Friday, July 4, 2014

A Lack of Compassion in the Immigration Debate, Then and Now

In response to the influx of Central American child migrants on the border, U.S. President Barack Obama has announced plans to push for speedier deportations and more aggressive deterrence of undocumented immigration. In Panama on Tuesday, Secretary of State John Kerry met with the Guatemalan and Salvadoran presidents, as well as the Honduran foreign minister, to discuss the root causes of migration and warn that those making the trip northward would be sent back.

The Central American leaders, for their part, have been consistent in their calls for officials to respect the rights of child migrants and continue to at least temporarily unite children with any relatives in the United States. In a statement to the press on Monday, Salvadoran Foreign Minister Hugo Martinez told reporters that the three countries had adopted a unified position that the problem should be addressed “under the principle of family reunification.”

By contrast, the public debate over the humanitarian crisis at the border in the U.S. has been remarkable for its lack of compassion, with pundits and politicians alike backing the idea of mass deportation. Nowhere was this better illustrated than in the recent protest in Murrieta, California, in which locals prevented buses from transporting 140 immigrant children and their families to a border patrol facility there by forming a “human blockade,” shouting “go home”  and holding signs reading “return to sender.”

As it happens, this hostile discourse is nothing new. In a powerful column for The Dallas Morning News, author Christine Wicker looks at the similarities between the humanitarian crisis on the border and the 1939 voyage of the MS St. Louis, which carried 938 German Jewish refugees to the United States only to have them turned away. While the comparison may not be straightforward, Wicker makes a strong case that many of the same factors at play 75 years ago are alive today:
There are differences, of course, between these children and Jews on the St. Louis. 
These children didn’t arrive on an ocean liner. They walked through some of the most hostile, hot, barren, dangerous country in the world. No one knows how many died. Their parents weren’t with them. They were sent by poor families so terrified for their safety that they paid many thousands of dollars and entrusted their children to criminals hoping they might arrive in America and be safe. 
There’s another difference too. America did not fund the Nazis. America does fund the drug trade that empowers the killers these children are fleeing. If Americans didn’t buy drugs, the trade would dry up. 
I keep wondering if those families were thinking about the great kindness that Americans are known for. Despite all that America may have done wrong, this is still a country that the world looks to for compassion and rescue. I wonder if those parents thought American hearts would be touched so deeply that there would be a great outcry when their children’s stories were heard.[…] 
I don’t wonder anymore. I’ve listened to the politicians, read the editorials and heard the voices of American citizens demanding that terrified children be sent back into harm’s way. 
Our hearts are not touched by these children. We want the law enforced. This is our country. Ours. And we don’t have to share it. Not now. Not 75 years ago. 
We haven’t changed at all.

(h/t Hector Silva Avalos, @HsilvAvalos)
News Briefs
  • Just as his office did last year,  Secretary of State John Kerry took advantage of the proximity of Venezuela’s July 5th Independence Day to the same holiday in the United States to release a statement on U.S.-Venezuela relations. In a sign of how much these relations have deteriorated since, however, this year’s statement contains an acknowledgement of the “difficulties and disagreements in our official relationship in recent years,” though it notes this does not change the United States’ support of Venezuelans to “seek a more democratic, prosperous, and healthy future.”
  • While the Ecuadorean government earned widespread international praise for its well-publicized attempt to save the Yasuni Amazon Reserve from oil drilling by appealing to international donors, leaked internal documents suggest officials were never fully committed to the plan. According to The Guardian, the government of President Rafael Correa was studying how to construct a power plant to exploit oil fields in Yasuni even as it sought donations to ostensibly compensate for not drilling in the area.
  • Salvadoran lawmakers voted yesterday to strip opposition Congresswoman and former Vice President Ana Vima de Escobar of her parliamentary immunity from prosecution in response to allegations that she made public remarks about ex-President Mauricio Funes that were defamatory, El Faro reports.
  • The AP reports on the difficulties that Haitian immigrants face in obtaining necessary documentation to take advantage of a plan to formalize their status in the Dominican Republic, noting that the government of Haiti is charging prohibitively high fees for identity cards and passports, which are necessary to participate in the Dominican program.
  • Despite the fact that murder charges surfaced this week against his newly-appointed interior minister, Peruvian President Ollanta Humala has doubled down on his support for Daniel Urresti. Telling reporters that lawyers had indicated the charges against Urresti seemed specious, and that he believed in the presumption of innocence, Humala called forthe murder investigation not to “distract” from Urresti’s work, according to El Comercio.
  • It appears that many analysts’ predictions that outrage over public spending and corruption related to Brazil’s World Cup preparations would dissipate during the tournament have proved correct. According to a new Datafolha poll, the number of Brazilians who said they were in favor of hosting the Cup stands at 63 percent, increasing 12 points from a public opinion survey last month. But while turnout at protests has receded, the New York Times notes that the Cup has “accentuated tension over inequality and political polarization,” especially after President Dilma Rousseff was booed by a crowd of largely wealthy Brazilian elites at the opening Brazil-Croatia game.
  • Colombia’s La Silla Vacia reported yesterday on rumors that the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos is considering appointing Congresswoman Victoria Eugenia Vargas as the next director of drug policy in the Ministry of Justice. While the government has recently hinted at instituting reforms to its drug policy in the future, the news site noted that Vargas has apparently never worked in drug policy in her career. However, since publishing the article La Silla has amended it, noting that Justice Minister Alfonso Gomez Mendez has denied that Vargas has been offered the position.
  • Following a meeting on Argentina’s battle with holdout creditors in the U.S., the Organization of American States (OAS) approved a resolution yesterday backing the Argentine position and calling for both sides to reach a “just, equitable and legal” settlement, La Nacion reports. Aside from the U.S.-- which opposed the measure as a matter before the courts -- and Canada -- which abstained -- the resolution passed unanimously. While the solidarity vote gives Argentina some international support, it is largely ceremonial and is will not impact upcoming negotiations with the so-called “vulture funds” on July 7.