You have, by now, almost certainly heard that the Federal Government of the United States of America has returned to the affairs of its daily business.
You will hopefully remember that this impasse was caused by useless political gambling not with poker chips, but with CHIP – a program that provides healthcare to children. God bless this country and the elected professionals who run it. Eat your heart out, Muhammad Ali, this right here is a picture of greatness.
It seems as though our peculiar brand of greatness (you cannot take a dog into a restaurant because someone might get sick [or something?], but for $500 you can buy a military-designed rifle and hundreds of rounds of ammunition with essentially zero government oversight) is at the center of our national conversation.
The balance of freedom and security ring out in contradictory value systems from coast to coast, and the underpinnings of every mainstream conversation are founded in the concept of American Greatness. American Exceptionalism. Best Goddamn Country On Earth, I tell you what.
This premise is no more clear than in our discussion of human migration. In our discussions of migration policy and so-called “illegal immigration,” we seem to be unable to frame the issue in a realistic way. We implant our world view into the ghastly specters of murdering banditos who creep through our minds to rape our children and steal our pensions.
For us as Americans, expatriation is a conscious decision, one that we might make after weighing the benefits of living abroad against leaving behind everything we love. We are incapable of seeing it in any other light, and it is a fundamentally distorted worldview.
Illegal immigration is not a means for the lazy or the unworthy to circumvent legal means of coming to the US. “Illegal immigration” is a thing we invented to disguise the fact that we are confronted by a large scale refugee crisis of our own design.
Consider that the overwhelming majority of these refugees come from Latin America, specifically Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This is not necessarily a surprise, given the geographic proximity to The Land of the Free. But the reality is that these same countries have suffered for decades at the hands of our military intervention and clandestine colonialism. These are nations which have been systematically and deliberately destabilized by US interests, with effects that continue today.
During 12 years of Salvadorian civil war in the 80s and 90s, more than 75,000 civilians were killed. The overwhelming majority of these people (85%) died at the hands of by an oppressive military government (and their death squads, child soldiers, etc.) that enjoyed the support of both Carter and Reagan administrations. El Salvador at the time was a largely agrarian economy (enjoy that cup of coffee!) where 77% of the agricultural land was owned by 0.1% of the population. The war displaced more than a million people.
In the 1950s, the CIA cut its teeth in Guatemala (the Agency’s first action was to overthrow a democratically elected government at the behest of United Fruit Company – you know it today as Chiquita) and has more or less been a consistent presence there ever since. We financed genocide. We assassinated politicians. We bombed Guatemala City. You know, for bananas.
In the 1980s and 90s the CIA worked closely with Honduran intelligence officers to kidnap, torture, and assassinate opposition voices in support of the government there. Ooh and in 1954 we bombed Honduras and blamed it on Guatemala. So there’s that.
The refugee fallout from counter-democracy operations across Central and South America are direct responsibilities of the US Government and the American People it represents. Our shared responsibility for the Mexican refugee crisis is more direct.
I bet you’ve heard of the drug war in Mexico. It’s why you’ll definitely get killed if you go there, remember? The State Department said so? Since 2006 hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions have been displaced. This is, of course, a complicated problem and there are numerous contributing factors, not the least of which are domestic Mexican policies as well as external forces (like the CIA).
But at the heart of the Mexican drug war is the fact that Americans fucking love drugs. If we are not going to take meaningful steps to actually address drug use in America and the illegal drug trade it supports, then we need to take ownership of the refugee crisis that it manufactured.
This is to say nothing of the climate refugees who will increasingly be forced from ancestral homes by drought and flooding as we continue to resist action on human caused climate change. Bear in mind that this will occur within the US as well – perhaps the biggest argument for immediate action on climate change is that pretty soon all those weirdos in Florida are going to have to go someplace else.
There is a tendency in our minds to sequester humanity from the animal kingdom. We take for granted that geese and caribou will migrate in search of their basic needs, but somehow expect humankind to remain in unlivable conditions because of artificial borders imposed European colonizers. Escape from hunger, from drought, and from the only natural disaster unique to our species, war, is not only an obvious reaction to the phenomena but a fundamental human right.
The so-called “illegal immigration” problem is the predictable response to the activities of our government and our communities, whether that is the deliberate destabilization of a country’s elected government, our collective unwillingness to stop sniffing cocaine, or our demonstrated indifference to a warming climate. Welcoming and accommodating these refugees is not simply the right thing to do. It is our responsibility as the architects of their misery.