Jun 30, 2019
by Gary Pace
There are many ways to view the current state of our nation, but I want to look through the lens of a recent trip my wife and I took to El Paso, Texas to work with migrants crossing the border. The situation is very complex, and one of the take-home messages was that polarization in our country is preventing any reasonable conversation about how to deal with these complex humanitarian problems. Very notable was the willingness of our government to risk the lives of desperate people in order to implement deterrence as a central strategy.
People have been coming up from Mexico and Central America for decades to find a better life and to flee political upheaval. The situation has changed recently, partly due to crop failures from extended drought (climate change) and partly due to violence (drugs and gangs). It appears that due to progress in border surveillance leading to the capture and swift deportation of single adults, many people are coming and bringing children as part of a strategy of surrendering at the border, claiming asylum and getting a hearing date in the future. They are then released to a sponsor someplace in the US (usually family) while awaiting their administrative hearing, which can be as much as a few years away. Even if they lose the case, they are then established in this country and just go underground.
President Trump’s most recent tactic to force Mexico to stop the immigrants, or to house them in Mexico while awaiting their asylum claims, simply pushes the problem to another, poorer country. The underlying economic and security drivers of migration remain. This can be seen globally, with approximately 70 million people worldwide being displaced, and some agencies suggest that number could go as high as a billion people by 2030. These are people who have had to leave their homes and are looking for somewhere to land. These migration issues are causing significant destabilization in many parts of the world.
1) The president is correct, there is a crisis at our Southern border.
Now more than 100,000 immigrants are arrested every month at the southern US border. These levels are continuing to increase. Over 600 people, primarily Central Americans, are being captured and released daily to the streets in El Paso alone.
Including children into the mix complicates the incarceration and deportation proceedings significantly, and leads to some of the terrible scenarios that we have been seeing with family separations and deaths from illness. The Border Patrol facilities are completely overwhelmed, often at double or triple capacity, and they are unprepared for the children and families.
2) People are leaving Central America for understandable reasons . The people seem to be leaving to flee violence or to escape severe poverty and starvation. Most of the Guatemalans were leaving due to repeated crop failures and economic collapse, although there were some who gave credible reports of violence they were escaping. See Nicolas Kristof, “Food Doesn’t Grow Here Anymore, That’s Why I Would Send My Son North,” NYT 6/7/19 . One young Guatemalan couple were both police officers, and the gangs were threatening their lives, so they decided to leave and come north. In El Salvador and Honduras, it appears that violence is a dominant theme—especially getting young people away from gang problems. See “Border at ‘Breaking Point’ as More Than 76,000 Unauthorized Migrants Cross in a Month,” NYT, 3/5/19.
These are extremely challenging journeys, ones that are not embarked on lightly. Most leave their countries with the help of “coyotes” ( “human traffickers” in the media), some of whom abandon people in the desert. Costs are between $1500-$6000 per person, a huge sum for poor campesinos. Some of the trips through Mexico were very scary, others not so bad. Crossing the US-Mexico border could be fairly quick, but for others more daunting — days in the desert on foot, with little food or water.
3) Our government’s response is completely inadequate;
4) Volunteers and people in impacted communities are stepping up to respond.
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