As Donald Trump was putting the final touches on his State of the Union speech last week, a group of us were at the Arizona/Mexican border in Nogales. What we saw and heard was disturbing.
Not only did we witness a large wall of steel slats but, as The Washington Post reported, (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/07/trumps-troop-deployment-strung-lethal-razor-wire-border-this-city-has-had-enough/?utm_term=.ecc0f371e76f). a string of concertina wire designed to intimidate and maim those who came close. This lethal razor wire was at the top of the 18-foot fence when we visited, by the time of Trump’s speech U.S. troops had deployed up to six rows of the wire from street level all the way up.
Mayor Arturo Garino told the Post that “they can’t say they are putting something up to protect us, they’re putting up something that’s lethal all the way to the ground.” There wasn’t any discussion with the City Council, the Mayor, the police chief, the fire chief or any local officials before the troops’ action.
When we arrived at the border, as members of the Board of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, we were prepared to see the spot were a 16 year old boy, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was shot 10 times by a border agent for throwing rocks up a steep embankment, separated by the steel wall. When we saw the scene it was clear that the agent was not seriously threatened, large rocks could hardly make it up the hill, plus the steel slats separated the two.
Tensions are high now with the over 6,500 newly deployed troops and National Guard Forces stationed along the border, in addition to the over 70 miles of concertina wire put up, with another 160 miles slated to be erected, according to the Defense Department. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/02/07/trumps-troop-deployment-strung-lethal-razor-wire-border-this-city-has-had-enough/?utm_term=.ecc0f371e76f
When I was last in Nogales in the 1980s the border was full of activity between the U.S. and Mexico. The two cities with the same name were known for a border crossing that encouraged commerce and mutual respect. Now, all that has changed. As Mayor Garino puts it, first we have 400,000 people divided by a wall and now we have concertina wire, intimidating and deadly.
The crisis in Nogales, and along the border, is a result of President Trump’s actions and rhetoric. He fans the flames of distrust and prejudice and creates fear and loathing and division.
The result is that the border agent who killed 16 year old Antonio was acquitted of manslaughter while four young people with No More Deaths were convicted of leaving water and food in the desert for migrants. For over a decade the humanitarian organization No More Deaths has been active and only recently, since 2017 they told us, have the arrests and harassment escalated to an unbearable level. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lonnie-swartz-border-patrol-agent-acquitted-in-death-of-mexican-teen-jose-antonio-elena-rodriguez/
According to the Washington Post, there have been over 3,000 deaths in the last 20 years in the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge on the Arizona border. https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2019/01/20/they-left-food-water-migrants-desert-now-they-might-go-prison/?utm_term=.b15bb6347f95) These are people and families looking for a better life, fleeing gangs and violence, not, as President Trump often states, drug dealers and criminals. Smuggling of drugs goes mainly through points of entry, as the arrest in Nogales last week of 254 pounds of fentanyl and 395 pounds of meth on a truck clearly shows. Instead of stringing concertina wire from the ground up threatening animals and children maybe we ought to continue to focus on the border crossings and the real smugglers.
Never mind that Donald Trump spent nearly fifteen minutes of his State of the Union speech on the border, while his intelligence chiefs spent exactly none while discussing national security threats in a Hill briefing. The real take away from the past two years is that President Trump has done nothing to attempt to solve the problem of immigration. One could argue that from the moment he got off that golden escalator to announce for President he has done everything in his power to demagogue the issue and demonize people.
It is time for Congress, Democrats and Republicans, and the Administration to once again search for solutions, not sow discord.
The basic concern now should revolve around comprehensive immigration reform: providing a path to citizenship that is earned, taking care of the dreamers who were brought here when they were young, reforming and revitalizing our asylum process so those fleeing can be vetted and their cases heard expeditiously. Border security must be dealt with, but Congress and the Administration must have the courage and the conviction to seek long term solutions to the problem.
In concert with Central American countries, the United States should be creating a Marshall-type Plan similar to what we had for Europe after World War II. By focusing on the critical need to stabilize these countries politically and economically — creating jobs, expanding education, reducing corruption — we should provide proposals and funding with a consortium of nations including especially Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Guatemala that will help solve the problem. After all, shouldn’t we be leading this cooperative effort, not forging division and distrust with our southern neighbors? Isn’t it time to focus on the notion of a multinational, cooperative approach? America needs to show these nations that they matter, they are our allies and we are all in this together.
From all we saw in our visit to Nogales it is clear that the “crisis at the border” is a humanitarian one that can only be solved with compassion and cooperation, not declaring war on others or having troops erect concertina wire and walls as the Soviets did across Eastern Europe. Sadly, Donald Trump seems intent on exploiting immigration for his own political gain.