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Image by Kent Buckley

January 13, 2016


Over 100,000 undocumented immigrants from Central America have entered the US since 2014—seeking to escape what the mainstream media like to vaguely call “violence and political instability.” And they have been living in abject terror since the Obama administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) began deportation raids against 121 of their number in December. Raids which come just as right-wing Presidential candidates whip up hysteria against immigrants and refugees. As if these “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are somehow the cause of our many societal woes.

These latest ICE raids against undocumented immigrants are reprehensible, and anyone who believes in democracy should oppose them. Especially because—as has been pointed out repeatedly by immigrant advocates—many of the people getting deported stand a good chance of being killed by reactionary governments or gangs if they’re forced to “go back where they came from.”

But also because Americans all bear some responsibility for electing governments who have made a series of decisions over the last century that have resulted in the immiseration of the countries that undocumented immigrants have left.

Such immigrants come here largely fleeing poverty—created by US hemispheric policy aimed at increasing profits for American multinational corporations and in maintaining control over the region. Time and time again, in each of the countries at the center of the current crisis—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras—and many other countries besides, the US has moved to crush governments that show any sign of pursuing political and economic democracy.

For example, leaders like then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration backed a coup d’etat in Honduras in 2009 against the popular government of President Manuel Zelaya. To the great benefit of the Honduran military, a small number of elite landowning families, and some huge American corporations.

The country is now essentially run by criminals, and has one of the highest murder rates in the world. Similar processes continue in Guatemala. And in El Salvador. Which finally has a progressive government, but which faces a hostile US Congress, truculent local elites, and greedy multinational corporations. Plus, major gangs like MS-13 that owe their existence to US machinations in the region.

It’s worth noting that once here, undocumented immigrants (and refugees) almost universally work hard, pay taxes, and contribute to their communities. So arguments that they are somehow stealing something or “taking jobs” from American citizens and documented immigrants remain ludicrous on their face.

The only way out of this dilemma is to not only institute a humane and just immigration system—a hard enough challenge in the present political moment—but also to enshrine the “right to move” freely between nations in international law. And ultimately the even more democratic “right to the world” that Vassar College professor Joseph Nevins recently explained as follows:

A right to the world complements a “right to the city”—the right to radically remake places and those who inhabit them in ways that are inclusive and socially and environmentally just and sustainable—that many on the political left champion. A right to the world envisions more than a right for those who already inhabit a place, however. It also seeks a right to a just share of the earth’s resources and to a sustainable “home,” and a right to traverse global space, especially for the globally disadvantaged.

In other words, a right to a world where people mired in structural poverty and violence—like the current wave of immigrants from Central America or the even larger wave of refugees from Syria—would have the freedom to move to countries where they have the possibility of building a new life. And the right to have their basic needs met wherever they go. Without being branded “illegal” and treated like criminals for doing what any one of us would do in the same circumstances.

Readers looking to help stop the latest round of ICE raids, and to work on the long-stalled federal immigration reform process, should get in touch with the Mass Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition and their network of allied immigrant organizations right away.

Those who want to fight for the right to move and the right to the world are going to have a less straightforward path—as they’ll have to help build a new movement for migrants rights from the ground up.

A good start towards that larger goal would be to join the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights in pushing the US to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families. Steps beyond that will likely take a decades long fight.

For Americans feeling swayed by the anti-immigrant election rhetoric dominating both the news and paid campaign advertisements, I can only say this: take a careful look at the history of US relations with other nations in the Western Hemisphere and around the world. Notice what our political and corporate leaders did to those countries over the last century, and then reflect on where most immigrants and refugees are coming from. And why.

Then you might better understand why I’m saying that Americans owe immigrants and refugees a much better deal than we’ve been giving them of late.

It also wouldn’t hurt to remember that anyone who isn’t Native American is basically descended from immigrants. But please don’t embarrass us all by thinking that every one of your ancestors came here “legally.”  Or that this land wasn’t stolen lock, stock, and barrel from its rightful owners.

If you’re looking for a book to read up on these and related matters, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States is still a fine choice.

La lucha continua.

Apparent Horizon is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s network director.

Copyright 2016 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.