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December 14, 2018

The choice


December 14, 2018

A bleak irony is emerging in Tijuana’s border zone. For all the raging conservative rhetoric about how Central American migrants are lawbreakers who refuse to just ‘get in line’ and enter the ‘legal’ way, the asylum seekers are actually ‘getting in line’ – or what passes for a line – by forming an ad hoc queue that Mexican authorities have improvised to maintain some social order.

Every day, migrants line up to be ‘processed’ with a black number scrawled onto their arms – an informal label used to secure a ‘spot’ on a theoretical waiting list. Yet, as they wait indefinitely for their number to be called, the basic institutions of due process they hope to invoke are disintegrating in a dysfunctional, backlogged immigration court system.

The White House remains hell bent on keeping them out, however, and the plan appears to be to warehouse asylum seekers in Mexico with the underlying aim of discouraging them from trying to cross at all. So a ragged encampment in Tijuana is slowly sinking into chaos as heavily militarized American border authorities block and repel refugees.

The situation is not ‘immigration enforcement’ in any meaningful sense. Instead, it’s a reprise of historical pattern of exclusion, displacement and oppression that has always surrounded the nation’s southern boundary – lines of class, race, gender and culture are deliberately drawn to police a social gateway to the country. And to President Trump, these refugees are the wrong kind of people.

Whether or not the migrants are ultimately admitted, the crisis at the border is not about who is coming, but who we are; their transgression of an arbitrarily-drawn border is dwarfed by the savagery the US government commits in the name of ‘security’. The plight of asylum seekers reflects the flagging promise of America as a land of refuge; their suffering is our own self-sabotage.

According to Trump, though, the migrant caravans moving toward the US-Mexico border represent an unstoppable invasion of social parasites and criminals. But migrant rights advocates on the other side of the border see a side of crisis that Trump seems incapable understanding: They are desperate families fleeing for safety, they are survivors, they are refugees of social catastrophe. And Trump is right that they’re unstoppable, but only because they are following international law and the basic moral principles enshrined in the constitution.

Although Mexican authorities are providing limited emergency aid, the skeletal safety net is already strained to a breaking point, with growing crowds forced into an Obama-era stopgap system known as “metering,” which amounts to an indefinite limbo period of legal purgatory. Yet rights advocates say this is a crisis of Trump’s own making.

Michelle Brané, an advocate with the Women’s Refugee Commission, notes that, compared to Mexico, the US asylum system has adequate resources for dealing with the influx of Central American migrants, but refuses to honor its obligations under domestic and international law to process their claims in US courts. “It’s an incredible abdication of responsibility”, she says, following a recent visit to the border. “And I can’t imagine how they’re not responsible for creating a situation in which people are going to die”.

Migrant women and youth are often the most excluded. Women are typically vulnerable to sexual violence, human trafficking, and other forms of gendered coercion and violence. So-called ‘unaccompanied minors’ – young people who migrate alone – are exposed to gang violence and trafficking. Now Brané worries that desperate asylum seekers might eventually be forced to pay bribes, or to trade sex to secure a slot in line, and youth could get roped into trafficking rings.

Though they have narrowly escaped their hells to seek refuge at the border, Trump’s answer to their humanitarian appeal is to make America as inhumane as possible.

This article has been excerpted from: ‘Trump’s Caravan Problem Isn’t Which People Are Coming, But What Kind of Country America Will Choose to Be’.


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