Bloody Borders

Whine. Whine! Whine!!!  Okay, there. Maybe it’s out of my system. I have a tendency to make minor inconveniences into major dislocations of my enjoyment of life. “Mountains out of mole hills.” “Much ado about nothing.” The “problems” about which I wrote most recently, involving newsletters and deadlines and poor, poor me having too little time and too much responsibility are, and were, unworthy of space on this screen. So let me shift gears and write about something that may or may not matter, depending on one’s perspective.

The “caravan” marching toward the U.S. formed in Honduras. The participants, depending on who you believe, either are fleeing intolerable conditions that threaten their lives and safety or are seeking opportunities not available to them in Honduras. Of course, non-Hondurans may have joined the caravan as it snakes its way across Mexico. Non-Hondurans, too, either are fleeing intolerable conditions or simply looking for a better life than the one the left behind.

I heard someone say, just last night, that he has no objection to immigration, but only if it’s legal immigration. Illegal immigration, though, is intolerable. I didn’t engage the commenter for a variety of reasons. But it occurred to me, from the context of his remarks, that he felt illegal immigrants simply choose to ignore the law and, instead, try to make their way in to the United States illegally because it’s faster. That perspective identifies members of the caravan as law-breakers who have chosen speed over lawful entry. And, I think, it may assume the process of entering legally is long, but not too long. Finally, his perspective does not classify participants in the caravan as refugees; they are, instead, parasites. Bear in mind that I’ve not had the conversation with the guy so I can understand his motives. I’m making all manner of assumptions about them.

If my friend who opposes illegal immigration were to explain my support for the people in the caravan, he might suggest that I have more regard for the outcome of the caravan’s march than for the laws that would prohibit its members from pouring across our borders. And I suppose he would be right. I would tell him that inflexible laws that fail to accommodate humanitarian emergencies do not deserve my respect. I would tell him that process should never be the sole governor of decisions whose outcome could be either life or death.

There would be more to the conversation. But the components necessary for the conversation to change one or both of our minds would be missing. The missing components include the hard facts about: 1) what, exactly, are the laws surrounding immigration and refugee status; 2) realistically, how long can prospective immigrants from Mexico and Honduras and Guatemala, etc. expect to wait to be admitted to the U.S. legally; 3) failing to get into the U.S., either legally or not, what fate likely awaits the participants in the caravan; and 4) in the event participants in the caravan who make it to the U.S. border (many apparently simply want to stay in Mexico) were allowed in to this country, how would they be integrated into our society and at what cost, borne by whom?

Many more facts would have to come into the conversation, as well. And my friend and I would both have to stake our positions on where to draw the line between acceptable levels of “unauthorized entry” (let’s stop calling it illegal immigration for a moment) and acceptable levels of social support for unauthorized entrants. Because, no matter how much compassion I might feel for people fleeing economic oppression or real violence, I have to acknowledge that, at some point, our ability to pay the economic costs of entry (whether authorized or not) reaches its limit. I think the problems with immigration in Europe clearly illustrate that social and economic systems not designed to accommodate enormous influxes of migrants tend to break down in chaos.  Put in simpler, but less charitable, language, when does economic self-preservation override humanitarian compassion?

Migration, immigration, humanitarianism, compassion, empathy, foreign aid an assistance, and the rule of law collide in ways that neither “side” likes to admit. The immigration issue is far more complex than most people seem to understand. Yet the solutions we offer are simple: Build a wall to keep “them” out or open our doors to those in need. Neither solution is adequate. In fact, both solutions are woefully inadequate and probably would have consequences no one can realistically anticipate without excruciatingly meticulous research. Even then, policy decisions would be apt to overlook critical facts or overstate the relevance of others.

If my words seem less argument one way or the other and more hand-wringing confusion, that’s exactly my point. Arguments either way fail to adequately address the scope of the problem. Confusion does, indeed, reign. In my opinion, the only truly reliable long-term solution is to help build the economies and civil structures of countries who are supplying the bulk of immigrants. In a nutshell, make life tolerable at home for would-be immigrants so they don’t see walking thousands of miles with their children as their last remaining hope.  That solution is so, so big it seems impossible. But it is possible. In my mind, though, it’s possible only with the radical redistribution of wealth out of the hands of the richest and most powerful and into the hands of the rest of the people who live in abject poverty. Easy-peasy, right?

Ultimately, the problems of immigration and migration and refugees are stoked by poverty. I foresee a global disruption in which the richest people alive become targets of the poorest. While the rich control the money and can finance their own protection, the poor have the advantage of sheer numbers. A bloodbath of global proportions would leave both populations in shreds. I foresee bloody borders around the globe. Maybe even in my lifetime.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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