written by Valerie Morales
Mess, chaos and dissatisfaction is the United States-Mexico border. Here promises are rarely kept. Poetically speaking, the border is diversity and discontent as men with guns weaponize the pursuit of freedom, and humanitarian workers heal the suffering.
To cross the border is to put yourself in jeopardy. Whether inconsistent labor, despotic leaders, or ruthless drug cartels are the reason, the bottom line is unchanged: crossing the border illegally is terrifying.
Those on foot are similar to the Ellis Island hordes more than a century ago, a repository of dreamers and dreams, but much browner and peering past wire cages, fresh-faced and sad.
The border geography is often unmanageable, the sweltering deserts and heavy canyons and apocalyptic hills, all lacking the required mercy of a forgiving land. A corrosive death trap many nights, its native conditions are a passionless place to meet a horrible end. Too hot. Too tired. Needing water. Frightened. Suffocated. That is what the border is on most days of the week, a template of agony and hell.
The border that has become a political football and a way to score points and an example of pastoral compassion is the most trafficked border in the world, nearly 2,000 miles long. It is a beautiful, arid and misunderstood plume of land. And a killing field.
Along the Arizona-Mexico border, in 1996, there were 7 migrant deaths. In the decade of 2001–2012 there were 2,000.
After the Mexican-American war, the Rio Grande was the border. A straight line to the Gila River and towards the Pacific shaped the enormity. Surveyors and engineers mapping the land suffered the harsh conditions, lost their bearings, and nearly starved because of incorrect coordinates. More land was coming. The U.S. paid Mexico $10 million dollars for the Gadsden Purchase per terms of the Treaty of Mesilla. It delivered southern Arizona and southwestern New Mexico and the means to build a railroad.
After the border was mapped, Mexicans were given free land to populate the area and they could come and go without much interference. It was the Chinese who were policed, violators of the Chinese Exclusion Act.
During the Mexican Revolution, in those years after 1910, Mexicans fled north where they were wanted for cheap labor. The Border Patrol was created in 1924, an El Paso office, and they were charged with apprehending bootleggers; this was the Prohibition era.
Mexico’s oil boom pushed the stakes higher. They borrowed money against their new wealth only to have oil prices crash. The debt was suffocating. The United States offered wages higher than the Mexican economy could match. The drug trade made a tense U.S.-Mexico marriage turbulent and explosive as the desperate and the panicked paid coyotes to get them across the border to safety.
If you cross the border legally, San Ysidro is a waiting game. 94,000 people enter daily, more than 60,000 vehicles. ICE and border patrol agents are on watch. Northeast from San Ysidro, Otay Mesa manages 45,000 entrants per day. Farther east, El Paso is the entry point for 81,000.
The counties on both sides of the border are home to more than 10 million people. Closing the border means in practical terms they cannot make a living and they, inadvertently, become just as disadvantaged and strained as the desperate crossers who are seeking a better life. In November, when San Ysidro closed for five hours, $5 million was lost.
Every day a stunning amount of people, more than 1 million, are processed and $1.7 billion worth of commerce comes through the official ports. The North American Free Trade Agreement has translated into $557 billion dollars between Mexico and the United States.
Mexico is the second largest U.S. export market with $242 billion. Cutting that off by shutting down the ports of entry would devastate the American economy. It was a ridiculous idea because Mexico isn’t the problem. Between 2000 and 2016, Mexicans crossing illegally (for economic reasons) dropped 90%.
The February 2019 border arrests of 66,000 was a ten year high, and the number for March may total 100,000. However, many illegal immigrants are already in the country on expired visas, according to the Center for Migration Studies.
62% of temporary visas in 2016 were expired, as immigrants remained in the country. Most of them entered the country by way of airplane. The government estimates that 702,000 who entered the country by air or sea in 2017 overstayed their visa.
But you won’t hear any of this from the partisan politicians who use the border crises as a righteous prop. The truth is the border is what it has always been, an unhealthy and at times toxic truce between countries whose leaders use it as a vehicle to turn us against someone more tragic. The rhetoric and disillusionment has worsened under Donald Trump who has not addressed the aggregate problems of asylum, punishment and immigrant trials.
Any hope of intimidation- come to the border and lose your children- has been crushed by the enormity of Central American asylum seekers who rightly sense they have to enter the U.S. now or forever be locked out. They trust America as an institution more than Americans trust those they elect. Because the person (less than half) Americans elected still wants to separate children from their mothers. It has reduced the immigration problem to a theater of the absurd and the morbidly sad, and in the case of Donald Trump, the sickenly cruel.
Plotting an even more damning policy to keep brown people outside the country, and dismissing legalities, subtleties and nuances, not to mention the impact of collateral damage on industries and families, the incoming Director of Homeland Security, when in place, will do what Kristjen Nielson failed to do. They will deport low level illegal immigrants and accept high level ones, or, to read the fine print, less Latinos and more Asians and Europeans, a fitting response to white supremacy politics.
Unaware of any of this, of despotic sickness, the Central Americans are romantic crusaders pushing the normal boundaries of human despair to a level of catastrophe. It is now a contagion endorsed by vulgar policy makers who have just now discovered the border is a mess.
This is madness. There are too many asylum seekers to process in a timely manner. The courts are already backed up and the current administration hasn’t yet reunited children separated from their parents, much less created an alternative system for the thousands seeking refuge that is legal and won’t be eviscerated by a judge. Human lives are wasting in depression, sickness and despair while affluent legislators misrepresent the crises to their constituents.
About those seeking asylum in the United States. It is asked for at the port of entry. An application is filed and then the wait begins for an interview with an Asylum Officer. The Asylum Officer grants or denies asylum, or oftentimes refers it to a judge. This is going to change with the new DHS. The Asylum Officer will now challenge asylum seekers, making them prove they have been persecuted. The State Department will, in advance, work up an analytics model of the country in question and if the asylum seeker’s fear and panic doesn’t fit in with what a bureaucrat in a cubicle generates on computer code, the asylum seeker will be deported.
Deportations have been a problem in the past. Statistics have shown that only 1.7% of those denied asylum actually leave the country; they have been given work permits which is one more thing the new hard line immigration policy intends to change.
So here we soberly are. The greatest nation in the world is absent any kind of reconciliation strategy that is legal. Simmering outrage notwithstanding, the leader in Washington who rants and then changes his mind continues like clockwork to bungle the calamity as he puts in place weak people to implement his Faustian fantasies. It has been an epic failure by the Immigration President who desires to be a provocateur. But in a twist of laughable irony, it is he who has added to the immigrant rolls, creating more illegals by his fetishization of a wall. If he had just shut up we would not be here. His wall talk ginned up all of this mass exodus let’s go to America affliction. Suddenly, there is a sense of urgency.
Trump is often priming his audience to change the subject but catastrophe isn’t that simplistic and, besides, this border despair is his legacy and even more so as he shifts to the violently extreme. The history books will immortalize him as a failed leader because his policies are filled with contempt and his rationalizations are grounded in racial hatred. After the firing of Kristjen Nielson, the border crises now firmly belongs to Donald Trump, and in 2020 he will have to defend his inertia and his cruelty, and if he closes the border for good, he’ll have to explain the blood score he leveled upon his countrymen.