If you scan the Internet for immigration-related news stories following the Trump administration’s May 7 announcement of its ‘zero tolerance’ border policy, you’ll find the word ‘chaos’ coming up time and time again. Here, for example, is a July 10 headline from my hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times: “First wave of migrants is reunited: amid chaos and legal clashes, US returns 38 of 102 children to parents but misses deadline set by judge”.
In this headline the Times editors used the word ‘chaos’ to allude to several kinds of disorder depicted in the news story: the suffering of 64 families with children under 5 who were still separated from their parents, the anguish and anxiety facing another 2000-3000 children ages 5-17 who had yet to be reunited with their parents, and the general uncertainty produced by constant fluctuations in government policy and actions.
If there were any pattern to this chaos, it was identified by US District Judge Dolly Gee, who rejected the administration’s effort to extend the amount the time that children could be detained. In explaining her July 9 ruling, Judge Gee described the administration’s effort as a “cynical attempt…to shift responsibility to the Judiciary for over 20 years of Congressional inaction and ill-considered Executive action that have led to the current stalemate”.
Judge Gee pinpointed a crucial fact about the current situation. President Trump has steered immigration policy to new heights of cruelty and turmoil, but our immigration system has been vexed by serious problems long before he came into office. Though the judge didn’t address broader issues of policy in her ruling, her critique still provokes consideration of a basic question: how do we find our way out of the chaos facing us today?
A number of commentators have argued that it’s essential we first come to terms with US involvements in Central America that helped stoke the political instability and violence impelling people to journey northward in search of safety and livelihood. They point, for example, to the CIA involvement in the 1954 coup that overthrew Guatemala’s democratically elected government, and to the subsequent US military involvement in a civil war (1960-1996) that claimed 200,000 lives.
Similarly, the US provided significant military aid to a right-wing government in El Salvador responsible for killings, kidnappings, and torture during a devastating civil war (1980-1992) that claimed more than 75,000 lives. During these conflicts and in ensuing decades, thousands of people fled to the US Now, as thousands more arrive at our borders fleeing violence, often inflicted by gangs incubated in the US and stimulated abroad by our own harsh deportation policies, they argue that homeland security should be guided by a firm sense of global responsibility rather than the fear and amnesia binding us ever more tightly in the confining walls of a garrison state.
University of Southern California professor Roberto Suro noted that President Trump has submitted budget requests for immigration enforcement and detention ($26 billion) and for a border wall ($18 billion) that almost match the gross domestic product of El Salvador and Honduras combined ($46 billion). As he said in a recent New York Times column, “a fraction of the enforcement budget well spent on economic development ... would be a better use of taxpayer dollars than trying to intercept people in flight at a militarized border and then criminalizing them”.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Chaos or Community Immigration Policy’.