“Mama!” six-year-old Luis calls through his tears. He sobs the plea again and again, repeating the call for his mother each time a droplet drips from his chin.
“Luis! Mi niňo. Luis!” wails Eleanora Ramirez, a Guatemalan asylum-seeker, as she watches a stern-faced woman buckle a seatbelt across the scrawny child’s torso. Three other young children sit in the sedan’s backseat, already strapped in. They, too, are shrieking. But Eleanora only hears Luis. She screams, “No mi hijo!” as the woman coldly seats herself in the driver’s seat. “Looooeeeesss!” Eleanora roars as the car drives away. She slumps to the ground, sobbing with desperation and despair, her handcuffed wrists behind her back. A uniformed man, perhaps a foot taller than the tiny woman, grabs her by the shoulders and lifts her up with a forceful tug, denying her the time to feel, to panic, to grieve, and pushes her toward a dusty beige van with English words she does not understand and an American flag insignia on its sliding door. Eight similar looking women in the van sit uncomfortably because they, too, have cuffed wrists behind their backs.
Perhaps a quarter mile away, the Rio Grande River flows, its water level rising, the result of a flood of broken-hearted tears, tears the color of a sandy desert dust devil.
Welcome to the United States, Land of the Free, Land of Opportunity, you courageous, frightened, and distraught Mexican and Central Americans. You nervy humans, seeking refuge and opportunity. This is Trump’s America.
But how did the US-Mexico border become this heartless hell? How did the immigration situation on our southern border get so out of hand? It couldn’t have happened over night. It didn’t. It began long ago.
Between 1910-1920, the decade of the Mexican Revolution, approximately 20,000 war refugees and political exiles escaped the violence in Mexico by fleeing north each year. During the 1920s, after the revolution had ended, the yearly figure rose to between 50,000 and 100,000. These immigrations were legal. But they were not the only foreigners coming to America.
As Mexicans blended into the work force, they were perceived as better laborers than the immigrants coming from East Europe and Asia. They were seen as “docile” and “strong.” They were also perceived as “temporary,” more likely to return home when conditions were right.
In an attempt to control the situation, the Immigration Act of 1924 set quotas. Each country was allowed a set number of émigrés. Mexico, however, was exempt, because, without them, farmers were unable to find laborers to sow and harvest their crops.
Meanwhile in Mexico, between 1926 and 1929, new government laws restricted the role of the Catholic Church, even though the nation is 98% Catholic. As a result, many Mexicans immigrated to the US.
But in 1929, the stock market crashed. There were no jobs in the US. Tens of thousands of Mexicans returned home. A decade or so later, however, when World War II created countless jobs as American men went off to fight, droves of Mexican men returned. In fact, in 1942, a US government program was created encouraging Mexicans to come. Most came to work, but some came to join the military and assist the United States’ war effort, even though they were not citizens.
The creating of this program may have been the starting point, the genesis of the border problems we have today. Republicans, who focus on business, economy, and defense, supported the concept because Mexican contributions were beneficial to us. Democrats, with a more humanity-centered focus, saw this program as helping poor, needy people survive. Mexicans, too, liked the concept because, while some would use the program to become permanent residents, even citizens, and others treated the situation as temporary, they all sent money home to their struggling families. This, of course, helped the Mexican economy, which government officials liked.
Two decades later, in 1965, the US passed the Abolition of National Origins Quota Act. It imposed a ceiling of 120,000 immigrants from the Western Hemisphere, not an allocation per nation. Therefore, theoretically, all 120,000 could have come from Mexico. They didn’t. But they certainly formed the largest group. Again, this was done for economic reasons; cheap labor was provided for Republicans and a sense of helping needy people was provided for Democrats.
Up to this time, most crossings into the US from the south were legal, systematic, and involved checkpoints. But something happened in the 1960s to change that.
There had been a drug trade from Mexico and Central America prior to the ‘60s, but the latter years of the decade saw considerable growth in the industry, which, it should be pointed out, was spurred by American demand. As a result of the growth of this illegal business, the US initiated Operation Intercept in September 1969 and closed down the border for weeks. The hope was to stem the flow of Mexican marijuana. It, however, failed. It was a weak attempt at tightening up a porous border.
The effort involved increased surveillance of the border from both air and sea, but the major part of the policy was the individual inspection, mandated to last three minutes, of every vehicle crossing into the United States from Mexico. Because of complaints from cross-border travelers, and from the Mexican president, the searching of vehicles was reduced after 10 days and completely abandoned after about 20 days.
At about the same time, the Mexican government was receiving a growing number of threats from guerilla dissidents and the forerunners of drug cartels. Cooperating with the US became dangerous. For their safety and protection, Mexican officials began cooperating with the cartels. A new form of government corruption was born. Tensions grew between the US and Mexico over drug, border and immigration issues.
It should be mentioned that drug trafficking was not limited to the US and/or Mexico. It had become a worldwide problem. In fact, a Global War on Drugs was declared in 1971. But the US had another war on which to focus…Vietnam…and couldn’t supply the time and manpower to effectively fight drug traffickers.
In hindsight, it would seem this would have been the time—when drugs and drug traffickers were added to the mix, over-shadowing the hard-working Latino laborers coming to the US—to do something strong, drastic, and effective in preventing continued uncontrolled entry into the US from Latin America. This would have been the time to stem the growing flood of “illegal aliens” who entered the US without going through the system, any system. But the US does not operate that way. The US is, and generally has been in modern times, reactive, not proactive in problem solving. Therefore, as a result of decades of pussy-footing, missed opportunities, and failing to think outside-the-nine-dots, Donald Trump, when he became some peoples’ president, over-reacted to the double-headed problem of needy humans and illegal drugs by attempting to build a symbolic, but penetrative wall. And separating children from their families. And jailing desperate people seeking the kindness of strangers.
What would have happened if, after failures in Korea and Vietnam, the US government and its military reassessed their priorities and visions? What would have happened if US officials stopped trying to force America’s version of democracy on cultures in which it would not work? What would have happened if President Nixon, Ford, Carter or Reagan had brought our troops stateside from the far-corners of the world and ordered them to defend our borders, to remind them that they are a part of the Department of Defense, not offense? What would have happened if we had built a very deep-set, tall wall or barrier along our southern border then, at a much lower cost, and created one or two sufficiently staffed crossing sites per state where proper vetting could occur? What if housing, food, showers, and medical care were provided in case the investigating took several days as computers and phone systems were not as sophisticated as they are now? What if armed American military with some knowledge of Spanish and trained to calmly deal with people unlike themselves lined the border behind the fence, not to kill illegal border-crossers, but to escort them to proper entry points? That final image, I am certain, will freak out some people. But, in Mexico, armed military and police are a common sight where needed and it doesn’t feel like a threat, either to people or freedom.
How many ill-intentioned aliens, “undesirables,” or criminals would challenge the armed US military facing them? How many would cooperate and go through a systematic third-degree to enter the US? Very few, if any. Only those with good intentions, clean records, and no options would endure that security system. Those foreigners fearing questions, vetting, interviews, searches, and investigations would turn back or refuse to cooperate and they would be sent back.
Meanwhile, the US soldiers, since they are on home soil, would be closer to their families. Perhaps, nearby housing even would be provided. After all, until Trump, the Republican Party had been the champion of “family values,” while Democrats traditionally had been focused on the needs, physical and psychological, of the people. What if the US military, stationed along our borders—Canada is a part of this, too—and not in a foreign land, could spend their pay boosting the US economy? If we had done any of this in the 1970s or ’80s, we could have avoided the horrible, inhumane events happening along our southern border today. Imagine, with the advancements in computers and phones, how quickly the vetting could be done today.
A simplistic, unrealistic, naïve remedy? Perhaps. But that which has been tried, hasn’t work. If the US government had been serious about fixing its border problems, it should have been more aggressive, daring, and innovative in its attempts to stop an already difficult situation from getting out of hand.
Therefore, now, decades after the problems at the US’s southern border began, after several presidents and congresses could have done something organized, civil, humane, and effective against border-crossers, whether criminal or desperate law-abiding people, Donald Trump, with his heart the size of a termite’s hemorrhoid and a brain the size of that termite’s dick, separates small children from their parents, houses them in institutional conditions, and causes life-long traumas.
I watch from the interior of Mexico with embarrassment. I am ashamed to say I am an American. I am disgusted that a man so horrible, so heartless, could be president. I am beyond angry that about one-third of the US population still supports that madman and this action. I am furious at spineless, morality-challenged elected Republicans who rationalize Trumps behavior, actions, and choices, without challenging him, because, in their world, political party comes before country or humanity.
And I am dumbfounded that they don’t hear little Luis or his mother Eleanora Ramirez cry.