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MADISON, WI, USA - February 2016 © AARAUJO

The US Role in the Migrant Crisis

Washington must show compassion to the migrants at the US-Mexico border that its foreign policy had a hand in creating.

Announcing the US withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, told the media, “I want to make it crystal clear that this step is not a retreat from human rights commitments. On the contrary, we take this step because our commitment does not allow us to remain a part of a hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights.” Haley cited a “chronic bias against Israel” as the reason for the US exit from the UNHRC. The ambassador’s statement sounds hollow in the backdrop of “mockery of human rights” happening in its very own border with Mexico.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and the Trump administration instituted a “zero-tolerance” immigration policy in April. The policy meant families crossing the US-Mexico border without proper authorization, including those seeking asylum, would be separated. Parents faced criminal prosecution, while their children were taken to detention centers. In less than two months since the policy went into effect, more than 2,300 children have been separated from their parents. Once separated, there is no process in place for the parents and their children to communicate with each other, nor a guarantee that the family will be reunited at some time in the foreseeable future.

A gut-wrenching recording of the voices of children separated from their parents at the border was released by ProPublica. This recording intensified the national and global outrage against Trump administration’s inhuman policy of taking the children away from the parents. Unable to withstand the sustained backlash, Donald Trump signed an executive order on June 20 to stop the practice of separating families, while still maintaining the zero-tolerance policy.

While Trump’s executive order would stop families being torn asunder at the border, the plight of the migrants trying to make it across the US-Mexico border would still be terrible by any measure. Trump’s order will run into issues with the Flores agreement, the landmark 21-year-old court decision which mandates that migrant children be held in detention for no more than 20 days. The executive order does not address the fate of the 2,300 children already separated from their parents. The zero-tolerance policy is cruel, with or without separation of families. With the prospect of indefinite detention along with their children, migrant families have effectively been thrown from the frying pan into the fire.

Trump’s behavior is very much akin to that of the authoritarian dictators in the modern era. Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Augusto Pinochet had used the tactic of separating children from their parents as a way to punish dissidents and enforce obedience. It should come as no surprise that Trump, who has a fascination with Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un, both leaders of authoritarian regimes today, chose to emulate the actions of Stalin and Hitler in his immigration policy. Even when signing the executive order, Trump showed no real compassion by stating, “I did not like the sight of families being separated.”

Justifying the approach of tearing apart families as a deterrent to border crossings, Sessions said: “If you cross this border unlawfully, then we will prosecute you. It’s that simple. … If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child may be separated from you as required by law.” He added, “If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Trump and Sessions have resorted to what dictators from the recent past did in order to instill fear among the less fortunate, instead of taking a balanced approach to the complex problem of immigration.

The Trump administration’s zero-tolerance immigration policy is nothing short of state-sponsored terrorism against migrant families and children. That this is being done today in such unabashed fashion should send shivers down the spines of all decent human beings. America’s behavior is a shameless display of double standards. As it accuses the UNHRC of hypocritical behavior, the US has no qualms about the cruel and coldhearted treatment it is meting out to migrants needing help at its southern border.

Central American Migrant Crisis

A nation of immigrants, America is unbecoming of the self-styled leader of the free world to not be empathetic to migrants knocking on its doors. The rise in the present influx of migrants is largely due to the situation in the Central American countries of Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Many people from this region undertake the arduous journey to the US border fleeing violence and persecution in their own country. “If my country would be OK … I would not try to cross,” said a mother from Honduras harboring hopes of crossing into the US with her 7-year old son.

Whether it is Democrats or Republicans in power, US foreign policy has always been self-serving. There are very few countries in the world where America has not meddled with in some fashion or the other. The US has not shied away from backing drug lords, terrorists and even dictators if such an action has suited it. The current Central American migration crisis is in large part due to US actions in that region.

Honduras saw the removal of elected President Manuel Zelaya during the coup of 2009, which tacitly received American support in the form of inaction by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Clinton had set aside well-accepted principles of international law and human rights in an effort to advance America’s own interest in the country. In the aftermath of the coup, Honduras is reeling under high homicide rates and violence, resulting in migrants from that country coming to the doors of the US.

When Trump called El Salvador a “shithole,” he probably did not realize the role of the US in the long fought civil war during the times of President Ronald Reagan propping up right-wing oligarchs against leftist revolutionaries. The US has a moral responsibility for the unabated gang violence in that country today which is bringing hordes of migrants to its borders.

America’s meddling in Guatemala dates back to 1954 when it orchestrated the coup to oust a democratically elected leftist government. Years of civil war left more than 200,000 dead and now several thousand are at US borders.

The Northern Triangle in Central America, which is comprised Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala, is home to drug cartels, gang violence and some of the highest homicides rates in the world. Corruption, weak governments and political turmoil make it difficult, if not impossible, to curb the violence and cartels. The US is without a doubt responsible for the position these countries find themselves in today. In 2014, the Obama administration tried to pay lip service to the problem by investing $1 billion in the region to bring stability. However, it took more than 18 months to convince Congress to agree to spend just $750 million there. Today, taking a self-centered nationalistic view, Trump wants to build a wall on the US-Mexico border costing $70 billion to keep migrants from crossing over, prosecute them as criminals when they do and, worse, deport the several thousands who have already sought refuge in America.

Time for a Shift in Foreign Policy

Self-serving US foreign policy has always been a law unto itself and to its existing allies. Much suffering in the world can be avoided if only this country would genuinely commit to following international law all the time, respecting human rights across the globe and demonstrating leadership that promotes peace rather than war.

A Brown University study pegs the costs of America’s wars or military involvement in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Syria at $4.79 trillion and counting. If America chooses to spend even a fraction of the money it spends in global wars toward repatriation and stabilization of the Northern Triangle of Central America, it would not only improve the lives of the people there, but also stem the flow of migrants at its southern border.

The United States of America has a moral responsibility for the plight of the citizens of Central America. Until it brings meaningful reparations that will improve their lives, the least it can do is to welcome them into America instead of treating them as criminals at the border and destroying families.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy. 

Photo Credit: AAraujo / Shutterstock.com