I’ve been following the drama surrounding Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the southern border. Many Americans are justifiably horrified by our nation’s cruel treatment of the Central American immigrants, and would like to see “something” done about it. But what is that something?
There are a couple factors that make the issue of Central American immigration a special case. First, the Mexican border is the only place where people are willing and able to just walk into the United States, rather than coming through more official channels. The Canadians share a border with us as well but they don’t walk in. So there’s more to it than just access.
The sheer persistence of the issue points to a more compelling reason motivating people to risk all to come here. This reason centers around serious crime, violence, and danger where they’re from. The immigrant families of concern right now aren’t coming here seeking jobs and money to send home, but out of fear that if they stay where they are, they’ll be killed. There’s a name for this class of immigrant — they’re refugees.
Even America has a policy for refugees (although it hasn’t always proven to be particularly generous). Nevertheless, immigrant families fleeing violence at home should be afforded refugee status and not treated as criminals for seeking to enter the U.S. in any way they can, even if it’s technically illegal. Out of the gate, we should be giving special consideration to the fleeing citizens of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala, who are seeking asylum and should be treated as such.
That the United States is not viewing these people as refugees is wrong on several counts. For starters, it’s inhumane, but it’s also dishonest because when you look at Central America through recent history, you’ll see that the U.S. played a major role in destabilizing their homelands, starting in the Reagan era. Those of us alive in the 1980s remember Iran/Contra, the CIA drug wars, and the first wave of the “disappeared.” America fueled this problem, and now, as it rages out of control, the government tries to turn its back to it. Sorry, folks — that’s not how it works. The refugees our nation creates are ours rightfully. We have to help them, whether we want to or not, because it’s the moral thing to do and also because they aren’t going to stop coming.
It’s interesting that the same issue of destabilizing countries and then refusing to take their refugees is reflected in the list of so-called “Muslim” countries Trump has effectively banned: Libya, Somalia, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, and Yemen. We destabilized most of these countries through the “War on Terror” and “Axis of Evil” policies begun under Bush. Venezuela has long been a project and although we are not the prime actors in Yemen, we are funding that war and providing “logistical support.”
It should be obvious by now that if we want to end the problem of “illegal immigration” (and refugees in general) then we need to stop destabilizing their countries of origin with CIA coups, death squads, undeclared wars, and the funding of terrorist organizations. In the meantime, we should be prepared to welcome the thousands of refugees our foreign policy creates. Because, to be clear, America does not have an immigration problem — we have a refugee problem and it’s time we recognized it.