American Immigration Sideshow:
Border Wall or Distraction?
By Scottie Westfall
As we enter this new conflict over the national emergency declaration at the border, much of the discussion has been framed over its constitutionally. Yes, real issues exist with the “imperial presidency,” but that problem is decades old. Presidents have used power to deflect from scandal before, and congress has abdicated one power after another to the presidency. These issues, although certainly a long-term problem with this constitutional system, are largely overshadowing the real crisis of migrants seeking refugee status.
Trump is hardly the first president to get into this situation about border security. During 2011 and 2012, Barack Obama and then Arizona Governor Jan Brewer exchanged some well-publicized exchanges over the building of a border fence. In the May of 2011, Obama bragged that the border fence was “basically complete,” which led to large numbers of right-wing populists calling foul.
Obama was hardly a saint when it came to undocumented migrants. He oversaw the deportations of 2.7 million people, and for a time during the 2016 presidential election cycle, he was denounced by some immigration activists as the “deporter-in-chief.”
Both the Trump and Obama administrations face the same refugee crisis. The Central American nations of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala, long the home of all sort of US imperialist intrigue, are lands of violence. Gangs, which are essentially paramilitary organizations operating the way crime syndicates do, are wreaking havoc upon civil society in these countries. Escape to Mexico or maybe the United States is a very real existential hope for so many people. Establishing asylum really does mean the difference between death and survival.
A great hope once existed in Central America. In 2006, Honduras elected a reformer named Manuel Zelaya to the presidency. He was not a fire-breathing socialist like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela or Lula in Brazil. He was a rancher who had been elected on a centrist platform, but as president, he switched to the left, increasing the minimum wage, making education free to all children, and providing some state aid to the poorest of the poor.
He was ousted in 2009. Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made no quibbles when the Honduran military removed him from office. Violence swept through Honduras, as she covered for the coup, and in 2014, when tens of thousands of unaccompanied minors arrived at the US-Mexican border, she callously called for the deportation. “We have to send a clear message that just because your child gets across the border doesn’t mean your child gets to stay,” she said then.
Flash forward into the current presidency, and now immigration policy is but a sick burlesque. In the summer of 2018, the Trump administration experienced a similar crisis with Central American migrants. This time, many migrants came as full families, and the US put on such a display of utter cruelty, pulling young children away from their parents and holding them in dentition centers. In December of that year, the US was holding 15,000 minors in its custody and was struggling hard to reunite them with their parents. That same month, two children have died in US custody, sparking requests for an inquiry.
But so much of that disgusting episode has been lost in the current national emergency debacle. We have somehow forgotten that people are suffering and dying. Children are being traumatized through these horrific separations. Our leader plays head demagogue about every “caravan” of migrants that begins working its way up through Mexico.
In a more sedate time in US politics, politicians engaged in dog whistle politics. They mentioned “welfare queens” to scare blue collar voters that their tax dollars were going to African American women who didn’t work but were able to buy all sorts of extravagances drawing the dole. But now, they make no attempt to hide their racism. Donald Trump started his presidential campaign lambasting Mexican rapists. He now hits the fears of Latino drug dealers as hard as he can. In places where the opioid crisis has claimed a whole generation, such as West Virginia and Ohio, the fears of drugs are very real, but Trump uses that terror to gin up the most insatiably rabid form of xenophobia.
This rabid xenophobia is a potent tool to keep the base on his side as a new election cycle looms ahead. Various investigations could also be hazardous to his power, so it is politically expedient to generate hate and keep it burning red and hot.
But we still have a political system that has forgotten the poor and the suffering. Those who mourn their family members’ drug dependency receive no real relief from the federal government, and the migrant children have had their whole world uprooted. These are the people who need compassion the most, yet we are lost in the disgusting burlesque of a government shutdown and a zany national emergency declaration.