US policy creates refugee crisis


GRAPHIC: Rini Templeton
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The 2020 election cheered U.S. immigration rights activists who went all-out to get rid of immigrant bashing racist-in-chief, Donald Trump. Biden’s win encouraged migrants from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico to flee poverty, crime and repression and head north on the dangerous thousand-mile trek to the U.S. border. Their hope? To find a place to simply live, find jobs, raise children.

President Biden revoked some of Trump’s worst measures. He rescinded the odious ban on immigrants from countries with large Muslim populations. He re-instated DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and a version of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to admit people from some countries at war or suffering from natural disasters. He ordered a 100 day stay on deportations and promised a new comprehensive immigration law.

Biden nonetheless deported an estimated 1,800 Haitians and Jamaicans, including infants and young children. His executive orders are limited. They omit the neediest of those seeking refuge. He reopened the infamous Obama and Trump era private detention centers to “house” hundreds of unaccompanied children. Many have family or friends in the U.S. to stay with pending asylum hearings, but only a few were allowed that option. Children who arrive with a parent are expelled immediately.

The U.S. is the source of the crisis facing its southern neighbors, forcing deadly policies championed by Republicans and Democrats alike. Thousands risk the journey north as their only choice.

U.S. savagery and coups in Central America. For decades, the World Bank has demanded to be repaid development loans that forced privatization of state-owned entities like schools and power plants. Brutal regimes allied to the U.S. enforced these dictums.

Honduran oligarchs pocketed money from loans for infrastructure, then further impoverished the country by selling off public resources to repay the loans. The U.S. United Fruit Company operated as a government of its own, killing strikers, burning forests, all with impunity.

Hurricanes, fires and drought made more severe by climate change, destroyed crops after over-logging of forests left eroded soil and barren fields. The country’s elected president was deposed in a 2009 coup backed by the Obama administration.

Salvadoran call centers, “free trade zones” where international companies lured by tax breaks hire low-wage workers to assemble products, and the informal selling of food and services on the streets are the basis of the economy. Gangs founded in the U.S. and transplanted as deportees, give the country one of the highest murder rates in the world. In the four years ending in 2018, the U.S. expelled at least 110,000 Salvadoran migrants, and 200,000 more were dumped into Mexico and deported from there. Once home, many migrants have been killed by the same forces they were running from in the first place — government troops, cops, intimate partners, or gangs.

Guatemala is the fifth poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean and has the sixth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world. Much of its economy is based on remittances from the U.S., and half the population lives below the poverty line. The Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) forced privatization of most publicly owned institutions, like electricity, schools, and water. Guatemala also has the highest incidence of femicide in the region. The U.S. School of the Americas trains troops to fight leftist rebels, coaching them in brutality against women as a counter-terrorism technique.

Borders barricaded. As Honduran migrants escaping poverty and repression march to their northern border, most are turned back by Guatemalan troops. As Guatemalan, Salvadoran and Honduran refugees move north they are stopped at Mexico’s border by federal troops. Mexican state police patrol the entire country — and along with drug cartel armies — rob and kidnap refugees. Some migrants get through, some are killed by soldiers, but many are stranded in Guatemala. Those who make it to the US. border are stuck in Mexico — outside, in heat, rain, or cold.

Migrants forced to stay in Mexico are left on their own, sometimes a thousand miles from home, with no money, food, or shelter. Despite being welcomed by indigenous people living nearby or other supporters, their presence taxes the already stressed local economies. Many of those sent back to their countries of origin set off north again, because there is no safe place to remain.

Biden has now proposed a new plan to the right-wing leaders of the three countries to Mexico’s south. It promises $4 billion in aid along with foreign corporate investment. In return “Plan Biden” demands further cuts to workers’ protections, lift limits on more privatization, and will “reduce barriers to private sector investment.”

Real solutions. It is the right of refugees, under U.S. and international law, to apply for asylum, a right routinely denied every step of their journey. But to be granted asylum, applicants must prove they fear persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group. There is no legal right to asylum based on poverty, hunger, or general fear of government thugs and gangs.

Instead of torturing refugees, the U.S. should: Release all migrants and place them in supportive housing. Repurpose border troops to build or renovate emergency housing. Dismantle the Department of Homeland Security, use the money to give refugees jobs at union-scale wages.

To address the crisis within Central America: Cancel the debts of impoverished countries. Defund the Pentagon to provide unconditional aid.

Open the U.S. border.

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