We’ve been paying extravagant attention and money to the wrong hemisphere, to the one that includes Iraq and Afghanistan, while ignoring the one that really matters: Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. The payoff is desperate, frightened people fleeing northward for dreams of security in the U.S.

We have a refugee crisis because, in part, we ignore problems close to home. Our news media blank out Latin America. Now, when the media show ICE separating terrified toddlers from their asylum-seeking parents, we are morally and ethically unprepared. Despite Sessions’ Scriptural guidance.

ICE’s well-publicized icy cruelty is deliberate, to deter would-be border-crossers, but it is blowing back in the Republicans’ face. The photos of frightened kids shock. They boost Democratic chances in November’s midterms. Religious leaders now speak against breaking up families. Some evangelicals rediscover Christianity.

Latin America has never loomed large in American thought (neither has Canada). The 1823 Monroe Doctrine was applied fitfully — just after the Civil War to get the British out of Canada and the French out of Mexico — and seldom extended south of lands touched by the Caribbean.

Culturally, Central America and Mexico (which, geographically, is in North America) were dismissed as unserious countries whose lands and economies were ours for the taking. The Southwest clearly belonged to us in the 1846-48 war with Mexico. American filibusteros took over tiny republics for profit in the 19th century. Washington invented Panama by breaking it away from Colombia in 1903 for our canal. Fighting communism, the postwar U.S. intervened in a dozen countries to our south, seldom to good effect.

To be sure, much of the fault rests with the domestic structures of these countries. Some are owned by a few rich families who perpetuate feudal plantation systems that stunt the economy. The Mexican Revolution evolved into a corrupt socialism that likewise throttled economic growth. Latin American leftists denounce all this as U.S. capitalism, but these countries were until recently pre-capitalist.

While economies lagged, populations soared and jobs grew scarce. For generations, Mexicans streamed north. Restrictions on paper went unenforced, especially during the labor shortages of World War II, when many Mexicans served in our armed forces.

Now in several lands unemployed youths form violent gangs that live off extortion and the drugs that feed the U.S. market. Life can indeed be nasty, brutish and short. President Trump is correct that MS-13 are murderous “animals,” but his policy pushes asylum-seekers back into their hands in Central America. Curiously, MS-13 originated in Los Angeles; then, when its members were expelled southward, they regrouped.

Many American businesses could not operate without Mexican and Central American labor. Now, deprived of it, businesses are starting to lack workers, crops rot in the field and meat is unpacked. Few Americans take hard, dirty, low-paid jobs. Expelling the undocumented harms the economy, as even some Trump supporters are starting to notice.

Desperate migrants are a world problem, not just an American one. In a way, it’s comforting to learn that we are no worse than Europe, Australia or South Africa, all of which block and/or expel undocumented entrants.

Repeating that Mexico will pay for a Wall thrills Trump supporters but insults Mexico, whose July 1 election revives anti-yanquismo and boosts leftist-nationalist Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), head of the new National Regeneration Movement. If Mexico is a problem now, wait until AMLO takes office. Seen much media coverage of Mexico’s presidential election? We’ll pay attention when it’s too late.

What can be done? A wall would be terribly expensive and do little good. We shovel trillions into endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where much of it is stolen by local officials and produces neither economic growth nor political stability. For a fraction of this, we could develop Central America and stem the emigration wave.

First, no law requires America to purchase its clothing, footwear and electronics mostly from Asia. Already some Central American labels are starting to appear in U.S. stores. Mexico is the world’s biggest producer of widescreen TVs. Ending NAFTA would ruin this, boost American consumer prices and push Mexico to find other trade partners across both oceans. Since the Trump administration loves tariffs, use them smartly to favor hemispheric trading partners.

Next, U.S. law-enforcement assistance and funding could combat Central American gangs more effectively than it has Afghan, Iraqi and Syrian jihadists, and for a tiny fraction of the cost.

Remittances — earnings immigrants send back home — are better than foreign aid. They can’t be skimmed by corrupt officials but go straight to families, who use them effectively. Make remittances secure (e.g., direct deposit to banks). Central Americans and Mexicans currently in the U.S. — documented or not — are key: no immigrants, no remittances. Mass expulsion chokes off this naturally occurring economic-growth mechanism.

Finally and most importantly, pivoting to the Caribbean basin might break our decades-long fixation with the Persian Gulf, enabling Washington to decline the next war there.