House Republicans want to ensure that the $3.7 billion package that is being requested by President Obama to deal with the border crisis is focused on border security measures and does not end up being a blank check that can be spent on anything from daycare for recently arrived illegal minors to the construction of lavish detention centers where the minors would be cared for before being placed with their supposed families in the US. Their counter proposal could theorectically be married with the original legislation that was supposed to deal with sex-trafficking of minors, and ended up having, as they say, unintended consequences. Will the House and Obama be able to agree on some sort of package?

A study by MacGillivray and Smith at NYU on agent-specific punishments examines how conditional punishment strategies make cooperation between states possible. In other words, if America conditions its punishment of a rougue state on that state removing its leader, it incentivizes the rouge state to replace its leader and change its policies. It depends on the long-term gains of cooperating outweighing the short-term benefits of exploiting the partner, i.e. America. The problem with the border crisis is how to decide who is the agent that you should direct your punishment against. Is it the government of Mexico, or El Salvador, or Guatemala, or Honduras? Is it the smugglers, of people, drugs, or weapons, that work the southern border? Or is the agent, if you are a member of the House majority, the administration and its various departments?

To expect cooperation from Mexico or any Central American state on controlling illegal immigration is a non-starter. They conveniently define away illegal immigration as undocumented workers and they tout the rights they should have. That leaves two possible agents: the smugglers, or the administration itself. In this case, maybe House Republicans are already following a conditional-punishment strategy on both levels. Beefing up border security means getting serious with the coyotes that run people, narcotics, and weapons over the border. Withholding approval of the emergency package means letting Obama know that the House wants to be sure the money will be spent on things that solve the crisis and don’t encourage further illegal minors to try their luck at the border. The House should use it’s financial levers to ensure this package helps and does not make things worse. If that involves sending clear messages about consequences to the White House, all the better.

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