Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Ignored Politics of the Immigration Debate

It is evident from the mobs of protestors assembled at the border between the United States and Mexico that many U.S. citizens blame people who are migrating to the United States for their own plight, and show little pity for the disruption to their lives and disconnection from their families. Their solution is to close the borders and kick out the "illegals". But any fair U.S. government policy requires a recognition of the U.S. government's role in decades of oppression that is directly responsible for creating the conditions that lead to people fleeing their home countries for the United States today.

Economic policies such as NAFTA favor large agribusiness corporations, who receive millions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies from the US government, over Mexican peasants who have been farming their land and selling corn in local markets for centuries. With the influx of corn from US multinationals undercutting the price of local corn, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans have found it impossible to earn a living the way the always had, and their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents before them had as well.

In his book Fresh Fruit Broken Bodies, medical anthropologist Seth Holmes recounts the experiences of indigenous Mexicans from farming communities in Oaxaca as they make the seasonal migration to strawberry farms in Washington state, and then California to pick fruit that helps keep American consumers healthy, while physically demanding labor and unsafe working conditions cause harm to their own health and well being in the process.

Holmes describes the structural neoliberal socioeconomic system that allows corporations to reap profits at the expense of local workers as a form of structural violence. That is to say, creating and maintaining poverty in certain class and ethnic groups through unjust economic structures is a form of actual violence equivalent to an act such as a stab wound.

The same concept of structural violence can be applied to the political repression long suffered by natives of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and other Central American countries. The U.S. and CIA backed overthrow of the popularly elected, democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in 1954 at the bequest of the United Fruit Company, who could not accept Arbenz's democratic reforms that would address United Fruit and other companies' exploitation of Guatemalan resources and labor, is one example.

Decades of direct, financial sponsorship for terrorist military dictatorships in Guatemala and El Salvador, where peasants, priests, labor leaders, academics and human rights activists were systematically murdered by death squads in what constituted terrorism and genocide, are an example of sowing the seeds of violence that today have resulted in some of the highest rates of violence in the world.

In countries like Nicaragua, popular resistance in the form of a revolutionary movement against the Somoza dictatorship were met with terrorism by the United States. Under Reagan, the U.S. recruited, financed and trained a terrorist paramilitary group (The Contras) while mining the country's harbors to prevent the popularly elected government from delivering land reforms and health care, and helping the population achieve economic justice. When the World Court found the United States government guilty of violating Nicaragua's sovereignty, mining its harbors and encouraging human rights violations and demanded restitution, the U.S. government ignored the verdict. To this day, they have not paid a penny.

This is a history that protestors in Murrieta ignore when they call for borders to be closed and people - not "border jumpers", " illegal immigrants ", or " illegals " - to be turned away and sent back where they came from, with the United States washing its hands as if it was in no way involved and bears no responsibility.
The U.S. government has spent its entire existence carrying out atrocities against natives, neighbors, and far away villagers tens of thousands of miles away, while silencing the truth about its violence and painting itself as a victim.

It is not surprising that when the fruits of Washington's violent economic and political interventions reach its doors, a population who has long been sold a false narrative - where violent repression is upholding democracy and human rights, and violation of economic sovereignty is the gift of free markets - would misplace its anger about who is to blame.