Where do we draw the line?

by Tim Shenk, editor

Thousands of people from Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala joined together to walk north toward potential asylum in the United States.

“It is easy to blur the truth with a simple linguistic trick,” writes Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti. “Start your story from ‘Secondly.’ …Simply neglect to speak of what happened first.”

The migrant caravans, as they have been referred to since their appearance in U.S. mainstream media in October, are a case of starting a story with “secondly.”

   Where would we start, if we started from, “First”?

   First, we would acknowledge the lines that have divided us.

   Expanding exploitation led to lines of the pen to destroy the commons and divide up the world. Military force has enforced those lines. European colonial powers gathered to divide up Africa among themselves. Popes and kings divided up the Americas, then fought each other for the right to exploit the people and the land.

   First, we would tell the origin story of the United States of America.

   This country was built on genocide and the slave economy, and with the sweat of immigrants from Ireland to Mexico to China. This country was built with ill-gotten raw materials of many other nations, made possible by military intervention, occupation, threat, and economic warfare.

   First, we would speak truth about why people leave their homes.

   Most human migration today is a form of forced migration. People are fleeing violence and poverty in greater numbers and with greater urgency than perhaps ever before in human history. Climate refugees are on the move, too — an average of 22 million people have been displaced by major weather events every year since 2008.

   Many “firsts” could bring context to the reality at the U.S.-Mexico border today.    

   Our task is to share both “first” and “second”: what’s happening, and how we got here. Then, perhaps, we’ll have the clarity to propose and work toward deep and lasting solutions.

Charting journeys north

   In Honduras,  horrific gang violence and state violence by the U.S.-backed Juan Orlando Hernandez regime have made life all but impossible for everyday people.

In addition, Honduran farmers have an increasingly difficult time making a living because of the changing climate. On pages 4 and 5 of this issue, Tomasz Falkowski lays the backdrop for why many have been obligated to leave their homes and travel north.

   People band together to form caravans, writes Amelia Frank-Vitale, whose work is referenced on page 7, because “there is safety in numbers and in press attention.” Nearly half of the migrants in these caravans are mothers with children who wouldn’t otherwise be able to make such an arduous journey.

   When migrants reach the Mexico-Guatemala border, they’ll find more and more of a high-tech security apparatus funded by the United States, put in place as an extension of U.S. national security, writes Melanie Calderon on page 6.

   Thousands of Central American migrants are waiting in Tijuana, Mexico, for their asylum claims to be heard, and more arrive each day. They live together as they can in abandoned buildings and shantytowns.

While the U.S. government spent $200 million to deploy 15,000 troops to the border late last year, very few resources are mobilized to create an efficient system of hearings. Only 30 or 40 claims are processed each day, Rev. Benjamin Perry reports on page 7.

   Meanwhile, in Mexico, as Daniela Rivero writes on pages 8 and 9, controversial development projects such as the high-speed “Mayan Train” for tourists in the Yucatan may cause further displacement. Mayan groups themselves have declared opposition to plans for their land about which they were not consulted.

   So where do we draw the line?

How much human suffering is too much?

   Across the country, voices are being raised. Many said “Enough!” last summer after seeing images of small children detained in cages at the U.S.-Mexico border, separated indefinitely from their families, many placed in foster care.

   Many more have begun to put their bodies on the line, risking arrest or even deportation, as in the cases of human rights defenders Alejandra Pablos and Eduardo Samaniego.

   Amidst actions from coast to coast, large and small, we’ll highlight one particular event here. On December 10, International Human Rights Day, more than 400 religious leaders from diverse faiths answered the call of the American Friends Service Committee to gather at the San Diego-Tijuana border and participate in direct action in solidarity with all who seek refuge in the U.S.

Dozens of clergy were arrested while praying for justice for their migrant brothers and sisters near the border.

These are the lines that unite us: lines of marchers, singers, artists, people of different faiths and no faith — the true moral leaders required by these times — who have taken up the call to cry out, Basta! Enough! Not in our name!

   The Philadelphia-based media policy organization reminds us that “Movements begin with the telling of untold stories.” These stories of hardship and courage are stirring the hearts and minds of the people of this country. Migrants’ footsteps are marking the beat of a change coming.

   We see ourselves in the migrants — the tired, the poor, the huddled masses.
A mother, blinded with despair and rage when her child is taken from her. A father with no other way to feed his family than to trust strangers to lead him to the North.

   Mexican human rights leader Father Alejandro Solalinde has said: “With their footsteps, migrants are signaling the end of an era.” He sees the growing migration as the movement of the global poor, part of a rising class of people that the global economy no longer needs for their labor.

   According to Solalinde, the movement of the poor is the new motor of history. Migrants are not the dangerous “invaders” as painted by some extremist elements of society and media, and yet they’re not simply victims, either. Rather, they are the motor of history for our time — along with the homeless, the unemployable, the disenfranchised. From these ranks will come the sparks of change that will spread to the rest of society.

   Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it this way: “The only real revolutionary, people say, is a man who has nothing to lose. There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life.”

   By their movement, migrants, most of whom move because they have nowhere else to go, are forcing the world to consider the violence of the current economic and political system. Yet their demands are not overtly political. They need a place to live in peace and dignity, a place to raise their children and a way to feed them.

   Give us this day, our daily bread. Could this be the radical demand that brings our unequal, inhumane system to its knees?


One response to “Where do we draw the line?

  1. Pingback: Exodus and Central America | Committee on U.S./Latin American Relations·

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