This past week, the Bully-In-Chief further divided Americans by ordering Homeland Security to wrench children from the arms of refugees seeking asylum. That such behavior is in violation of international laws and the US Constitution is less important than the fact it is in violation of the norms of human kindness and moral behavior.
It is stunning to me that the administration’s actions are considered controversial. Yet some people I know, some of whom I grew up with – people I know to be loving, caring individuals – support traumatizing children in order to deter immigration. I can only assume they don’t understand what led to the refugees seeking asylum and our nation’s role in helping to create their misery.
So, here’s a primer in the geopolitics of US immigration.
First, nearly half of the undocumented immigrants in our country did not cross our borders illegally. They came to the US on visas and overstayed their visas. No wall would have blocked them.
Second, most of the immigrants crossing our southern border are from three Central American nations – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – not, as Trump suggests, Mexico. To understand why, you need to look back to the 1800s when three US corporations controlled the land, transportation, and banana production in these countries. They also controlled their governments, installing puppets to ensure control of cheap labor.
Such arrangements were good for the corporations and the US. Not so good for the people of these so-called Banana Republics.
US political meddling continued through the 1980s when the Reagan administration offered arms and training to the Central American governments in order to put down rebellion. The Reagan support included the sale of arms to Iran in order to surreptitiously obtain funds to support government death squads (see Iran-Contra scandal). That led to a wave of refugees into the US. In Los Angeles, the Salvadoran refugees were bullied by gangs leading some Salvadorans to create the MS-13 gang. When MS-13 gang members were inevitably arrested and imprisoned, they became more violent. And, when we eventually released and deported them, we effectively exported their violence.
It is the violence created by MS-13 gang members in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, that has displaced Central Americans – mostly women and children – forcing them to seek asylum in the US.
Third, US policies have created crushing poverty in Central America. Corn production was an important part of their economies. But, after the implementation of CAFTA, US grain companies dumped large quantities of corn into Central America at prices that made it impossible for small, Central American farmers to compete. That inevitably forced them into bankruptcy and into the cities looking for jobs. The resulting poverty has been crushing.
Fourth, when the refugees arrived at our ports of entry to apply for asylum, they were forced to wait in long lines for days all the while trying to tend to their children. Some, having grown impatient, crossed the border elsewhere and turned themselves in to authorities. These are the people who were detained and had their children – some only a few months old – ripped from their arms.
They are not criminals, murders and rapists. They are not MS-13 gang members. They are desperate people – mothers, fathers and children. They are not just seeking a better life. They have left behind what little they had and came here hoping to survive. And, if we send them back, they are very likely to die.
Such treatment is not Republican, Democrat, American or Christian. It’s not even human.