U.S. immigration policy contributes to human rights tragedies

Feb. 2020 Immigrants (Cuartoscuro)By ANDY BARNS

Much has been made of the mass of migrants arriving at the U.S. southern border and Trump’s inhumane response to it. In the process of developing a clear working-class response to the xenophobic rhetoric of the Trump regime, however, it is important to note the dire human rights violations that caused the migrations in the first place and how these violations are exacerbated by U.S. immigration policy. The historical context of U.S immigration policy must also be taken into account.

Deportations of the immigrant working class have occurred with similar results throughout all U.S. presidencies, including “Democratic” ones. Illegal border crossings were at a historically low level even before Trump took office [1]. The majority of refugees fleeing the dangers in their home countries in 2017-2018 actively sought out border patrol agents for protection. Even then, the dismissive way that U.S. immigration policy treated refugees simply returned them to the dangers they were fleeing, directly contributing to human rights tragedies [2]. That is to say nothing of the heinous treatment of refugees, including children, at the hands of U.S. border patrol agents themselves.

One of the first (of many) erroneous claims Donald Trump made in his bid for the presidency back in 2016 was that illegal immigration was of such a high level and a dangerous nature that immediate fortification of the southern border was the only viable option to protect Americans. This came with the sibling lie that the refugees from Central America are secretly criminals.

Let us examine this claim from two angles—first, the height of illegal immigration historically, and second, the danger posed by displaced refugees. Apprehensions of illegal migrants at the border were already in decline by the beginning of the 21st century [1]. Resettlement of refugees in the U.S. has historically occurred from all across the world, and refugees from Central America make up only a small percentage of the total resettlement both before and after the Trump regime came to power.

The sudden, sharp increase of refugee caravans in mid-2017 mainly included migrants from the so-called “Northern Triangle”—El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. This spike in migrants was motivated by increasing violence in these countries, as well as the unwillingness or inability of the police institutions of those countries to combat the violence. The threat was to life itself. Often, young children were targeted by gangs for recruitment with threats of violence or death [3]. Naturally, returning these people to their countries of origin is often lethal, if only due to the retribution of the gangs (more on this later).

Gang membership in itself is often cited by xenophobes as a reason for border militarization. However, a very small number of children apprehended at the border have been found to have gang affiliation, approximately 56 in 250,000 [3]. That is hardly justification to scar thousands of children with family separation and, quite likely, simply create future criminals. Without parental support (emotional and intellectual) a child will often fall victim to criminal habits.

As already stated, the reasons for the thousands of migrants is the penalty of death, and these claims are not trivial. By the standards of U.S. law, the threat of death and violence in their country of origin is justification enough for claiming asylum. But the U.S. immigration system has never really been commensurate with human rights, even under “Democratic” presidents [4]. The only thing the Trump regime accomplished was removing the façade of fairness.

Additionally, migrants traveling to the U.S. have often suffered violence on the way, including instances of theft, physical violence, and sexual violence [5], only to then be turned back towards this madness due to suspicion that they had been the violent ones.

On that note, the admissions process is designed to be as slow and difficult as possible, even if the asylum claims are, on paper, legitimate. Since Trump took office border patrol agents have adopted a process known as “metering” [6], whereby asylum seekers are simply put on a waiting list because “the processing facility is full.” This is a lie. Before this, all those who showed up at the border were processed relatively quickly. This process also, not coincidentally, encourages more illegal border crossings [6], the very thing xenophobic fear-mongers claim these policies prevent.

This change in policy increases the danger the refugees face. While waiting in Mexico, or in their home country, these people are subject to the wrath of assassins. One example was the story of “Franklin” (a fake name, for protection), a man who testified against the cartels in his home country and actually helped send criminals to prison, as detailed in an article published by The Intercept [7]. As per the Trumpist policy, he was treated a priori as a criminal himself! He very well may already have been murdered. The same fate awaits many others, as the poisonous smog of nationalist rhetoric doesn’t simply taint American discourse but literally kills people. The so-called “Migrant Protection Protocols” [7] are anything but.

The many refugees held in squalor by border protection agents create an image that furthers Trump’s anti-working-class narrative that there is a dangerous hoard waiting to spill over the border and ruin American lives. This new policy is nothing more than thinly veiled racist discrimination, an arm of class-based oppression used against the U.S. working class since the dawn of the country. A real working-class government would not only recognize the asylum claims and basic humanity of the refugees but would be more than capable of swiftly processing the refugees under humane conditions.

Humane processing of southern migrants has never, and will never, be a priority for a government dedicated to capitalist accumulation, which requires the strict control of people (labor). This applies to “Democratic” [2] [4] and Republican presidencies, whatever they may say on national TV, where lies are a normal process of politics. Of course, the growth of political discourse detached from scientific analysis of facts, exemplified by all far-right politics, never improved the lot of human beings. Not once.

With several hundred miles of Trump’s border wall now complete, and with several varied proposals for the design having been considered, one might ask whether any of it had even been worth it? Again, not only had illegal border crossings been in decline already, but the largest influx of migrants in recent memory had been asylum seekers. To put the numbers in historical perspective, in 1980 the cap for global refugee resettlement in the U.S. was about 225,000 persons annually, compared to the end of Obama’s presidency at just over 100,000 [8]. With Trump the cap is now under 30,000. Remember, these are claims for asylum as the result of human rights violations and even the threat of death.

The number of persons detained at the border was about 19,000 as of May 2019. In terms of means, there is no real barrier to providing safe haven to refugees and acclimating them to the U.S. workforce. Historically, greater numbers have been admitted.

Under capitalism, the ruling class, through mouthpieces like Trump, often stoke fear that immigrants will “steal jobs.” But who’s buying the jobs? Who is buying the work by paying wages? The capitalist class, of course! The owners of corporations are out to make as mighty a profit as possible.

There is no shortage of work that needs done to improve the country and American lives, just a shortage of labor that the capitalist will pay for. A workers’ government would be able to plan the economy in a way that would avoid this problem, and guarantee good employment as a right. The fear that immigration, of any type, would destroy the United States is a lie calculated to keep the U.S. working class as profitable as possible. But there is a better way. A workers’ government can both fairly distribute work, and safeguard the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of all persons, including asylum seekers and their children.


[0] https://www.unrefugees.org/refugee-facts/statistics/ -70.8 million global refugees. For general reference. These people fall through the cracks of global capitalism.

[1] https://www.wola.org/analysis/2017s-migration-statistics-tell-us-border-security/ -Statistics on the current migration crisis at the southern border.

[2] https://www.commondreams.org/views/2020/02/08/what-happens-when-person-deported -Common fate of deported asylum seekers

[3] https://www.wola.org/analysis/fact-sheet-united-states-immigration-central-american-asylum-seekers/ -Asylum seekers are fleeing violence, not seeking it.

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/oct/12/obama-immigration-deportations-central-america -Democratic presidents are less xenophobic only in words. Deeds speak louder.

[5] https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2019/08/beatings-kidnappings-and-rape-sobering-new-data-shows-just-how-much-violence-migrants-through-mexico-endure/ -The dangers that refugees face on their journey. Do not forget that many are accompanied by their underage family members.

[6] https://www.pri.org/stories/2019-06-17/thousands-asylum-seekers-left-waiting-us-mexico-border -Refugees currently detained at the border, and information on the “metering” policy.

[7] https://theintercept.com/2019/07/14/trump-remain-in-mexico-policy/ -Examples of refugees who face the possibility of death by waiting, including “Franklin”.

[8] https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/refugees-and-asylees-united-states -Assorted information on current and historical refugee migration to the United States.

Photo: Cuartoscuro

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