Pictures were published recently of immigration detention facilities in Texas. The pictures are here, and they are quite something to look at. It’s shameful that the most rich and powerful nation in the world is doing this to human beings. (I got into a little bit of a Twitter tussle with the author of that article. More on that later.)
Just the other day, a Hispanic reporter confronted Speaker of the House John Boehner about immigration reform. The Speaker did some fancy wordplay and basically said he won’t do anything while the current administration is in the White House. Under pressure from constituents and cash donors, the President is left with putting together a patchwork of an immigration system that has caused the situation displayed in the pictures I mentioned above.
The immigration problem has so many facets to it that I cannot possibly cover them all in one blog post. Entire books and doctoral dissertations have been written about the issue. But, still, let me give you my two cents because, hey, it’s my blog.
On the one hand, you have nations on our continent that are very poor and getting poorer. Places like Guatemala and El Salvador are in political and social turmoil. And what can I say about Venezuela? Look at this quick video:
When thinking human beings with two working legs are confronted with the reality of fight or flight, they will choose flight if what is over the river is the United States of America. There’s relative peace here. There are jobs. Believe it or not, the law is applied pretty equally in most cases. I, for one, don’t worry about a gang driving by my house and taking me hostage. I don’t fear going to the police to tell them that a crime has happened. It’s pretty nice here, so can we blame people from Mexico on south for wanting to come here?
It goes without saying that a lot of the trouble down there has been because of the drug control policy up here. Prohibition of popular recreational drugs has made their trafficking very profitable for some very blood-thirsty people. Entire battles are being fought with many, many dead right across the border in Mexico. And I do mean right across the border.
Another problem with current immigration policies is that the Border Patrol has been almost forgotten in terms of funding and oversight. You have brave and dedicated men and women facing an overwhelming task of trying to seal the border. Under that much pressure and without the needed support, things happen, bad things. You have kids being shot at for throwing rocks and people packed into holding cells meant to hold half the number of souls that they do.
These are just some of the problems. There’s much, much more to all this.
The worst thing about all of this is that it will not be solved by just throwing money at it. This whole thing requires a concerted effort on all fronts. Countries in social and economic peril need our help. People there need to be given hope and opportunities so they don’t have to make the dangerous and arduous journey up here. We also need to truly seal the border to discourage that mass migration and to keep some very dangerous people out. And all of the millions here who are undocumented need to be given a path to documentation not because it’s amnesty or a reward for breaking the law but because we cannot realistically deport that many people — or imprison them.
I will be the first one to admit that I have benefitted from illegal immigration in many ways. A lot of the food that I eat I have been able to afford because low-payed field workers picked the food for me. I have relatives who have come to the US illegally to find a better life. I probably have past relatives who came here illegally, and I am now able to be an American because I am their descendant. But this needs to stop on so many levels because we’re at a point now that people are being treated like cattle and used as pawns in political games. Creating that many angry and dehumanized people is asking for trouble.
Now, about the Twitter kerfuffle. I tweeted at the author of the article containing the pictures that he should leave the comments — many of them racist and completely the kinds of things people don’t say in public. I told him that articles like his are “hate bait” and quick to attract the most xenophobic and racist people out there. I didn’t mean that he intended his article to be that, but it seems that this is how he took my comment. After some back-and-forth, we managed to clear things up. I hope.
The reason why those comments are important to look at and bring into the discussion on immigration is simple. Politicians listen to the outspoken people in their districts. They don’t like to be portrayed as not listening to the voice of the people. If I were an elected representative and all I saw was comment after comment about how those people in those cells are all rapists or criminals or less-than-human, I would think twice before doing anything about immigration. After all, you don’t want to make it look like you’re spending any money on “those people.” And do we even need to discuss the political power that very xenophobic and outspoken groups like the Tea Party have right now?
I was more interested in the vile comments because those we can do something about. With a flick of the wrist, the author of the piece can turn off comments and let the bigots find their own fora for their bigotry. The overpopulated detention centers are a whole other thing, something harder to fix. But that was the gist of my criticism to the author. He seems to have understood that I meant him no ill will and thanked him for bringing that out to the world.
(I would have also included analysis from someone else besides the one analyst who collaborated with a known far-right activist, but that’s just me wanting to be a little balanced.)
As long as we have a “no compromise” and “he’s Kenyan” attitude in our elected officials, very little if anything will be done about immigration (and a ton of other things our government needs to do for us). POTUS will ask for funding for the Border Patrol and not get it because Republicans won’t fund anything he wants. Democrats want full-fledged citizenship for anyone stepping on American soil, and nothing less. That’s not realistic either and can land us in trouble if we get “too many too soon” when it comes to immigrants. Also, there are drug policies that need to be reformed to empty out the bank accounts of the drug cartels that are causing so much of the violence driving people up here and are even involved in the human trafficking that comes along with all that. Can you imagine what legalized marijuana and treatment instead of jail for addicts will do to the cartels’ bottom line? But conservatives are convinced that marijuana is the devil and plenty of Democrats are willing to maintain the status quo on jailing addicts.
Finally, there is the political influence that we as a country can have on other countries to end all the social unrest and nonsense that drives people to flee. I know it’s not profitable to drive the price of oil up if we decide to do something about Venezuela. And we can put other industries in trouble if we do something about other countries. But something does need to be done in Latin America and in those other places in the world where unrest and despotic governments drive people to seek us out.
What that something is, exactly, is for another post at a later time. For now, the system is incredibly broken, and those with the power and authority to do something about it can’t or, worse, won’t do anything about it.
René F. Najera, DrPH
I'm a Doctor of Public Health, having studied at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.
All opinions are my own and in no way represent anyone else or any of the organizations for which I work.
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