Wall Against Humanity
As much as I disagree with President Trump’s positions surrounding illegal immigration, particularly in recent months, one thing is absolutely certain—the situation at the border is a crisis.
As much as I disagree with President Trump’s positions surrounding illegal immigration, particularly in recent months, one thing is absolutely certain—the situation at the border is a crisis. But rather than being the crisis of national security the President has made it out to be, it is a humanitarian crisis that we must work to alleviate.
The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of asylum-seekers from Central America are not fleeing to the United States because the U.S. offers more opportunity for financial or social leverage but because they cannot stay put and have nowhere else to go. At its most basic level, the United States offers two things—safety and survival.
In the 1980s, the Northern Central American triangle—composed of El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala—were plagued by civil war, ultimately setting up many of the problems the region faces. Compounded with extreme economic inequality, mass incarceration, and weak security forces, gang violence has grown exponentially. In El Salvador alone, a country of 6.4 million people, for example, there are at least 65,000 active gang members. Young boys from age 12 are targeted, and girls are often abandoned, sexually harassed and abused, or even sold as sex slaves if they do not become gang members themselves. In rural, urban, and suburban regions throughout the three nations, gang members have set roadblocks in impoverished rural and urban areas, where they have taken complete control and imposed their own law. These regions, known as “red zones,” put an extreme burden on parents, who must pay exorbitant amounts of money to keep their children in afterschool programs and at home to prevent them from hanging with criminals and gang members. Many families are threatened by gang members if they don’t agree to join the gangs or give up their homes. Many end up killed in crossfires of turf wars, while the formal governments of the nations—most of which are corrupt and ridden with instability—are unable to provide relief. In these “red zones,” the gangs themselves have essentially appointed themselves the informal government.
Yet what many Americans also fail to recognize is that the United States played a substantial role in creating this crisis. When the Republican-led Congress and President Bill Clinton passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Illegal Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) in 1996, the federal government deported tens of thousands of convicted criminals back to Central America. Yet, more than just criminals were deported. Overall, IIRIRA made it easier to deport anybody apprehended within 100 miles of the border, made legal immigration significantly more difficult to pursue, and in general, shaped deportation to be the harsh, invasive practice we know today. Prior to 1996, deportation was relatively rare, yet immediately after the implementation of new IIRIRA standards, the proportion of the population considered “unauthorized” tripled. All of these factors then compounded to create many of these problems. MS-13 and Barrio 18, both of which originated in Los Angeles, are now some of the most well-known gangs in Central America and have had the capacity to grow, recruit, and spread throughout Central America due to their being deported back to those countries 15 years ago.
Ultimately, the tallest wall in the world will never stop people from fleeing places where they cannot live. But even if a border wall were feasible or useful, a wall would only provide temporary relief, a painkiller for a gaping wound. It in no way solves the root of the problem; in fact, it is a cop-out for our country to ignore the real issues that continue to exist in Central America.
While Republicans continue to claim that it is not the United States’s job to intervene, what they fail to recognize is the fact that creating a stronger and more stable Central America is an “America First” policy, as they like to put it. Only until people aren’t forced to leave their homelands will we ever be able to improve our border security. In 2016, when Congress provided $750 million in funding for Central American aid, the United States led negotiations with regional governments to ensure that the aid packages would be used to clean up the police, increase tax collection, and encourage people to not make the risky and dangerous journey for asylum. Additionally, the United States implemented a policy for Central Americans in extreme danger to apply for asylum without making the journey. In Honduras, the murder rate has dropped nearly one third since 2011, when it was at its highest; Guatemala is improving tax collection; and El Salvador has been able to attack the financial networks of gangs and criminal organizations, all products of the aid in 2016. When implemented in this strategic manner, aid has clearly shown to be effective.
Obviously, no solution would be a perfect one, and no amount of aid could immediately clean up the corruption and violence that exists. Yet, as President Trump threatens to cut aid to these nations, his reasoning is completely backwards. Asylum-seekers do not want to leave their homes. Many have families, careers, cultures, homes, and lives rooted in these countries. Parents and grandparents picking up and leaving everything behind to make the dangerous journey through Central America and Mexico for the wellbeing of their children and family are desperate, not dangerous.
Many in our nation want to keep illegal immigrants out of our country because of a deeply-rooted fear of these foreigners. It aligns with the isolationist and xenophobic ideology that this administration has spread over the course of the past two years. These people are not criminals or rapist or drug dealers. They are mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents, fleeing from situations in which most people in the United States could never even imagine themselves. We should reduce illegal immigration not by building a wall to keep people out, but by supporting struggling nations so that these people do not have to leave their homes, cultures, and families in the first place. We must support Central America to the best of our ability to alleviate gang violence and economic inequality.