Massive Human Rights Tragedy On US Southern Border
By Dr. Lorin Swinehart
In recent months, there has been an influx across the southern U.S. border of approximately 57,000 children from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, most unaccompanied by their parents. Ordinarily, the sight of impoverished, homeless, abandoned, mostly parent-less children would inspire compassion among adults. Instead, we have been treated to the spectacle of frenzied mobs shouting at buses transporting the unfortunate passengers to inadequate sanctuaries.
President Obama has asked Congress to authorize $3.7 billion to address the crisis. The funds would be used to provide detention, care and transportation for the children, to increase the capacity of immigration courts, prosecute those who traffic in humans, increase border surveillance and assist Central American nations in repatriating the refugees.
The children are innocent victims, trapped in a vicious cycle, chess pieces in a cruel and barbarous geopolitical game. Many have fled violence and predation in their home countries. They did not ask to be brought into this world, and they are not at fault for their plight.
Local resources are inadequate to deal with the situation, and it is unfair to expect states such as New Mexico and Texas to bear the burden alone. This is not a state or local problem, and it cannot be solved on a state or local level.
In many cases, cruel traffickers have profited from the plight of these desperate ones, assuring them that once inside the US, they will be allowed to remain. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois has urged the prosecution of these so-called “coyotes.” Little has been said regarding Mexican officials complicit in the transportation of the refugees across 1500 miles of their territory.
Most of the refugees are fleeing Honduras, which, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, has the world’s highest per capita murder rate. Honduras suffers from a stagnant economy as well as political instability. The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have both labeled it a Heavily Indebted Poor Country. Human rights workers and reformers are routinely harassed, beaten and even murdered, with government complicity.
In a 2009 coup d’état, condemned by the OAS and the UN, the Honduran president was ousted and replaced by the leader of the congress. Only the US regarded the move as legal. In Honduras, where the birth rate hovers at 3.7 per woman, the government is currently attempting to criminalize emergency contraception. Emergency contraception is not abortophasic. With an estimated 800,000 to 1,000,000 Hondurans already living in the US and more in Spain and throughout the Americas, Honduras should not be discouraging contraception.
In the 1980’s, Honduras hosted the world’s largest Peace Corps mission. At the same time, there is suspicion that the CIA supported a campaign of extra-judicial killings by the military while combating Marxist guerrillas. The US has been in dire need of a rational immigration policy for decades. Meaningful reform has often been thwarted by employers, particularly in agriculture, eager to profit from a population of undocumented workers willing to work for low wages and under harsh conditions.
When I was very young, I worked alongside Puerto Rican migrant workers in the steaming summer fields of an Ohio truck farm. I was shocked and angered by the degradation they suffered and by the grower’s overbearing, supercilious attitude toward those men whom I had come to know as friends.
Today, as the nation lurches out from under the Great Recession, undocumented workers are met with increasing hostility. Recent demonstrations in California and elsewhere are especially repugnant, with protestors flourishing the American flag as a symbol not of freedom and hope but of ugliness and hatred. One wonders if the protestors would be so fervent if the refugees hailed from Canada. The dark specter of racism looms over the debate.
President Bush signed into law a bill requiring illegal immigrants from Latin countries other than Mexico to be granted a hearing before being sent back to their homelands, ostensibly in order to protect women and children from trafficking and sex slavery. The immigration courts frequently take one to three years before hearing a case.
Simply dumping the immigrants back into the societies from which they have fled would be illegal under current US law. Small, parentless children would be easy prey for human predators. While tighter border security is required to end the current stampede, the situations of those already here need to be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
Undocumented immigrants help drive US population growth, contributing to widespread loss of habitat and biodiversity. Recently, Science Magazine postulated that the world is facing its sixth great extinction because of overpopulation. As always, the problems of human suffering and environmental depletion cannot be separated.
Overpopulation and the consequential depletion of natural resources exacerbate all other issues. Family planning and contraceptive services on a global level would do much in the long run to ameliorate conditions such as those in Honduras and throughout much of Latin America. A necessary prerequisite is the empowerment of women, especially with regard to the ever-controversial issue of reproductive rights. Any doctrine encouraging population growth anywhere, whether promoted by governments, religious organizations or macho bullies needs to be soundly rejected.
The US cannot unilaterally reform Honduras. Altering the manner in which a society thinks and acts from the bottom up dwarfs the seven labors of Hercules. Our efforts will meet with limited success in a region where the charge of Yankee Imperialism still resonates.
The scenes along the US southern border will be repeated many times in the future, as societies collapse beneath the burdens of too many people and too few resources. In his prescient study, “The Coming Anarchy,” Robert Kaplan warns that conflicts will arise over scarce water and topsoil resources in the 21st century, as they have over petroleum reserves in the 20th.
Simple solutions, raging rhetoric and the latest outbursts of Congressional Newspeak only worsen a tragic situation. The President has offered a responsible plan. It is time for Congress to step up to the plate.
Many countries in the world today are economic and societal failures, as is evidenced by the number of their citizens eager to flee elsewhere. To simply move on to a new place after devouring one’s own country from beneath oneself is no solution to world poverty and the depletion of natural resources. No country, including the US, can admit everyone who wants to enter, whether legally or illegally. To do so invites chaos.
In the meantime, humane treatment is required for those whom the great prophets of the Old Testament would have called “sojourners” among us. Given that the infant Jesus Christ was himself a refugee in a strange land, those who profess to follow him need to ask themselves whether they will behave like the Good Samaritan or like the Scribe and the Pharisee who, when confronted by the sufferings of a crime victim, chose to look the other way. Before submerging one’s mind and soul in the jingoistic mob, it might be wise to remember the words, “What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.”