The Impact of Politics on the Humanitarian Crisis on the Southern Border

   In mid-April, a caravan of more than 1,000 immigrants from Central America set off on a month-long journey to the United States. Many of them were fleeing violence and poverty in their home countries and hoping for asylum in the United States. As they travelled across Mexico to Tijuana, they stopped at cities along the way and asked for food and shelter.

         They arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border just as President Trump was launching his campaign for reelection—and he used fearmongering about immigration to fire up his base of supporters. He ordered 5,200 military troops to guard the southern border with Mexico even though there was no invasion or other emergency that would require such an extreme response.

         The administration, sensing an opportunity to attract more voters, painted the immigrants as dangerous criminals. Even though many of them were women and children fleeing violence in their home countries, the president and his administration said that they were “gang members” and a public menace. It blamed congressional Democrats for refusing to approve an immigration bill that would have funded 5,000 more police officers to detain undocumented immigrants who had committed crimes in this country.

         People on both sides of the political spectrum expressed horror when two immigrant children died in U.S custody after crossing the border from Mexico. One child died of influenza; another was murdered by a much older boy while he slept outside near a facility for unaccompanied minors in Texas. The death was not reported until several days later because the facility had failed to contact the child’s family.

         The president used these tragedies as an excuse to detain immigrant children with their mothers for more than 20 days. He claimed that he was abiding by a “law” that supposedly required him to separate families at the border—ignoring the fact that his administration implemented this policy, not Congress. Even though his order stopped the practice of separating families, it still imprisoned them together—in some cases indefinitely.

         Polling showed support among American voters for stricter immigration laws and less legal immigration even though history shows restricting immigration hurts both our economy and global health. Unauthorized immigrants who left jobs in America contributed $35 billion a year to Social Security according to a study by technology company EverQuote. They also paid $13 billion in taxes annually under a program called Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE).

         Some Americans lost their jobs to the immigrants who left the country because they were afraid of being deported and wanted to find work that would pay better. Others found themselves priced out of housing markets as home prices went up because more money was spent on rent and less was spent on buying homes—and many who bought homes now found those houses to be unsaleable as well.

         America’s response to immigration makes no sense unless you consider how it is influenced by politics. Remembering history can help us understand how we got here, and knowing our history will hopefully inspire better action going forward than what we are seeing today.

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