Above Photo: U.S. Border Patrol agents detain undocumented immigrants caught near a section of privately-built border wall under construction on December 11, 2019 near Mission, Texas. The hardline immigration group We Build The Wall is funding construction of the wall on private land along the Rio Grande, which forms the border with Mexico. The group, led by former Trump strategist Stephen Bannon claims to have raised tens of millions of dollars in a GoFundMe drive to build sections of wall along stretches of the U.S. southwest border with Mexico. (John Moore/Getty Images)
The Democratic candidates missed the opportunity last week in Nevada — a state with a 30 percent Latino population — to address the root causes of our immigration crisis. They predictably criticized the worst Trump administration immigration policies, such as families separated at the border and chronic uncertainty for undocumented people in the U.S., many of whom arrived decades ago as children. How we treat people at or inside our border certainly deserves attention, but we cannot ignore that many people come to the United States in the first place because our foreign policies — by both Democrats and Republicans — force them to leave their homes in Latin America and elsewhere.
The U.S. displaces its neighbors by displacing their governments. The Obama administration supported the 2009 coup d’état against Honduras’ elected President Manuel Zelaya by U.S.-trained generals. The Obama and then the Trump administrations supported repressive and corrupt governments that followed Zelaya’s ouster, giving a green light to assassinations of dissidents and journalists, government-linked drug trafficking, and spiraling crime. This repression continues to drive tens of thousands to seek asylum in the U.S. each year, regardless of the legal obstacles we erect. More recently, the Trump administration supported last November’s military coup d’état in Bolivia — with little opposition from Democrats — deepening that country’s political crisis.
United States aid and trade policies — often touted as helping our neighbors — also drive people from their homes to our borders. NAFTA opened markets for highly efficient and highly subsidized U.S. farmers by lifting tariffs. Less subsidized Mexican farmers could not compete, and overnight lost their livelihood, forcing many to seek replacement livelihoods in the United States. In Haiti, President Bill Clinton admitted — after he left office — to a “devil’s bargain” on rice tariffs that was “good for some of my farmers in Arkansas,” but destroyed rice farming and generated hunger and malnutrition in Haiti.
The failure of the United States to tackle climate change contributes to a global migration crisis. Catastrophic disasters — growing more frequent and severe — displace more than 20 million people each year. This includes Nicaraguans and Hondurans benefitting from Temporary Protected Status (TPS) in the United States since 1998’s Hurricane Mitch, and hundreds of thousands in Central America’s “Dry Corridor,” now facing their sixth year of drought.
The burden of harmful U.S. foreign policies falls disproportionately on women. In African countries struck by droughts, girls are taken out of school to make the longer walk for their family’s water. Repressive governments we support in Brazil, Honduras, and the Philippines keep women “in their place” with regressive laws, and by committing and permitting attacks against women advocates. Women displaced from their homes and headed to our border face a high risk of sexual assault.