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August 17, 2019

Made in the USA

Opinion

August 17, 2019

It’s hard to believe that more than four years have passed since the police shot Amílcar Pérez-López a few blocks from my house in San Francisco's Mission District. He was an immigrant, 20 years old, and his remittances were the sole support for his mother and siblings in Guatemala. On February 26, 2015, two undercover police officers shot him six times in the back, although they would claim he'd been running toward them with an upraised butcher knife.

For two years, members of my little Episcopal church joined other neighbors in a weekly evening vigil outside the Mission police station, demanding that the district attorney bring charges against the men who killed Amílcar. When the medical examiner's office continued to drag its feet on releasing its report, we helped arrange for a private autopsy, which revealed what witnesses had already reported – that he had indeed been running away from those officers when they shot him. In the end, the San Francisco district attorney declined to prosecute the police for the killing, although the city did reach a financial settlement with his family back in Guatemala.

Still, this isn't really an article about Amílcar, but about why he – like so many hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans, Hondurans, and El Salvadorans in similar situations – was in the United States in the first place. It's about what drove 225,570 of them to be apprehended by the US Border Patrol in 2018 and 132,887 of them to be picked up at or near the border in a single month – May – of this year.

It is indeed a real crisis, not something the Trump administration simply cooked up to justify building the president's wall. But it is also absolutely a manufactured crisis, one that should be stamped with the label "made in the USA" thanks to decades of Washington's interventions in Central American affairs. Its origins go back at least to 1954 when the CIA overthrew the elected Guatemalan government of Jacobo Arbenz. In the 1960s, dictatorships would flourish in that country (and elsewhere in the region) with U.S. economic and military backing.

When, in the 1970s and 1980s, Central Americans began to rise up in response, Washington's support for right-wing military regimes and death squads, in Honduras and El Salvador in particular, drove thousands of the inhabitants of those countries to migrate here, where their children were recruited into the very US gangs now devastating their countries. In Guatemala, the US supported successive regimes in genocidal wars on its indigenous Mayan majority.To top it off, climate change, which the United States has done the most of any nation to cause (and perhaps the least to forestall or mitigate), has made subsistence agriculture increasingly difficult to sustain in many parts of Central America.

Scholars who study migration speak of two key explanations for why human beings leave their homes and migrate: "pull" and "push" factors. Pull factors would include the attractions of a new place, like economic and educational opportunities, religious and political liberties, and the presence there of family, friends, or community members from back home. Push factors driving people from their homes would include war; the drug trade; political, communal, or sexual violence; famine and drought; environmental degradation and climate change; and ordinary, soul-eating poverty.

International law mandates that some, but not all, push factors can confer "refugee" status on migrants, entitling them to seek asylum in other countries. This area of humanitarian law dates from the end of World War II, a time when millions of Europeans were displaced, forcing the world to adjust to huge flows of humanity.

Excerpted from: 'How the US Created the Central American ImmigrationCrisis'.

Courtesy: Commondreams. org

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