Few things depict the truly dystopian consequences of the failed U.S. immigration policy than the images of the Border Patrol firing tear gas and pepper-spray bullets with reckless abandon into crowds of refugees that include children. While the devastating fires in California are still fresh nearby, an estimated 4,700 refugees and migrants wait in overloaded shelters in the Mexican border town of Tijuana for their chance to claim asylum at a U.S. point-of-entry.
The crisis is not the refugees, it is the militarization of the border that causes the violence, and the toxic nationalism that prevents free movement of people.
Trump’s thinly veiled xenophobia, hidden unartfully behind his nationalist “America first” agenda, provides a weak justification for the cognitive dissonance required for the U.S. Border Patrol agents to inflict deliberate violence on refugees and immigrants who have already faced trials and tribulations while traveling for thousands of miles.
Trump’s administration has done everything to prevent the caravan from arriving at the borders and dissuade refugees from trying to enter, including threatening to cut off aid to Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador if they don’t stop the caravans, signing an executive order in a failed attempt to eliminate asylum entry altogether, terrifying potential asylum seekers with the draconian practice of family separation, completely denying that the people in the caravans are actually refugees by minimizing their traumas, immediate deportation if refugees fail a potentially triggering “credible fear” interview, and an extremely slow application process which includes the possibility of a detention period that could last weeks or months.
November 25 was the last straw
The U.S. governments words and actions clearly show that the U.S. government simply does not want Mexican and Central Americans in the country.
It all came to head on November 25 when the U.S. Border patrol cowardly resorted to firing crowd control weaponry directly at a group of immigrants marching and demonstrating for the right of asylum at the border near Tijuana. This is something that everyone saw coming, as for over a month there was every indication to believe that there would be large numbers of refugees seeking asylum imminently.
The U.S. should have already been preparing refugee camps and increasing administrative staff instead of sending Marines to install barbed wire, a defense structure certain to injure desperate people.
The weapons used were ‘deadly’ indeed
Although use of crowd-control weaponry at a militarized border zone is almost routine, Trump defended the violence committed by the Border Patrol on November 25 and made a false claim about the weaponry used being “less than lethal”, as pepper-spray bullets and tear gas can kill with a direct hit and potentially cause long term health conditions from the fumes, and is an illegal chemical weapon under international law, only legal to use as domestic law enforcement.
Despite this, hundreds continue to arrive daily at the San Ysidro point-of-entry near San Diego, mostly to be turned away because they are told U.S. Custom Border Protection (CBP) is “at capacity”, and over-logged with asylum seekers.
With all the hurdles and dangers that the refugees face while waiting for the unlikely chance to enter the United States via asylum, it is no surprise that people try to climb or cut the fence. Quite simply, people’s lives are more important than laws, and the people entering have the right by necessity to move wherever they feel they need to go for their survival and ability to thrive. Anyone in a similar situation would do the same.
The legal pathway is too long, and often sets people up for failure. Hence, the false dichotomy between “good” and “bad” immigrants based off how they entered the country must be abandoned. Freedom to move to another country and also the freedom to seek asylum are basic rights under the U.N. declaration of human rights and also guaranteed by American law under the Refugee Act passed in 1980.
Trump used the fear of migrants as a political tool
Trump capitalized on fears of the caravan to secure votes for the Republican party during the midterm elections in early November. He demonized the migrants and characterized the caravan as “an onslaught of illegal aliens”, and said that he would do anything to repel the “invasion” of “stone cold criminals” that “even include Middle Easterners”. This is not just a hand wave to the garden variety of islamophobic racists which make up much of his voting base, but clear dog whistling to reactionary white alt-right fascist extremists who have responded by mobilizing militias to the border and committing some of the most egregious widespread mass acts of deadly violence in recent weeks 1 2 3 4.
The military is even involved. “Operation Faithful Patriot”, the ludicrously classic Bush Dynasty Era double-speak name which was immediately changed suspiciously after the midterm elections, has already been extremely expensive. The operation has already the deployment of 5,900 Marine and National Guards personnel and yields a cost of 210 million. It is good practice for a war, according to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. But the conservative argument that the process is slow to allow time to do a proper security vetting does not hold, because it is based on irrational and hyped up fears that are completely disproportionate to the incredibly low crime rates of refugees and immigrants.
Immigration was handed over to Department of Homeland Security that fights ‘terrorism’
Imagine if this money and people power would have been used for refugee aid. But the military is only there to “assist” the U.S. Border Patrol, the main line of defense at the wall. As for processing the asylum requests, that is the domain of CBP and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.
ICE has only existed for a mere 15 years, formed during the presidency of George W. Bush. Formerly, Immigration was the regulatory responsibility of the Department of Labor, but was then transferred to the Department of Homeland Security, a newly formed institution whose role is to combat terrorism. It was a deliberate propaganda move to equate immigrants as terrorists, and had disastrous consequences as immigrant populations faced increased discrimination, mass surveillance and criminalization.
Although record numbers of arrests and deportations occurred during the previous Obama administration, ICE has been ramped up since Trump was elected, making more arrests and deportations than ever, and has separated countless families, some of whom have been living in the U.S. for decades. It is still a new organization and takes little imagination to envision a world without it. It can and should be abolished.
The unwillingness of the United States to process asylum for the refugees and turning people away at the border is a violation of human rights, and the violence committed on November 25 is an atrocity.
The larger problem is rooted in the deep need to re-envision the notion of citizenship. Here we have Trump doing his best to revert to fascism by condemning globalism and eliminating the 14th amendment, the Civil War era reform granting birthright, which decrees everyone born in the U.S. automatic becomes a citizen.
We should focus on urgent issues like ‘climate change’
Trumps casual racism, like when he consistently insults people from other countries, perpetuates the specter of the Other, provoking ignorance and hatred between peoples and countries. At its core, it is white nationalism, and must be destroyed utterly.
This thinking has no future except more wars and violence at the borders, such as the violence committed on November 25. As it becomes clearer there are urgent global issues like climate change that a group of capitalist governments will ever be able to solve, we need to begin to think and act in new ways, outside the short-sighted dying framework of nations acting in their own self-interest in a war over resources in a zero-sum game.
The future depends on re-examining the existing unsustainable infrastructure, and abandoning it for something new, moving towards a communal, global, and borderless humanism. We can begin by listening to the voices of the populations most effected by the broken system, who are making calls to open the borders, abolish ICE, allow people to claim asylum and immigrate more easily between countries, divest from military and police forces and funding social welfare organizations like health and education, and develop international public policies that can meaningfully address some of the long-term larger challenges our world faces.