents, they simply walk up to a checkpoint and bogusly claim they’re seeking asylum from persecution. They’re taken to a detention center and must be released within two weeks pending their court case. It often takes years for that to happen, and they can disappear in the meantime.

Congress should close that loophole. Showing that backbone would greatly decrease the size of the migrant caravans from Central America if they knew they couldn’t game the system to get into America and decrease pressure on the detention centers and immigration courts.

But don’t look for the hysterics in Washington to allow for a common-sense solution like that anytime soon.

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