The debacle on the southern border continues unabated. We can look at the context of the situation. Thousands of asylum seekers are desperately seeking entry into the land of the free and the home of the brave. The Trump administration does everything to drive them away, but so desperate are they that they just keep coming.
The numbers are expected to approach 1 million by the end of this year. These people are truly refugees, every bit as much as the 2 million Syrians who have walked into Europe, every bit like the Africans risking their lives crossing the Mediterranean right now in leaky boats, like the utterly stateless Rohingyas, like the Cuban raft people running from Castro, like the Vietnamese boat people after our lost war, like the Hungarian refugees fleeing the rampaging Red Army in 1956, and historically, like the millions of other unfortunates in the twentieth-century and now this troubled twenty-first-century.
Migration, like climate change, has become a global crisis, and walls and armed guards are not the solution.
In the past we were proactive in dealing with refugees, especially Hungarians, Vietnamese, and Cubans fleeing communism. And that was the right thing to do. We are not proactive with the Central Americans. Criminal gangs, grinding poverty, and economic failure, bad as they are, are simply not the ideological specters that atheistic communism was. Communism always had that power, the ability to get us looking for solutions to the challenge. It’s not communism, but on the border the suffering is not any less. The desperation is not any less. And our response should not be any less.
We are lucky in one regard with the present crisis — it’s still manageable. It might not look that way but it is. This is true because unlike other global refugee crises, our destiny-producing actions are the cause of ours. And we have enormous influence in Latin America. People there know our culture and many want to emulate our lifestyle. We are ignorant of Latin America, and we don’t recognize this attraction, but if we would just recognize it and build on the trust that is implied in the Latin attraction to the U.S., we could do much good.
We have caused the refugee crisis, and we can fix it, but we can’t delay much longer. The Border Patrol is already swamped. This is the kind of problem that won’t go away if we just ignore it. Time is short, but we can still address the root causes of the influx.
It’s not hard to enumerate just a few of the causes, and in doing so we see the way to nullify the effects: 1) For fear of communism and manipulated by big business we have stymied any attempt to take from the grossly rich and give to the desperate poor in Latin America; 2) Many times we have intervened militarily in Latin America in support of dictators; 3) We have supported oppressive right-wing regimes in long-term repression of democratic hopes, and even in bloody civil wars; 4) We have funded and trained government forces to conduct guerras sucias, “dirty wars,” in places like Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and others. Thousands have been “disappeared” in these wars; 5) It goes way back.
In 1911 we helped to overthrow and assassinate the Mexican president, Francisco Madero, the last best hope to avert a revolution/civil war that killed 1 million Mexicans, and drove another million to the United States. And so on.
We can stop acting like imperialists. If we change, there’s hope. But be aware that the effects of our destiny-producing actions last a long, long time. Nevertheless, the point is that it is not too late to model true democracy and the rule of law. This will solve the immigration problem.
We don’t want immigrants from Latin America coming to the U.S., unless it’s under the auspices of a guestworker program, the details of which I have laid out in previous columns.
We absolutely need the workers, as has been pointed out many times. But mostly, we want economic development in Latin America so that Latin Americans can stay at home and live productive lives there.
Joe Barrera, Ph.D., is the former director of the Ethnic Studies Program at UCCS, and a combat veteran of the Vietnam War.