U.S. Policy Pushes and Pulls Migrants


Migrants are easy targets on both sides of the borders. Not since the days of Jane and Jim Crow has the U.S. government had a policy in place that systemically brought death to a group of people based on their race or ethnicity. Our deterrent policy is killing Hispanics.

In conducting research for a book I am soon to finish, I spoke with the undocumented and the hardships and abuses they undergo. I entered into Mexico to speak to would-be migrants to uncover why they were planning to make such a dangerous journey. I even walked part of the migrant trails, bringing water, food and medical supplies.

These were truly trails of terror where thousands have died horribly. According to government reports, we knew that the ratification of NAFTA in 1994 would lead to an increase of migration. Dumping our surplus of subsidized corn (at about $4 billion a year from 1995 to 2004) in Mexico meant a 70 percent drop in Mexican corn prices, and a 247 percent increase in housing, food and other living essentials.

Not surprisingly, over a million Mexican farmers lost their land within a year of NAFTA's ratification. Our trade policy pushes migrants out of Mexico, while our hunger for cheap labor—that native-born Americans don't want to do—pulls them toward the United States.

But rather than acknowledge our complicity in causing immigration and work toward a comprehensive and compassionate immigration reform, we implemented Operation Gatekeeper the same year we ratified NAFTA. Till then, most migrants crossed into the United States through urban centers like San Diego, Calif., Nogales, Ariz., and El Paso, Texas.

Operation Gatekeeper sealed the border at these traditional entry points, pushing the trails through inhospitable mountain ranges and deserts. Operation Gatekeeper was based on the proposition that migrants would die crossing the desert. These "collateral damage" incidents would serve as a deterrent for other migrants thinking of making the dangerous crossing.

What we know is that no one was deterred. The Mexican economic shambles we contributed to forces desperate people to attempt any obstacle in the hopes of being able to send money back home to feed their hungry children.

Most die of thirst. It takes days just to cross the mountains. Many are forced to drink from pools of stagnated water ignoring any animal corpse that may be floating in these water holes. Some, out of desperation, drank their own urine. A blister on one's foot is literally a death sentence. If you cannot keep up, you are left behind.

Alone in the desert with no instrumentation indicating direction means you will die. If the elements don't kill you, other humans might. Women usually start taking birth-control pills months before they begin the journey north because they will probably be raped by the smuggler, the drug runners, rogue border patrol agents and/or the unscrupulous employer if she makes it to a U.S. city.

Migrants are easy targets on both sides of the borders. Not since the days of Jane and Jim Crow has the U.S. government had a policy in place that systemically brought death to a group of people based on their race or ethnicity. Our deterrent policy is killing Hispanics.

What is happening along the border is probably the greatest human rights crisis presently occurring within the United States. And yet many churches that are quick to raise their hands to praise God are slow to raise a finger to help the least among us.

Jesus tells us the story of the Good Samaritan. The lesson is that when we see a hungry, thirsty, beaten person by the side of the road, regardless if they are of the same ethnicity as us, they are our neighbor, and as such, we who are Christian are obligated to bind their wounds. Yet, a Good Samaritan today can receive up to 20 years for providing transportation to the closest hospital for a dying immigrant. Our anti-Hispanic laws prevent us from keeping Jesus' teachings.

While at a No More Death Camp, we chose to follow the laws of God rather than the laws of humans. Several who were hungry, thirsty, alien, sick and soon to be imprisoned stumbled into our camp. One of them could barely walk, his legs swollen several times their size. Obeying Jesus' teachings on the Good Samaritan, we provided them with medical aid and a place to eat. They slept straight for a few days. No doubt they would have perished if not for the camp volunteers. Unfortunately the Border Patrol raided the camp.

Our crime: harboring aliens. We were detained for hours as the officials determined what to do with a group of seminarians. I guess they concluded that the publicity would not be good and let us go. Our guests were taken away—no doubt "voluntarily" repatriated.

They were the lucky ones. A few months ago another group of volunteers who placed water and food on the migrant trails came across Josseline Hernandez, age 14. Josseline was traveling north to be reunited with her family, but she was left behind because she could not keep up. Her body was found three weeks after she disappeared. According to the coroner, she died from exposure one week before her body was found. Her death is not counted by the Border Patrol because they did not participate in the discovery or recovery of her body. To them, she is a (no)body, just another case of "collateral damage."

But she was somebody, created in the image of God. God help us for creating a policy where 14-year-old girls die from hunger and thin deserts because they are Hispanic.

Miguel A. De La Torre is director of the Justice & Peace Institute and associate professor of social ethics at Iliff School of Theology in Denver.

Miguel De La Torre appears in EthicsDaily.com's new DVD, "Beneath the Skin: Baptists and Racism."

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Tags: Immigration, Miguel A. De La Torre, Politics, Theology


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