EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Oscar Chacon has been working with immigrant communities in the United States for the past 24 years. What he has to say about the 2 million-plus people who have come into the country between ports of entry in the past year may surprise the average American, he says.

“By far, people in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Haiti – despite how messed up their countries happen to be – would much rather stay in their country. Indeed, most do stay in their country,” the co-founder and executive director of Chicago-based Alianza America said.

That’s because it’s human nature to love your homeland, your culture and to stick to your routine. If some opt to make a perilous and expensive journey to the U.S., it’s because their world has collapsed, Chacon said.

Oscar Cantu

“The reason most flee is they’re forced to do so,” he said. “Economic and political rights are constantly violated in these countries, which make people make the painful decision to leave. The majority love their country and want to stay there.”

The point he made this week at an online roundtable of Border Network for Human Rights is the U.S. government needs to invest in education and health in “migrant-expelling” countries, refuse to work with corrupt regional politicians and tell American companies to offer good-paying jobs and let workers unionize if they’re going to operate there.

“What we need more than anything is a new policy approach, a new set of actions and a new set of partners. That is also part of problem: Not only do we have the wrong policies, but we’ve also been partnering with the wrong people,” Chacon said, referring, for instance, to former Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez, now accused of criminal offenses including drug trafficking.

The activist also said Vice President Harris’ job of making a dent on the root causes of migration leaves much to be desired.

“She has basically recruited a few large corporations to promise to invest ($1.5 billion) over 10 years, which is frankly a drop in the bucket,” he said. “Migrants in the U.S. sent $6.2 billion (in remittances) in a single year. The extent of the challenge is much bigger than what the United States has put forward in policy initiatives so far.”

Chacon also alleged that some of the companies Harris has recruited “are actually part of the problem.” He said the jobs they’re creating are low-paying and that they don’t allow workers to join independent labor unions.

El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz

El Paso Catholic Diocese Bishop Mark J. Seitz concurs that the solution to irregular migration flows lies beyond the border.

“The border is not really the issue. It’s what is sending people from the homes that they love, leaving everything that they know to come to the border,” Seitz said.

Seitz agreed that current government efforts will not be enough to solve the challenge. He likened them to a car owner intent on fixing the tires of an old car whose motor has fallen off.

“We’re left right now with an inhuman, unjust and contradictory system that doesn’t lend itself to a healthy nation nor respect for the dignity of people who are seeking to cross,” the bishop said. “Nations certainly have a right to control their border, but also have to make it possible for people to cross for a number of reasons beneficial to the receiving nation and to the individual or family that is seeking assistance.”

Other roundtable participants called for the restoration of asylum at ports of entry, the creation of welcome centers for migrants instead of detention centers, the passage in Congress of an immigration reform law – Democrats and Republicans are supporting competing initiatives – and to stop “GOP extremists” from portraying migrants as criminals and the border like a war zone.