Imperialism and Immigration: The Elephant in the Room

Photo:2018/11/23 Ten days old Asylum Seekers arrives in Tijuana, Mexico ~Daniel Arauz

by Alison Bodine, Fire This Time, November, 2018

At the beginning of October 2018 an estimated 4,000-7,000 people, the majority from the Central American country of Honduras, set off on a march North from San Pedro Sula, Honduras in search of somewhere to be safe. For some, their destination, one of the Southernmost border crossings in the United States, was over 2500km away.

Although the mainstream media has repeated it over and over, this march of seeking humanity it is not a “Migrant Caravan,” a term that coveys too much joy and understatement– it is a dangerous and desperate journey. People are leaving everything that they have known, taking almost nothing with them, and risking it all because they feel like they have nothing left to lose.

“I left my country because of the poverty, because of the misery. My husband was killed in front of me when I was pregnant. I have five children; I am a single mother. There are no jobs. I am a woman over thirty; there are no jobs for me, there is discrimination. We want to give a better life to our children.” – Oberlina Melendez, speaking from the march of migrants in Tapachula, Chiapas, Mexico (El Pais newspaper -Spain).

“There isn’t work or anything. You can’t live in Honduras. There isn’t money,” she said. “There’s no help from the government. There’s nothing,” said Jennifer Paola López, 16 told New York Times.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) estimates, at least 2,300 people in the march are children. As the group continues North, the number of people joining changes. Some people are injured or get sick, and decide to turn back; others join. By the last week of October, the UN Refugee Agency reported that 1,500 people had made asylum claims in Mexico.

Choosing to move together as a group, is a form of protection against harassment by police and criminal gangs. There is more than enough reasons for this. The Guardian newspaper (England) reported that “80% of the women and girls who cross Mexico to get to the US border are raped on the way. The situation is so common that most of them take contraceptive precautions as they begin the journey north.” Various sources estimate that in the last 12 years 120,000 immigrants and refugees have disappeared as they travel through Mexico – that represents 10,000 people per year.

Who are the Immigrants and Refugees Coming to the U.S.?

No, Mr. Trump, these refugees and immigrants, and the ones that have come before, and will come after, are not an “invasion.” Even if every person that is on the march North made it up the U.S., it would only represent a small fraction of the 350-400,000 people that are apprehended at the U.S./Mexico border each year (U.S. Border Patrol statistics).

And again, no, migrants are not being funded by “Honduran politicians allied with Venezuelan & Cuban socialist dictators are encouraging the caravan to undermine US-friendly gov’t of Hernandez,” as the US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haily, claimed. Nor was it “organized by leftist groups in Honduras, financed by Venezuela, and sent north to challenge our sovereignty and challenge our border,” as Vice President Pence said to the Washington Post.

People who are marching are mechanics, construction workers, farm workers, peasants, single-mothers, families; poor, working and oppressed people who are fleeing insecurity, brutal violence and extreme poverty. Immigrants and refugees that travel by foot, train and car over thousands of kilometres to the U.S./Mexico border are people that have seen their lives torn apart by capitalism and imperialism disorder.

In fiscal year 2018, 56% of the people that were detained at the U.S./Mexico border were from Central America (U.S. Department of Homeland Security). In 2010 migrants from Central America only represented 10% – a clear sign of a deepening economic, social and political crisis facing people in what is known as the “Northern Triangle,” Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.

Imperialism is the Elephant in the Room

Migrants from Central America are escaping through a social fabric that has been ripped to shreds by hundreds of years of foreign intervention, exploitation, and colonialization. This is the elephant in the room that imperialist governments and their media mouthpieces are ignoring throughout this current crisis that is being manufactured at the U.S./Mexico border. The U.S. is culpable for this crisis, and it is only natural that immigrants and refugees are coming back to the centre that caused problems for them, straight to the belly of the beast.

In their struggle to maintain hegemony throughout Central America, the U.S. government and their imperialist allies have sewn poverty, corruption and destruction.

Today, the poverty rate in the Northern Triangle is 60% (World Bank 2017). The United Nations World Food Program reports that nearly 50% of people in Guatemala are undernourished and in Honduras, 23% of children under the age of five are experiencing stunted growth. The murder rate in El Salvador is 60/100,000 people, one of the highest in the world (by comparison this rate is 6/100,000 in the United States). Today, Honduras and El Salvador are not war zones, but they are not far from. Both are ranked among the top five deadliest places that are not war-zones in the world by the Small Arms Survey – NGO.

Listening to U.S. President Trump, or anyone from the U.S. government for that matter, would have you believe that violent gangs and corrupt government and military are to blame for the crisis that these countries face – and that is true, gangs and corruption are both important factors. However, what is the root of these conditions?

Since 1890, the U.S. government has led at least 31 military invasions of countries in Central America. Including three into Guatemala, two into El Salvador, eight into Honduras, eight into Nicaragua, nine into Panama and one into Costa Rica. These invasions brought with them not only soldiers and in some cases permanent U.S. military bases, but also the transnational companies that exploited the people and resources of Latin America.

One of the most recent interventions by the U.S. government against a country in the Northern Triangle was the 2009 U.S.-backed a coup d’état, against democratically elected President Manual Zelaya in Honduras. Under President Zelaya, Hondurans were beginning to get more integrated into the social and political life of the country, and Honduras had joined ALBA (the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas, which works to build Latin American trade and unity free from the United States and Canada). Since the coup d’état, which was overseen by U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and installation of a right-wing, U.S.-allied government, instability, government repression, corruption, poverty and violence have all escalated.

The U.S. government also has a history of brutality against the people of El Salvador and Guatemala. Throughout the 1980’s and early 1990’s the U.S. government and their imperialist allies backed counter-revolutionary death squads and brutal governments in Nicaragua and El Salvador. Between 1960-1996 over 200,000 Guatemalans were murdered or forcibly disappeared, of which 83% were Indigenous Maya people (United Nations, called the Historical Clarification Commission) after a CIA -sponsored coup d’état in 1954 that installed a military dictatorship that brought about 40 years war.

There is also the continuous U.S. government support for paramilitaries and repressive governments and militaries throughout Latin America; including training, direct funding and through sales or weapons and military equipment. One of the ways that this militarization has been carried out is through U.S.-led interventions carried in the name of fighting the so-called war on drugs.

And what about the MS-13 gang that anyone watching mainstream media has heard so much about? That gang was formed in the United States prison system and was brought to Honduras and El Salvador through massive deportation programs in the U.S. that sent criminals born in Central America, but raised in the U.S., back to countries many of them had never seen since they were small children. Thus, gang violence too was brought down on the people of Central America via the U.S. government.

Scapegoating Immigrants and & Refugees

At the same time as U.S. President Trump whips up racism against migrants marching towards the U.S. looking for a better life, he is also repeating the so-called successes of the U.S. economy, especially pointing to a low unemployment rate.

However, this is a complete deception. Even if people in the U.S. are employed, they are underemployed, or working multiple low-wage jobs to make ends meet – and blaming this on immigrants and refugees won’t solve the basic problem that capitalism in the U.S. is failing to provide workers and oppressed people with one of the most basic of needs – a decent job.

The Pew Research Centre (U.S.), reported in August 2018 that

“despite some ups and downs over the past several decades, today’s real average wage (that is, the wage after accounting for inflation) has about the same purchasing power it did 40 years ago. And what wage gains there have been having mostly flowed to the highest-paid tier of workers” and “In fact, in real terms average hourly earnings peaked more than 45 years ago: The $4-an-hour rate recorded in January 1973 had the same purchasing power that $23 would be today.”

On top of this, there are at least 8 million people in the U.S. working more than one job, “The number of Americans working multiple jobs is at a 20-year high, while underemployment remains above pre-recession levels.” (New York Magazine)

No wonder the U.S. government needs someone to blame for this crisis.

Part of the scapegoating of immigrants and refugees is the fear campaign that goes along with it. This includes spreading the lie that immigrants and refugees commit more crimes than people born in the U.S. In fact, the ten U.S. cities with the largest growth of immigrant populations had lower levels of crime in 2016 than in 1980 (The Marshall Project study), and multiple studies have disproven any link between immigration and crime.

The U.S. government can then take advantage of the confusion and division resulting from scare tactics and fear-mongering like this to attack democratic and civil rights of people to be able to control opposition and any movement against capitalist disorder.

EU Brutality Against Immigrants and Refugees Continues

Hundreds of thousands of people continue to risk their lives on rickety ships through the deadly Mediterranean Sea fleeing war, occupation and economic devastation in the Middle East and Africa. Over 110,000 migrants crossed the sea in the first ten months of 2018 – and nearly 2,000 have died in the waters (International Organization for Migration – IOM).

Since 2015, when over 1 million refugees fled to Europe, a majority from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, Doctors Without Borders and other international aid organizations have condemned European governments for their callous treatment of immigrants and refugees. In a statement from July 2018, they explain, “The European political that have been taken during the past weeks have had deadly consequences. There has been a cold-blooded decision to leave men, women and children to drown in the Mediterranean Sea. This is outrageous and unacceptable.”

Whether in North America or Europe, immigrants and refugees face the same inhuman treatment and deplorable living conditions, all while trying to stay safe from human traffickers and criminal gangs.

Although the European Union (EU) claims that they have now abandoned a plan to set up illegal “regional disembarkation platforms” on the Southern coast of the Mediterranean – which would to transfer the crisis from Greece, Italy and Spain to North African countries, EU continues to allow immigrants to live in overcrowded and inhuman camps throughout Europe.

The mayor of Lesbos, where one of these camps is located, recently told the Guardian newspaper

“I’ve run out of ways of describing conditions that are beyond deplorable… I recently compared what they are doing here to Guantánamo, but of course I’ve never been to Guantánamo. Perhaps concentration camp would be better.”

Is Canada Better Than the U.S. and the EU?

So, what about Canada? Immigrants and refugees to Canada also face violence, discrimination, poverty and lack of access to basic services. The government of Canada also continues to uphold the Safe Third Country Agreement with the U.S. This agreement allows the government of Canada to turn away asylum seekers who come to a Canadian border after traveling through the U.S. (which is designated a “safe” country by this agreement) – therefore forcing refugees to complete dangerous crossings over non-official borders.

The UN Refugee Agency reported that in 2017 50,469 refugees claimed asylum in Canada, of which 40% crossed through the non-official border. This represents the highest number of people in the last ten years. One would think that to fulfill the international law and process the asylum applications quickly, proper funding and resources would be allocated to the border. Instead, the government of Canada has let a long backlog pile up and left refugees, including families and children locked within in limbo, or living in detention centres.

To deal with this self-imposed back-log, the Canada Border Services Agency announced in October 2018 that they would be bringing back quotas for deportations – which will be set a 10,000 per year. A quota-system for deporting people back to misery and devastation? Is that really a solution to increasing claims for asylum?

Immigration and Refugee Problems Are a Result of Capitalist and Imperialist Disorder

Whether in the U.S., Canada or the EU there is no question as to what has caused the migration crisis.

The Hondurans, El Salvadorians, Guatemalans and all people that have made the dangerous procession North are fleeing the disaster created by capitalism and imperialism in their countries – they are refugees of capitalist disorder, and they have every moral right to show up at the White House’s front door.

The Syrians, Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Libyans, and everyone that risks their lives on board an overcrowded boat through the Mediterranean are also refugees of the capitalist disorder. Their lives have been ripped asunder by wars, occupations and economic devastation. If bombs manufactured in the UK or Germany have killed their loved ones and destroyed their countries, then they too have every moral right to be welcomed by the EU with open arms.

Open the Borders Now!

“We’ll do up to anywhere between 10 [sic] and 15,000 military personnel, on top of border patrol, ICE and everybody else at the border…Nobody’s coming in.” – President Trump (end of October, to reporters at the White House)

“I hope there won’t be that, but I will tell you this – anybody throwing stones, rocks … we will consider that a firearm because there’s not much difference.” – President Trump

If the U.S. administration has its way, up to 15,000 troops could be mobilized to the U.S./Mexico border to attack internationally protected asylum seekers. This is one of the rawest and most brutal parts of U.S. immigration policy, but it is not the idea of President Trump only – President Obama sent 12,000 National Guard troops, following the deployment of President Bush of 6,000. Deploying military troops against immigrants and refugees is a brutal, bipartisan policy.

It is a policy as familiar and as inhuman as the other crimes that have become commonplace – as family detentions and separations, as Muslim bans and illegal treatment of asylum seekers. And this applies in the U.S., EU and Canada.

The obligations of the governments of the U.S., Canada and the EU are deeper then international laws and agreements. Their responsibility and the debt they owe to the poor, working and oppressed people around the world is only going to increase. The economic crisis, including the crisis of overproduction, plagues capitalist and imperialist countries, which in turn means that wars and occupations for new markets, and the devastation that comes with them, will also continue. The governments of the U.S., Canada, the UK and the EU are responsible for the capitalist and imperialist disorder that has devastated poor, working and oppressed people at home and around the world. People are fleeing violence and economic devastation brought on by the U.S. government and their allies – and these governments have the human and moral obligation to accept immigrants and refugees unconditionally with open arms.

There can be no other argument. Imperialist and colonial governments are obliged to respond to the crisis of refugees with humanity. This means legal status, and complete democratic, civil and human rights for all immigrants and refugees, and their families, including for those coming to Canada. This applies whether there are 10’s, 100’s, 1,000’s or 100,000’s demanding that the governments that destroyed their homes and futures offer them protection and a somewhere safe to be.


Alison Bodine is an activist with the Mobilization Against War and Occupation (MAWO), Vancouver, CA and blogs at Fire This Time Follow Alison on Twitter:@Alisoncolette

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