The real crisis at the U.S. – Mexican border as I understand it is not people going around the checkpoints as much as people simply showing up at checkpoints to turn themselves in to seek asylum. We are talking whole families in many cases, trying to escape not just the poverty in Latin America but the violence inflicted upon them by gangs and by their own governments.
I know I have in the past in this space referred to reports that have shown illegal border crossings have been on a downward trend, but it is a matter of statistics and terminology used and the difference between people looking for work and those who are truly in a refugee status.
As I understand it, illegal border crossings have been on a downward trend for a decade but recently there has been a major spike in those turning themselves in to request asylum in the United States. We are talking thousands of people all at once, and it is overwhelming border authorities and our own life-sustaining resources.
And I will insert here that I doubt President Trump’s border wall project is the answer — I mean that won’t stop people from asking for asylum.
But forget that issue for the time, it may be eventually resolved by the courts and politics.
Most of these refugees are coming out of Central America. The governments there are corrupt for the most part. There is a lot of lawlessness. To fill the vacuum in the neighborhoods, gangs control things — in essence the local citizens are required to pay for protection. They even call it the tax. The gangs are the government or in some cases work with the government. The penalty for not playing along with the gang is at the least to be run out of town and more likely to be killed.
These refugees may hate to leave the place of their birth and even want to go back. I saw one story on PBS where a woman went back and started a business. But she had to give it up after she was faced with paying “the tax” to not one but three different gangs.
You don’t go to the police or the government in these countries for help, because they are mostly corrupt. They are the problem.
Latin America, from Mexico on down, has a long history of corruption — not that it has a lock on all that. I mean of course we have corruption big time in our own government or governments at all levels in the United States. But I think it is safe to say it is far worse in Latin America.
And of course I am no authority on all of that, but my understanding from reading and just life is that corruption is simply endemic in the culture in Latin America. For one thing, the history of the culture there is of a paternalistic pattern. And you have mostly the rich and the poor with precious little middle class — although some nations, maybe Argentina and Chile, have a history of more of a middle class. But still the system is of strong men (or perhaps in some cases women backed up by men) in power, be it at the seat of the national or local governments or on a farming plantation or estancia or rancho, handing out favors and support to those under them and drawing or demanding their undying allegiance for it all.
And because local officials and police are paid so little, they tend to live off the bribe (called “la mordida”, the bite).
I’m not trying to run down anyone’s culture, but what is, is what is. Example. In my job as a truck driver I once was delivering pears (or was it apples?) to the Mexican border at San Luis, Arizona (to go into Mexico). There was a long delay in unloading. I asked what the problem was. At first the Mexican receiver just gave me a blank stare but after a while he allowed as the temperature of the product was too hot (I think we were supposed to run them at 34 degrees Fahrenheit). So I asked him were they going to accept them or not. I did not get an answer, just a shrug of the shoulders. But after some time, miraculously, without explanation, they began to unload them and I got my bills and was out of there. But later I talked to another driver, who unlike me was an owner operator — I mean I simply had my company to fall back on for direction and responsibility. He told me he ran into the same thing but slipped them some money and got the freight off. I take it once they saw I was not good for any money they gave up. I might add I am relatively sure that there was nothing wrong with my product (I’ll never know, though). And to be fair, this could happen most anywhere I suppose, but it is expected at the border or at least not at all surprising. I had another incident where unloaders at the border tried to extort money from me. It was in the middle fo the night and right on the border but in my naiveté and innocence I just stood my ground. Looking back, and with what I know today, don’t know if I could do that now. On the other hand, have you ever been into a produce market right in the middle of our country? same thing. Everyone has their hand out from the gate people on down.
But in the past decade the gang violence in Central America in particular (well in Mexico too) has grown to extreme proportions, threatening any semblance of civilization.
So, anytime one writes about an issue today, one is nearly obliged to reference the actions of President Trump. His solution to the influx at the Mexican border: close the border (totally), don’t let anyone or anything across (that is what he is indicating) and to stop all aid to the Central American nations of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Since he just says things and is often not precise or changes his tune, no use to discuss the details here. But closing the border it would seem might do more harm to the United States than anyone else. Cross-border trade is vital to our economy. The aid is another thing. Since no doubt a lot of aid simply goes into the hands of corrupt people in the governments and out down there it may well be a prudent move. One report I saw claimed a lot of aid is not direct dollars but goes for various programs whose aim is to counter the crisis that creates the problem of violence and refugees. Even so, I see two things wrong with that: one, it apparently is not working well, and two, somehow we are still talking about money and resources (really the same thing) that drain our own economy and for what?
Unfortunately we (the U.S.) carry part of the blame for the situation in Latin America. Over the decades, dating back over a century, we plundered resources there, helped all but enslave poor people to American corporations, such as in the banana and coffee business, and worked hand-in-hand with right-wing dictatorial governments who oppressed their people. In the Cold War our excuse was that we were fighting communist insurgents, who we argued, you guessed it, would oppress their own people. We helped sow chaos and despair and now are reaping the results of it.
But I do think that a growth of the middle class in Latin America, of which there has been over the past decade or so, will make things better. We just need to do things that will help their economy and not disrupt it (and our own at the same time). We have to work with forces friendly to us in those nations. We should develop trade agreements that have strict human rights clauses in them. We should send people down there who are steeped in the Latin culture to represent us.
Bluster and threats is not the way to go.
Shooting ourselves in the foot is not either.
But apparently the refugee crisis at the border is real and it is or will heavily tax our resources. But we are America, and we have an image and responsibility to uphold to the oppressed of the world.
We have to be careful of who we let in and who we work with in the other nations and not spend good money after bad.
It’s easy to make loud and threatening and racist statements but not nearly as easy to live up to our responsibility and not endanger our own economy and way of life.