Immigration Problems Will Only Get Worse

Americans should not fail to recognize the inevitable: the immigration problem will only get worse. The current crisis with Haitians flooding the Texas border isn’t an isolated event. Haitians (and Hondurans and Salvadorans and Guatemalans, Vietnamese and Jews, etc.) have been seeking asylum in the United States for decades. The irony is that Europeans invaded a populated continent in the 15th and 16th centuries in order to gain shelter from abuses and to gain better livelihood. We are those Europeans…and all who have come since.

“Of the roughly 1.8 million Haitians living outside their homeland, the United States is home to the most, about 705,000. Significant numbers of people from the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country also have settled in Latin American countries like Chile, where an estimated 69,000 Haitian immigrants reside, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

“Nearly all Haitians reach the U.S. on a well-worn route: Fly to Brazil, Chile or elsewhere in South America. If jobs dry up, slowly move through Central America and Mexico by bus and on foot to wait — perhaps years — in northern border cities like Tijuana for the right time to enter the United States and claim asylum…

“Many Haitians began attempting to enter the U.S. in the 1980s by sea. Most of them were cut off by the Coast Guard and perhaps given a cursory screening for asylum eligibility, said David FitzGerald, a sociology professor at the University of California, San Diego and an asylum expert. In 1994, U.S. authorities reached an agreement with Jamaica to anchor ships off its coast to hold shipboard hearings for Haitians intercepted on boats. Attempts by sea waned after a Supreme Court decision allowing forced repatriations without refugee protections.”[1]

Illegal immigration from Haiti has plagued multiple presidencies. After the devastating earthquake in 2010, Haitians first flocked to Brazil to jobs in support of the 2016 Olympics. When those jobs dried up, President Obama at first allowed some to enter the U.S. on humanitarian grounds, but soon began flying them back to Haiti. Trump’s solution was widely panned for its inhumanity, and now Biden faces even bigger numbers of determined illegal immigrants due to the recent assassination of the Haitian president and ensuing political chaos, exacerbated by yet another massive earthquake.

Under Biden, the United States has pledged more than $32 million in aid to Haiti in addition to the disbursement of more than 160,000 pounds of food aid, construction of field hospitals and temporary shelters, and has flown more than 400 injured Haitians to medical attention in Port-au-Prince and elsewhere. But U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) administrator Stephanie Power remarked that the United Nations estimates a total need of over $187 million. All this follows a similar aid effort after the 2010 earthquake of over two billion which still reverberates through USAID and the Red Cross, among others.

2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found the USAID efforts were hampered by ”lack of staff with relevant expertise, unrealistic initial plans, challenges encountered with some implementing partners, and delayed or revised decisions from the Haitian government.”[2]

“The Red Cross says it has provided homes to more than 130,000 people, but the number of permanent homes the charity has built is six. NPR and ProPublica went in search of the nearly $500 million [donated for this cause] and found a string of poorly managed projects, questionable spending and dubious claims of success, according to a review of hundreds of pages of the charity’s internal documents and emails, as well as interviews with a dozen current and former officials.”[3]

Haiti is not the only neighboring nation subject to earthquake and devastating hurricanes. In the coming decades as sea levels rise and incidence of violent weather increases, human populations will suffer more such hardships. All the Caribbean islands as well as coastal cities including our own will face the destruction of storm surges, hurricanes, and other flooding.

Of course our first reaction to news reports showing border patrol officers on horseback charging at desperate refugees is sympathy for the refugee and disgust with the officers’ tactics. But we need to ask ourselves, honestly, what are the options?

Already we have spent billions of taxpayer dollars in an effort to rebuild Haiti so that its people can remain and thrive in their homeland. But isn’t this a repeat of similarly futile efforts in areas of the United States where massive flooding occurs yet when the water recedes, we provide money to rebuild in the same flood-prone locations?

Current crisis at Del Rio, Texas.

We have just witnessed influx of over 70,000 refugees from Afghanistan as the extremist Taliban takes charge of that country.  The need to accommodate refugees on our lands is not limited to neighboring countries like Haiti. We’ve seen the steady push of Syrian refugees into Europe, of Palestinians, of Colombians… As of 2020, 82.4 million people worldwide were forcibly displaced as a result of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations or events seriously disturbing public order. Of these, nearly 26.4 million are refugees, around half of whom are under the age of 18.[4]

Lest we in the United States shed a tear for all our sacrifices, readers should be aware that the U.S. falls far short of addressing the global refugee crisis compared to other nations. The following report by the Norwegian Refugee Council reveals the big picture. In order of the most refugees per a nation’s population, here are the heavy lifters:

1. Lebanon – 19.5 per cent of the total population

Lebanon, with a population of 6.8 million, is currently hosting an estimated 1.5 million refugees from Syria. The real number is probably even higher because the national authorities demanded that the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) stop the registration of new refugees in 2015. In addition, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees live in the country.

Lebanon itself has been ravaged by a civil war that lasted from 1975 until 1990. It is a densely populated country with a fragile political balance between different ethnic and religious groups.

In 2019 and 2020, the situation has gone from bad to worse, with large-scale popular protests eventually leading to the Prime Minister’s resignation. Unemployment is sky-high and the country’s currency has dropped in value by 85 per cent, meaning much of the population is no longer able to afford the necessities of survival. Recent surveys put more than 50 per cent of the population below the poverty line. For Syrian refugees, the figure is even higher, with 83 per cent living below the extreme poverty line.

On top of an already difficult situation came the Covid-19 pandemic and the Beirut explosion, which killed more than 200 people, wounded more than 6,000 and displaced around 300,000. Lebanon now has an urgent need for the rest of the world to step up and help the country that has taken the greatest responsibility for helping displaced people.

2. Jordan – 10.5 per cent

Jordan has received over one million refugees in the last ten years. The vast majority were fleeing neighbouring Syria. While a comparatively small number have since decided to return to Syria or have been able to resettle in other countries, there are still more than 660,000 Syrian refugees registered with the UN refugee agency living in Jordan today.

Over 80 per cent of Syrian refugees in Jordan live in urban centers where they face the challenge of finding sustainable work and affordable housing. Competition for limited employment opportunities can lead to tensions with the local population. The remaining 20 per cent of Syrian refugees live in one of two refugee camps, established by the Jordanian authorities for Syrian refugees and managed by the UN refugee agency.

Jordan also houses 2.3 million Palestinian refugees. These are people who fled or were expelled from their country during the 1947-49 Palestine war and the Six Day War in 1967, and their descendants.

3. Nauru – 5.9 per cent

This small island state has received boat refugees who were trying to get to Australia when Australian authorities refused to accept them. The UN refugee agency has been highly critical of the agreement Australia has made with Nauru and other countries and is concerned about the reprehensible conditions the refugees live under. Australia has now agreed to stop sending refugees to Nauru.

4. Turkey – 5.0 per cent

Turkey has received more refugees than any other country since 2011 – as many as 4.3 million. Turkey is a large and populous country and is better equipped to handle the challenge than, for example, Lebanon. Nevertheless, it is challenging to provide protection to such a large number of people within a few short years. Turkey signed an agreement with the European Union (EU) in 2016 that prevents refugees from moving on to Europe. This has had serious consequences for both the refugees who have made it to Greece and those who remain in Turkey.

5. Liberia – 4.1 per cent

Liberia is another country that has shown great hospitality to displaced people. It has received 212,000 refugees, even while the country itself was in a difficult situation. Liberia went through a long and bloody civil war just a few years before it opened its doors to refugees from the Ivory Coast. It was also hit hard by Ebola, which meant that refugees from the neighbouring country could not return home as quickly as the UN refugee agency had planned.

6. Uganda – 3.7 per cent

Uganda has received 1.7 million refugees over the last ten years and is one of the largest recipients of refugees in the world. In recent years, Uganda has provided protection to people from DR Congo and South Sudan in particular, but the country has also received refugees from Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and several other countries. Uganda is a pioneer in integrating refugees and giving them full rights.

7. Malta – 2.7 per cent

Malta is the Western country that has received the most refugees relative to its population. The country is located near the coast of North Africa and receives many refugees and migrants trying to reach Europe from Libya. The pressure has become even greater since Italy has made it almost impossible for rescue vessels to dock at its own ports.

8. Sudan – 2.6 per cent

With over one million refugees since 2010, Sudan is the fifth largest recipient country in absolute numbers. Most have fled the conflict in neighboring South Sudan. Sudan is also a key transit country for refugees from Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, among others, who are trying to flee to Europe.

9. Sweden – 2.6 per cent

Sweden has long had the most generous refugee policy in Europe and, unlike many other countries, has actively welcomed refugees. But the large influx of refugees to Europe in 2015, where many European countries were unwilling to share the responsibility, led the government to introduce a temporary law that limited the rights of refugees to a minimum of what the country has committed itself to through international conventions. Despite this, Sweden still received far more refugees than most European countries.

10. South Sudan – 2.5 per cent

Although South Sudan is better known for its own displaced population, it is also home to more than 300,000 refugees from neighbouring countries. Most are refugees from Sudan who fled conflict in the border states of South Kordofan and Blue Nile in the years after South Sudan gained its independence in 2011.

In addition to these ten countries that have received the most refugees relative to their population, there are certain populous countries that have received a large number of refugees during this period and have contributed positively to giving many people a secure future.

The most important of these countries are:

Germany – 1,265,000 refugees (1.5% of the total population)

Ethiopia – 943,000 (0.8%)

United States – 773,000 (0.23%)

Bangladesh – 675,000 (0.4%)

Kenya – 394,000 (0.7%)

Russia – 453,000 (0.3%)

Cameroon – 416,000 (1.5%)[5]

~~~

Clearly these various concentrations of refugees result from the recipient nations’ proximity to those in crisis. Just as Haitians find the United States near enough to gain access to our borders, so do populations in the Middle East seek safety in nearby places. Yet the numbers alone should help us in the U.S. consider the big picture of what likely lies ahead not only for us, but for the rest of the world.

Nations in political crisis have no leadership or organizational capability to handle emergencies like floods, earthquakes, or war. Just as wars in the Middle East will likely not end anytime soon, and thus refugees in that region will continue to seek safety and the means of livelihood, so will environmental and political crises continue to send waves of refugees to American borders.

Americans need to unify behind some clear-cut policy.

  • Do we allow refugees to enter the country illegally? If not, what is the answer to situations like the current influx of Haitians? Aside from a fence, which has already been considered, tried, and seen to fail, what possible barrier can we construct to force refugees to abide by our policies?
  • Border patrol agents are duty bound to stop people from swarming into the U.S. illegally. Is it unreasonable for them to chase down people trying to evade our laws? It seems clear that anyone trying to enter the country illegally already knows they are breaking the law. That does not bode well for their actions and attitude once in our communities.
  • We have rules, specific steps a person must take to apply for asylum before entering the U.S. Are we to ignore those rules?  
  • How much money should we spend to improve conditions in places like Haiti?
  • How much should the U.S. or the UN interfere in places like Haiti where the government has more or less collapsed following the assassination of their president? Do we or the UN force a government model and de facto leaders in such situations? The U.S. has a dark history of interfering in the governments of other countries, most notably in efforts to displace so-called socialist or communist regimes, which in turn has contributed to their political instability. How would our interference now be any different?
  • What is the alternative?

Each of us needs to consider these questions and understand our responsibilities to communicate with our elected representatives as they grapple with this problem.

TOPSHOT – Newly sworn in US citizens celebrate and wave US flags during a naturalization ceremony at the Lowell Auditorium, where 633 immigrants became US citizens on January 22, 2019 in Lowell, Massachusetts. (Photo by Joseph PREZIOSO / AFP)JOSEPH PREZIOSO/AFP/Getty Images

[1] https://apnews.com/article/technology-mexico-texas-caribbean-united-states-ac7f598bafd44b3f95b786d2d800f3ce

[2] https://www.npr.org/2021/08/26/1031496730/the-u-s-is-pledging-aid-to-haiti-but-the-success-of-past-efforts-has-been-mixed

[3] https://www.npr.org/2015/06/03/411524156/in-search-of-the-red-cross-500-million-in-haiti-relief

[4] https://www.unhcr.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

[5] https://www.nrc.no/perspectives/2020/the-10-countries-that-receive-the-most-refugees/

Our Job as Citizens

As a nation operating under the concept of self-rule, we the people have to talk coherently about the issues. Mass shootings doesn’t solve our problems, but rather exemplifies our current failures as citizens. How did we get to this point?

Does the 2nd Amendment really grant the right to assault rifles and 100-round ammo clips? No, it does not. Nor do gun hoarders constitute a “well regulated militia.”

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

How did we not understand that waging a drug war against our own people would embed domestic violence in our society? Did we learn nothing from alcohol prohibition when, for fifteen years, underworld gangs selling illegal alcohol used their wealth to purchase weapons and political protection? How could Reagan and Congress think it was a good idea for “surplus” military weapons and equipment to be sold to our city police forces and used in commando tactics within our neighborhoods? How could we not see the horrible outcome of spending more money on prisons than education?

We have to talk about immigration—what will stop the mass migration of people to our borders? For over a century, our corporations have been aided and abetted by our military to plunder Latin America for its natural resources and cheap labor. We have blood on our hands in the same tradition as Spain for its 300-year devastating occupation of the same lands. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest more heavily in helping solve problems in these countries so the people don’t have to leave home in order to have an economic future free from violence? What kind of future are we creating for ourselves by destroying Latino families and traumatizing innocent children?

We have to talk about climate change. How can anyone still believe this is fake news? Are there truly so many people who don’t grasp the science of this issue that our entire nation’s public policy can get away with denying climate change exists? What happens when water supplies dry up, crops die on the ground, and there isn’t enough food?

The impacts of climate change will increasingly affect the daily lives of people everywhere in terms of employment and livelihoods, health, housing, water, food security and nutrition, and the realization of gender equality and other human rights. Impacts are expected to hit those living in poverty the hardest, partly due to their more prevalent dependency on the very natural resources affected by climate change and also because they have less capacity to protect themselves, adapt or recuperate losses.

New York Times: A Quarter of Humanity Faces Looming Water Crises By Somini Sengupta and Weiyi Cai Aug. 6, 2019

We have to talk about population—we can’t continue blindly producing more people who need food, jobs, and a place to live when all of those resources are simultaneously shrinking.

In 1950 there were 2.5 billion people on the planet. Now in 2019, there are 7.7 billion. By the end of the century the UN expects a global population of 11.2 billion.

In 2015, there were approximately 141 million births. In the same year, around 57 million people died. It’s clear why the global population is increasing: there are many more births each year than there are deaths. Around 2.5 times as many.

If we think we have an immigration problem now, just wait.

Each of us bears a responsibility to learn the facts on these and any other issues facing us as individuals, communities, and as a nation, engage in discussion with others with the goal of finding common ground, and then participate in the implementation of solutions through community action and voting.

We Can’t Hide Behind a Wall

The New York Times — Central American migrants looked through the fence as a Border Patrol agent stood guard near the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

We are responsible for the chaos south of our border. The Mexico tariff plan underway by the Stable Genius and his minions promises to make the refugee/immigration situation far worse. Now not only will the people of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala be forced to flee their countries, but also the people of Mexico. If we thought the immigration ‘crisis’ was bad before, just wait.

Obviously Trump knows nothing of Central American history. He’s apparently incapable of thinking past his juvenile impulse to hit anything he doesn’t like. Now it’s up to Jared Kushner to meet with Mexican ambassadors to work out a plan that, in Trump’s view, would make Mexico responsible for stopping refugees from arriving at our southern border.

Jared Kushner is left to perform many duties for his father-in-law, not the least is to help craft a working relationship between Israel and Palestine. The qualifications for this 38-year-old’s work on behalf of the United States is that he grew up rich, is a Jew, and has experience in real estate. And he’s married to Trump’s daughter who is apparently the only person who can successful manage the Orange Toddler.

Kushner’s resume? “As a result of his father’s conviction for fraud and incarceration, he [Kushner] took over management of his father’s real estate company Kushner Companies, which launched his business career. He later also bought Observer Media, publisher of the New York Observer. He is the co-founder and part owner of Cadre, an online real-estate investment platform.[1]

In other words, Kushner has zero qualifications for his important role in foreign relations. Nor has he been vetted by Congress.

What we absolutely must recognize is that the situation at our southern border is entirely the result of our actions in those countries. Since the 19th century, we have intentionally worked to destabilize their governments in order to profit off their resources.

Guatemala was once the center of a sprawling Mayan empire. Then the Spanish came and destroyed their culture, stole their wealth, and enslaved the people. When the Spanish left,

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala experienced chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubicowas overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. A U.S.-backed military coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the US-backed government and leftist rebels, including genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetrated by the military. Since a United Nations-negotiated peace accord, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability.[2]

In El Salvador, corporate agriculture took over the arable land to grow coffee. Peasants were left with few options for sustaining their families. Land reform efforts were brutally repressed with the support of the United States.

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups.[3]

The fully-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.[24] An unknown number of people disappeared while the UN reports that the war killed more than 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992… 

The United States contributed to the conflict by providing military aid of $1–2 million per day to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The Salvadoran government was considered “friendly” and allies by the U.S. in the context of the Cold War. By May 1983, US officers took over positions in the top levels of the Salvadoran military, were making critical decisions and running the war.[4]

In Honduras, the third Central American source of refugees seeking asylum in the United States, Spanish invasion was followed by enslavement and occupation of cropland. The U.S. took over where the Spanish left off.

In the late nineteenth century, Honduras granted land and substantial exemptions to several US-based fruit and infrastructure companies in return for developing the country’s northern regions. Thousands of workers came to the north coast as a result to work in banana plantations and other businesses that grew up around the export industry. Banana-exporting companies, dominated until 1930 by the Cuyamel Fruit Company, as well as the United Fruit Company, and Standard Fruit Company, built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925.

In 1904, the writer O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to describe Honduras, publishing a book called Cabbages and Kings, about a fictional country, Anchuria, inspired by his experiences in Honduras, where he had lived for six months. In The Admiral, O. Henry refers to the nation as a “small maritime banana republic”; naturally, the fruit was the entire basis of its economy. According to a literary analyst writing for The Economist, “his phrase neatly conjures up the image of a tropical, agrarian country. But its real meaning is sharper: it refers to the fruit companies from the United States that came to exert extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors.”

…During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support El Salvador, the Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and also develop an airstrip and modern port in Honduras… The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units…[5]

The United States has substantially contributed not only to economic and political instability in Central America, but also to the proliferation of gang and their brutal impact on the people of these nations. Consider, for example, the gang situation in El Salvador.

The Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, took the lives of approximately 80,000 soldiers and civilians in El Salvador. Throughout the war, nearly half of the country’s population fled from violence and poverty, and children were recruited as soldiers by both the military-run government and the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans relocated to Los Angeles, California. This conflict ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords, but the violence in El Salvador has not stopped since.

Many of those who had relocated to Los Angeles during the war as refugees had gotten involved in gang violence [as victims of existing L.A. gangs]. During this time, the U.S. War on Drugs and anti-immigrant politics had been popularized. Following these sentiments, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was passed, which called for deportation of “immigrants–documented or undocumented–with criminal records at the end of their jail sentences.” Throughout the years following, thousands of Salvadorans had been deported back to El Salvador. Gangs that had originated in Los Angeles, namely Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were spread transnationally through this process.[6]

The gangs learned on the streets of Los Angeles how to intimidate, rob, assault, kidnap for ransom, and murder with impunity. Their ability to run rampant over the native populations of Central America has not been addressed. President Obama understood the history of the situation and issued an official apology for our role in the violence.[7] He crafted a plan that addressed our immigration problem at its source. The plan involved aid to Central America and a program to screen vulnerable children there.

Trump not only reduced the aid, he killed part of the screening program.[8] No wonder that the steady stream of refugees only increases at our southern border. We should also not be surprised when Mexicans start to join that stream if the U.S. implements its tariff plan, putting Mexican jobs at risk. These problems deserve far more thought and understanding than Trump or his son-in-law are capable of providing.  

 

 

 

Reaping What We’ve Sown

On one side of the current migrant crisis we have rabid haters eager to see blood spilled on the border as desperate people try to storm our boundary fences in illegal entry. On the other side we have kind-hearted sympathizers wanting to bring them in, feed them, and let them apply for asylum.

Some news reports say it could take two to four years of processing to verify whether any of these folks deserve asylum. What happens in the meantime, no one knows. Trump wants this to be a warning shot to all of Central Americans — don’t come to the U.S.

What Trump could have done is to send a team to work with these folks when the caravan first crossed into Mexico, giving the U.S .government time to process their claims before they ever neared our southern border. He could have made provisions but instead preferred to incite fear in order to portray himself as some kind of hero.

He could have expanded what other U.S. presidents have done, which is to work within those countries to help those governments get control over violent gangs, build better infrastructure, and enhance job opportunities. Instead, he has threatened to cut programs offering that kind of support, virtually guaranteeing that more people will flee their homelands in search of safety and economic opportunity.

Now we have a situation where all these people can’t possibly be processed fast enough to keep them from starving or spreading disease in ramshackle encampments. As they become more desperate, some will attempt entry. Trump’s solution is to shoot them, which might please his cult of hate, but will remain a blood stain on our nation for the rest of time.

And it won’t solve the problem.

I’m reminded of something my dear friend Virginia said to me back in the early ‘70s. We’d been talking about U.S. foreign policy in Africa and the problem of hunger. Somehow the conversation came around to how many people were starving as Ethiopia and the west African Sahel suffered drought.

“They’re going to come after us someday,” she said.

“What?” I said, thinking there was no way starving people of sub-Saharan Africa were going to swarm our shores.

I couldn’t imagine it. But I’ve remembered her words.

Her premise acknowledged the colonial and imperial mindset of the U.S., the centuries-old tradition of Western European nations who as early as 1500 began raiding less advanced places and looting their wealth. It didn’t matter if the wealth was gold and other precious metals and gems, slaves that could be exploited or sold, or mostly unspoiled land where the Europeans/Americans could commandeer the natives into producing crops of sugar, coffee, tea, bananas, cotton, tobacco, and much more.

In the process of capitalizing on virgin landscapes for timber and crops, Europeans destroyed local traditions, religions, and social structures.  What we’re experiencing now is the fallout. In our rush to grow rich on the wealth of undiscovered lands and defenseless natives, we assumed that the people would either remain subordinate to us and/or that they would assume the traditions, religions, and social structures of the West. Because we were, after all, the ‘most advanced’ societies of the world. Who wouldn’t want to be like us?

Well, it’s now obvious they do want to be like us, but they don’t have 2,000 years of Western Civilization to back up their desires. There is no tradition of capitalism in El Salvador or Ethiopia or anywhere else in these so-called Third World countries. No tradition of schools and literacy, central authority, or democratic institutions predates the invasion of European conquerors. Generally speaking, the conquerors did not see any reason to instill those traditions among those considered useful only to the extent they could work the plantations we built for our benefit, not theirs.

Oh, we might have appeased our consciences with the idea that instilling our values and traditions among these ‘savages’ constituted a beneficent act. We might have believed, as some still do, that without us, they’d still be living in dirt floored huts without any of the advances we enjoy. We ignore the fact that for hundreds and in some cases thousands of years, these natives had gone about the business of life in well-ordered societies with their own spiritual beliefs, hierarchies of governance, and social traditions that served them very well. It was our arrogance to believe that we could impose our culture onto them and expect it to work out.

Here’s just one example of where it’s ended up.

When Donald Trump said [in January 2018] he would end temporary protected status for almost 200,000 Salvadorans, the number of immigrants standing to lose protections under this president approached the 1 million mark. This includes people, like those from El Salvador, that now stand to be deported to countries where their lives could be in danger. El Salvador has one of the world’s highest homicide rates—due in no small part to the policies of the country now trying to expel them.

In the early ‘80s, El Salvador was receiving more such aid than any country except for Egypt and Israel, and the embassy staff was nearly as large as that in New Delhi. For Reagan, El Salvador was the place to draw the line in the sand against communism.

Many Americans would prefer to forget that chapter in American history; those under the age of 40 may not even be aware of it. Salvadorans haven’t forgotten, however. In El Mozote and the surrounding villages of subsistence peasants, forensic experts are still digging up bodies—of women, children, and old men who were murdered by the Salvadoran army during an operation in December 1981. It was one of the worst massacres in Latin American history. But while Trump might smear the country’s image with crude language, today El Salvador has a functioning legal system—more than three decades after the event, 18 former military commanders, including a former minister of defense, are finally on trial for the El Mozote massacre.

The U.S.-fueled war drove tens of thousands of Salvadorans to flee the violence for safety in the United States. In the mid-90s, Clinton allowed their “temporary protected status” to expire. This decision contributed to the gang violence that marks El Salvador today—not long ago, when a day passed without a murder, it was banner news. Thousands of the refugees sent back were young men, who had either deserted from the army or the guerrillas during the war. And when they got back to El Salvador, with little beyond their fighting skills, they formed the nucleus of the gangs. (Citation)

These gangs were shaped by the decade-long civil war that began in 1980. Leftist groups battling the government materialized as gangs when hundreds of thousands of young Salvadorians fled to Los Angeles, California. They formed gangs to protect themselves from other marginalized minority groups in the city. Many members were deported from the U.S. years later and brought the gangs with them back to their home country. (Citation)

An informed and thoughtful president thinking in terms of our nation’s future would have acknowledged our history of exploitation in Latin American. A president determined to “make America great” would have brought in the best and brightest advisors to develop and implement foreign policy that would address the problems forcing people to flee their homelands. Instead, Trump has done nothing to work toward solutions. He evidently can’t be bothered to become informed on the root cause of these migrant caravans.

At the margins of the mainstream discursive stalemate over immigration lies over a century of historical U.S. intervention that politicians and pundits on both sides of the aisle seem determined to silence. Since Theodore Roosevelt in 1904 declared the U.S.’s right to exercise an “international police power” in Latin America, the U.S. has cut deep wounds throughout the region, leaving scars that will last for generations to come. This history of intervention is inextricable from the contemporary Central American crisis of internal and international displacement and migration.

The liberal rhetoric of inclusion and common humanity is insufficient: we must also acknowledge the role that a century of U.S.-backed military coups, corporate plundering, and neoliberal sapping of resources has played in the poverty, instability, and violence that now drives people from Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras toward Mexico and the United States. For decades, U.S. policies of military intervention and economic neoliberalism have undermined democracy and stability in the region, creating vacuums of power in which drug cartels and paramilitary alliances have risen. In the past fifteen years alone, CAFTA-DR — a free trade agreement between the U.S. and five Central American countries as well as the Dominican Republic — has restructured the region’s economy and guaranteed economic dependence on the United States through massive trade imbalances and the influx of American agricultural and industrial goods that weaken domestic industries. Yet there are few connections being drawn between the weakening of Central American rural agricultural economies at the hands of CAFTA and the rise in migration from the region in the years since. In general, the U.S. takes no responsibility for the conditions that drive Central American migrants to the border. (Citation)

So yes, Virginia, you were right. They’re coming after us.

Widely circulated image off tear-gassed migrants trying to gain entry to the U.S., Nov 25, 2018. https://www.express.co.uk/news/world/1050269/migrant-caravan-border-US-news-mexico-tijuana-update-trump-live-2018-pictures-video

 

 

What Do We Do About Immigration?

Immigration at the U.S. southern border from Latin America, especially Central American countries south of Mexico, exploded after Reagan’s ill-conceived intervention in local politics. His decision, heavily influenced by the CIA, provided guns and money to right wing militias in order to prevent legally-elected leftist leaders from reforming the land policies and economies of those nations.

For example, his Iran-Contra deal illegally sold guns to Iran where profits were channeled to finance Central American right wing militias. During that same time period, the CIA allegedly imported cocaine to the U.S. to raise money for the militias. The result was a blood bath of local people who only wanted their land back from multinational corporations and few wealthy despots.[1],[2]

These policies and resulting disruption brought floods of Latin American immigrants to the U.S. as refugees. Groups of El Salvadoran refugees in Los Angeles were subsequently preyed upon by local gangs which resulted in the formation of an El Salvadoran gang to protect the people. That gang became MS-13.

This is but one example of how U.S. foreign policy lies at the heart of our immigration troubles.

In an ideal world:

  • The U. S. President and Congress would agree to appoint a bi-partisan or non-partisan commission of policy experts to develop an entirely new immigration policy with a six-month deadline. This would replace the tangled and incomprehensible patchwork of laws currently on the books. Both the president and Congress would agree beforehand to implement the recommended policies as law within two months of the commission’s conclusion.
  • A separate nonpartisan commission, also with a six-month deadline, would draw up recommendations on foreign policy changes to address root causes of immigration from afflicted countries. U. S. resources currently earmarked for immigration extremes such as housing detainers and/or a ‘wall’ would be diverted to provide aid to those nations for education, U.N. observers over law enforcement and judicial process, and humanitarian aid.
  • Congress would create a 5-member bi-partisan committee to develop FACTS about immigration (pro and con) and mount a public education campaign to dispense those facts to the American people.
  • The president would encourage state and local governments to host forums where citizens could present ideas and concerns about immigration. This input would be channeled to the commission for consideration. This is not so much to expand commission information, although it is that, but mostly to engage the public as a force for proactive change.
  • During the commission’s study period, the president would direct an immediate suspension of I.C.E. activities regarding current U.S. residents who may be undocumented.

Sadly, there’s not currently a president or Congress capable of such action.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Contra_affair

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CIA_involvement_in_Contra_cocaine_trafficking

such action.

We Have Met the Enemy and he is us

What’s missing from the debate about our borders? The reason why.

People don’t just pick up and leave their ancestral homes and extended families without a good reason. In so doing, they face a dangerous and expensive journey in search of a new home. Yet despite the risks and hardship, these folks feel they have no choice.

What we hear is news about brown-skinned folks mobbing our borders, crossing rivers and sneaking into the promised land. We see them standing in lines, tear-stained kids’ faces, our media swamped with shouting heads about illegal immigration. Build a wall! Trump yells.

What does any of that do to solve the problem?

Nothing.

The problem is ours. It is we who have caused this, maybe not us individually, but us as part of a Western culture’s willingness to overrun and exploit anyone weaker than us in order to enrich ourselves.

As reported on the PBS Newshour last night,[1] most of the current surge of immigration comes from three nations: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. These are collectively among the most violent, poverty-stricken areas of the Americas. To fully understand the terrible state of affairs in these countries, one must go back several centuries to the Spanish conquest when everything of value was stolen from the people. Since then, land ownership by rich plantation owners and all-powerful foreign corporations has removed people from their traditional way of life and left them with nothing but poorly paid jobs, if that.

The role of the United States intensified during the 20th century as socialist ideals filtered into Latin America. People embraced the idea of taking back the land from foreign interests and the wealthy power brokers in their country. The U.S. took an active albeit secretive role in destroying such efforts, as described in an article in the May 2016 issue of The Nation:[2]

…the active role Washington played in the “dirty war” in El Salvador in the 1980s, which pitted a right-wing government against Marxist guerrillas. The United States sent military advisers to help the Salvadoran military fight its dirty war, as well as hundreds of millions of dollars in economic and military aid.

The United States went well beyond remaining largely silent in the face of human-rights abuses in El Salvador. The State Department and White House often sought to cover up the brutality, to protect the perpetrators of even the most heinous crimes.

In March of 1980, the much beloved and respected Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo Romero was murdered. A voice for the poor and repressed, Romero, in his final Sunday sermon, had issued a plea to the country’s military junta that rings through the ages: “In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.”  The next day, he was cut down by a single bullet while he was saying a private mass…

Eight months after the assassination, a military informant gave the US embassy in El Salvador evidence that it had been plotted by Roberto D’Aubuisson, a charismatic and notorious right-wing leader. D’Aubuisson had presided over a meeting in which soldiers drew lots for the right to kill the archbishop, the informant said. While any number of right-wing death squads might have wanted to kill Romero, only a few, like D’Aubuisson’s, were “fanatical and daring” enough to actually do it, the CIA concluded in a report for the White House.

Yet, D’Aubuisson continued to be welcomed at the US embassy in El Salvador, and when Elliott Abrams, the State Department’s point man on Central America during the Reagan administration, testified before Congress, he said he would not consider D’Aubuisson an extremist. “You would have to be engaged in murder,” Abrams said, before he would call him an extremist.

But D’Aubuisson was engaged in murder, and Washington knew it. (He died of throat cancer in 1992, at the age of 48. Abrams was convicted in 1991 of misleading Congress about the shipment of arms to the anti-Sandinista forces in Nicaragua, the so-called “Iran/Contra” affair. He was pardoned by President George H.W. Bush, later served as special adviser to President George W. Bush on democracy and human rights, and is now a foreign-policy adviser to GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz.)

Then there was the murder of three nuns. The Nation’s article continues:

No act of barbarism is more emblematic of the deceit that marked Washington’s policy in El Salvador in the 1980s than the sexual assault and murder of four US churchwomen—three Roman Catholic nuns and a lay missionary—in December 1980, a month after Ronald Reagan was elected president.

The American ambassador, Robert White, who had been appointed by President Jimmy Carter, knew immediately that the Salvadoran military was responsible—even if he didn’t have the names of the perpetrators—but that was not what the incoming administration wanted to hear.

One of Reagan’s top foreign-policy advisers, Jeane Kirkpatrick, when asked if she thought the government had been involved, said, “The answer is unequivocal. No, I don’t think the government was responsible.” She then sought to besmirch the women. “The nuns were not just nuns,” she told The Tampa Tribune. “The nuns were also political activists,” with a leftist political coalition (Kirkpatrick died in 2006).

This history and the criminality of U.S. behavior in El Salvador is but one of many similar circumstances across Latin America. Our violent suppression of activists like Che Guevara and other native leaders occurs time and again. We’ve been unwilling to allow local people to reclaim their lands, now largely functioning as an extended plantation for multinational agri-business.

El Salvador has always been a largely agricultural country and despite recent shifts agriculture has continued to be a mainstay of the economy. Conflicts and peasant uprisings over the land date back more than four centuries, to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores. Since the last 19th century, the most fertile lands have been concentrated in few hands, “An oligarchy known as las catorce (the original fourteen aristocratic families, which has later expanded in number) and used to grow coffee for export, forcing small-scale farmers onto marginal quality lands and making their subsistence increasingly precarious. In the second half of the twentieth century, an alliance of conservative civilians (dominated by las catorce) and military officers ruled the country until the late 1970s.

“A vicious circle was created whereby concentration of land by the wealthy furthered inequality, which led to land degradation and caused conflict that finally escalated into full scale civil war in 1980.” The long civil war decimated the environment, a result of the government’s “’scorched earth’ strategy designed to decimate the insurgency’s base of support in the countryside.” [3]

This destruction resulted in large-scale migration to urban areas which has placed further stress on the country’s delicate ecosystem. A long term result of the war and the ensuing shift in demography has been continuing conflicts over land and the ecological impact of its use near urban areas.

“… the real cause of the civil war in El Salvador is the issue of agrarian reform. The oligarchy tries to prevent it at all cost. The party of the landholding elite has close ties with the death squads…[4],[5]

Its topsoil depleted, its forests all but gone, its water and air polluted by chemicals, livestock, and human waste, El Salvador is a picture of where we’re headed. It’s the canary in the coal mine, a predictor of Western hemisphere futures where overpopulation, lack of environmental protections, and concentration of land ownership are allowed free rein.

Trump’s eager rallying cry against evil gangs—in particular MS-13—barely skims the surface of the real problems facing El Salvador and, by default, the rest of us.

The Mara Salvatrucha gang originated in Los Angeles, set up in the 1980s by Salvadoran immigrants in the city’s Pico-Union neighborhood who immigrated to the United States after the Central American civil wars of the 1980s.

Originally, the gang’s main purpose was to protect Salvadoran immigrants from other, more established gangs of Los Angeles, who were predominantly composed of Mexicans and African-Americans.[6]

With over 30,000 members internationally and its power concentrated in the so-called ‘Northern Triangle’ of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, MS-13 is a cautionary tale for us all. But that’s not the full picture for El Salvadorans:

The defense ministry has estimated that more than 500,000 Salvadorans are involved with gangs. (This number includes gang members’ relatives and children who have been coerced into crimes.) Turf wars between MS-13, the country’s largest gang, and its chief rivals, two factions of Barrio 18, have exacerbated what is the world’s highest homicide rate for people under the age of 19. In 2016, 540 Salvadoran minors were murdered—an average of 1.5 every day.

While a majority of El Salvador’s homicide victims are young men from poor urban areas, the gangs’ practice of explicitly targeting girls for sexual violence or coerced relationships is well known. Since 2000, the homicide rate for young women in El Salvador has also increased sharply, according to the latest data from the World Health Organization. To refuse the gangs’ demands can mean death for girls and their families.[7]

This explains why increasingly the people surging north to U. S. borders in search of safety are single young people and especially young women. It also exposes the ignorance and immorality of the Trump Administration’s recent decision to no longer accept gang violence as an adequate reason to offer sanctuary to immigrants and of its plans to reduce foreign aid to El Salvador. As further evidence of the administration’s deaf ear to the very real crisis of the region, it has reduced the immigration quota for people from the Caribbean and Latin America from 5,000 to 1,500.[8]

As you sow, so shall you reap.

~~~

 

[1] https://www.pbs.org/newshour/show/migrants-risk-the-dangerous-trip-to-the-u-s-because-its-safer-than-staying-home

[2] https://www.thenation.com/article/time-for-a-us-apology-to-el-salvador/

[3] A. Weinberg, ICE Case Studies, Case Number: 22, Case Mnemonic: ELSALV Case Name: El Salvador Civil War. May 1997. http://www1.american.edu/ted/ice/elsalv.htm

[4] M. Dufumier, “Reforme Agraire Au Salvador,” in Civilisations, Vol. 35, No. 2, Pour Une Conscience Lation-Americaine, Prealable A Des Rapports Sud-Sud: Centra d’Etude d l’Amerique Latine (Institute de Sociologie de l’Universite de Burxelles: 1985. 190. http://www.jstor.org.myaccess.library.utoronto.ca/stable/41229331.

[5] https://www.trustingpeace.org/blog/english-version/land-use-in-el-salvador-who-owns-the-land-and-how-do-they-use-it-a-basic-human-rights-issue#_ftn8

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS-13

[7] https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/03/el-salvador-women-gangs-ms-13-trump-violence/554804/

[8] Ibid