Scapegoating immigrants

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Joel Dyer

Recently the Houston Chief of Police Art Acevedo shared a newspaper article on Twitter about an 11-year-old migrant girl from El Salvador who was being deported from the U.S. without her family. He remarked:

“Yep. The Nazis enforced their laws as well. You don’t separate children from their families! Ever! You’d have to kill me to take my child from me simply because I was trying to get them to a better place for a better tomorrow. I am glad to be on the right side of history.”

It’s going to be exhausting. Trump will continue to throw temper tantrums about Latino immigrants and asylum seekers. The blizzard of bullshit will be unending. The 2020 presidential race might be the dirtiest in U.S. history.

Trump is stirring up hysteria to hide his plutocratic policies. He claims to protect us from hoodlums while he dismantles protections for consumers, workers and oxygen-breathers.

However, it is true that more people are showing up at the border. But they are moms and kids, not MS-13 gang members. Vox reporter Dara Lind says the situation is complex:

“The total number of people coming into the U.S. without papers is still lower than it was for most of the 20th century, and substantially lower than its turn-of-the-century peak.

“The total number of people coming into the U.S. without papers is now higher than it’s been since early 2007 — before the Great Recession — with February and March 2019 levels exceeding the child migrant crisis of 2014.

 “The number of people coming into the U.S. without papers who can’t simply be detained and deported — children, families and asylum-seekers — is almost certainly unprecedented.”

In a recent op-ed in the Washington Post, former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Doris Meissner said the U.S. border enforcement system was designed to stop single individuals (mostly Mexican young men) from illegally crossing the border to find work. But unauthorized immigration from Mexico has been way down for almost two decades. For at least five years there’s been an increasing number of family groups from Central America openly turning themselves in at the border. They are following the rules and seeking asylum under international and U.S. law. They are entitled to ask for asylum before an immigration judge. They are escaping social disintegration and gang violence as well as the breakdown of government and law-enforcement to address those problems.

In 2014, the Obama administration responded to a surge of migrant families arriving at the border with hard-line tactics similar to Trump. After being blocked by federal courts, Obama shifted tactics and began to treat the situation more as a humanitarian crisis. For example, Obama created the Central American Minors (CAM) program that enabled young people with strong claims for refugee status to apply in their home countries rather than embark on a dangerous journey to the U.S. border. Five days after he became president, Trump ended the CAM program.

It is encouraging that most Americans don’t care for Trump’s wall, are favorable to the DACA kids and don’t like the separation of immigrant children from their families. However, a large majority of Americans support more restrictive immigration laws.

Trump’s hard-line approach may help him win re-election. The Republicans have decades of practice in sowing fear and anxiety about The Other. They have the echo chamber of Fox News. Trump has nasty but simple answers. Moreover, Democrats don’t offer a coherent alternative.

For a broader perspective, we need to look at what happened to people in Central America before they arrived in the United States. We will find that the U.S. government and business played a significant role in the inequality and instability of the Central American countries. Jeff Faux, distinguished fellow at the Economic Policy Institute, writes in The Nation:

“Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are de facto U.S. colonies, places where oligarchs have long exploited their people in partnership with American capital. They are suffering the aftereffects of brutal civil wars stoked by Washington’s paranoia toward leftist political movements. The region has also become a major route for the shipment of drugs from South America to the United States. Attracted by the enormous profits, oligarchs have collaborated with narcotraffickers and other criminal gangs that terrorize citizens through robbery, extortion, rape and murder.”

Faux proposes a variety of changes that progressive Democrats can champion, such as insisting that any foreign aid come with “a policy of zero tolerance for corruption and oppression” and demanding that the U.S. national security apparatus “cleanse itself of its unhealthy relationship with Central American militaries.”

Mexico’s newly elected left-wing president, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, has proposed a big, ambitious Mexican Green New Deal for social and economic development, which will create jobs for young people who are tempted to migrate to the United States. Despite his criticisms of U.S. intervention in Latin America, he wants to help create a joint U.S.-Mexican Marshall Plan for Central America.

There is hope if we can defeat Trumpism and elect progressives and democratic socialists in 2020.  

this opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.