“We need to build a wall. And it has to be built quickly” murmurs Donald Trump through his frowny brow and flat, republican lips at the GOP debate on the 6th of August. They’re saying, (whoever they are) that Donald Trump is the candidate who has dared to broach the touchy subject of immigration in America. However, it didn’t take long for the rest of the republican rodeo to be hypnotised by the magnetising melody of illegal immigration and dance along blindly to Trumps sickly tune. Who can build the biggest wall? The best wall? Who can build the wall quicker? Building walls, fitting doors, screwing bloody screws in to keep the immigrants out; preying on the survival instincts of mass America to blame the poor, brown people, while they carry on molly coddling the 1%. They all spew a rhetoric of sovereignty and respect for the law yet if we just take one look at the history of illegal intervention of the US upon the rest of the world, then honey, there wouldn’t be enough bricks and mortar to build a wall long enough to keep ‘em out!
Not only does Trump chat about building ‘a beautiful wall’ but he aims to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants, spitting in the face of his own Constitution by including their US born children, which sounds bizarre but it’s happened before. During the Clutch Plague, when up to a quarter of Americans were unemployed, many believed that it was the Mexicans taking their jobs (sound familiar?). This lead to 2 million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans being deported and, according to some estimates, more than half of these people were born in the US. The Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution reads; “All persons born in the US, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the US and of the state wherein they reside.” So it’s clearly illegal to forcibly deport a person who was born in America but politicians seem to pick and choose what rules they follow and that’s nothing new either. The government held raids in work and public places, rounded them up and sent them back. However, it needs to be noted that Mexico is not the only country south of the border. People from Central America and more notably The Northern Triangle which constitutes El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala continue to outnumber those from Mexico when Homeland Security formally seeks deportation orders in court. During the first ten months of 2015, 42% of deportation orders came primarily from these countries. Between October 2014 and April 2015 the US authorities detained 70,226 people “other than Mexicans” – mostly from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
So why are people from Central America omitted from the debate and not bleeping on Trumps illegal immigrant radar? An entire history of a region, forgotten, that no one in power wishes to remember. Few in the mainstream media dig into the core or the causality of why people from the Northern Triangle are seeking to uproot themselves and their families for new life in the US. Context is key and it’s what’s missing from this entire debate. To find the answer and to fill in the gaps, America should take a long hard look in the mirror of their oppressive past because creeping up behind them are endless illegal coups, unsolicited mass deportations and gratuitous military interventions that are directly responsible for subsequent civil unrest, violence and the most recent waves of migration. The neglect and cruelty that has been imploded onto Central America by the US government is a prerequisite for some form of socio-political ramification and the responsibility by all means should be accepted by the perpetrator.
So as a small act of political rebellion we shall dig back into the 19th and 20th centuries, periods that were both geographically and temporally filled with bloody revolutions with the masses striving to free themselves from the shackles of US oppression.
- In 1856, there was the first of five US interventions in Panama to protect the Atlantic-Pacific railroad from other foreign influence.
- In 1903 came The Platt Amendment, an article that established the terms under which the US would end its military occupation of Cuba, but only under eight conditions which included the transferal of Cuba’s public finances to the US, the right of the US to intervene in Cuba when it deemed necessary and the right to establish military bases.
- In 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 25, US troops invaded Honduras ‘protecting US interests’ like banana plantations, banks, and railroads.
- In 1909, Liberal President Zelaya of Nicaragua proposes that American mining and banana companies pay taxes. He is forced to resign through US pressure. The new guy, Adolfo Diaz – the former treasurer of an American mining company.
- 1953: in the banana republic of Guatemala, where US owned United Fruits owned the majority of banana plantations and for decades ruled the country through pliable dictators. Then, in 1954, Jacob Arbenz the democratically elected president announced that the government would introduce land reform to redistribute idle land from the Rockerfeller-owned United Fruit Co. amongst peasant farmers. A disaster for United Fruit, so the CIA organises a small force to overthrow him. In his place – a carefully selected dictator; Carlos Castillo Armas who outlaws political parties, reduces franchise, undoes land reform and over 100,000 citizens are killed over the next 30 years in a civil war.
- It seriously goes on and on. In 1959 Castro is elected, in 1960 Eisenhower authorises covert actions to get rid of him. The CIA tries assassinating him with exploding cigars and poisoned milkshakes. And in the same year; a new junta in El Salvador promises free elections; Eisenhower, fearing leftist tendencies, withholds recognition. A more attractive, right-wing counter-coup comes along in three months’ time.
- Later and further south, on September 11th 1973, a U.S backed military coup kills Salvador Allende, the first Marxist to become a president in Latin America and replaces him with a dictator; Pinochet, who imprisons over 100,000 Chileans, terminates civil liberties, abolishes unions and reverses land reform. You get it; same shit, different day, same set of losers.
“The Mexican government is cunning. They’re not sending their best. They send the bad ones over so that the American government can take care of them.”Another strongly opinionated, misinformed and context avoiding statement from Mr. Trump from the televised Republican debate on the 6th of August. Though, in reality, it’s the American Government who plays the crafty games and what’s more – has the power to win. The propaganda of hatred towards Mexicans and people south of the border is an easy sell; economically poor and socially marginalised, voiceless victims of government greed and oppression being fed to the herds of mass America as quickly and as cheaply as a mindless TV dinner. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” A statement from Trump’s presidential announcement on the 16th of June branding people from south of the border who are fleeing death and aggression as drug dealers, drug takers and rapists.
The throngs of enthusiastic supporters at his rallies and on social media argue that he is merely ‘telling it like it is’. But is he? According to a study by the Pew Research Centre, illegal immigration flows have fallen to their lowest levels in at least two decades. What’s more, at the state and local levels, where the overwhelming majority of criminal offenders are held, 5.6% of prisoners were non-citizens in 2009 (the last year for which data is available.) That same year, non-citizens comprised 7.1% of the total US population. This indicates that undocumented immigrants are actually less likely to be incarcerated than US citizens for non-immigration offences. More recently, The Economist pointed out that in cities such as San Diego and San Antonio there are high number of undocumented Mexican immigrants, but relatively low crime rates. 
Trump is looking through the eye of a needle as never and nowhere does he mention the drug-fueled corruption, political instability, and – in the case of Honduras, a right-wing coup that have all contributed to a situation of institutional collapse in the region. As their states fall apart around them, many Central Americans feel that justice and security can only be found elsewhere. The region is in a state of undeclared civil war. Honduras has been given the title of most violent state outside of a war zone. In El Salvador, more than 3,830 people have been murdered this year and on current trends, the homicide rate will pass 90 per 100,000 people in 2015. The gravity of the situation in the region has already been acknowledge by the UN when in 2013, the UN High Commission for refugees called for Central American migrants to be treated as refugees displaced by armed conflict. But once again, the political lyricists continue to compose choruses of denial and blame. The evocative language used by Trump enflames the xenophobic imagination of mass America and paints a horrific picture of immigrants. This tendentious picture is exhibited to the masses via various foxy news outlets and cunningly diverts attention away from the legitimised gluttony of the 1% and instead uses immigrants as scapegoats for government shortcomings and greed. Whilst doing this he either doesn’t know, has forgotten or is purposely omitting vital political moves from the American dance of imperialism which malevolently places mass frustration upon those at the bottom of the hierarchy.
The narrative that ‘the bad ones’ and the violence associated with them are being flung over the border and being left to the care of recipient government is nothing new to America, in the ‘90s however, it was they who were doing the flinging.
In 1992, riots erupted in LA in response to the acquittal of four LAPD officers on trial for the use of excessive force against Rodney King, (yet another notch on the belt of police brutality in America), The Los Angeles Times reported that thousands of Latinos were detained for their roles in the ‘flames of ‘92’and so the Immigration Naturalisation Service (INS) sought to deport them all. The INS also unleashed its Violent Gang Task Force, and a looming wave of anti-immigrant sentiment swept through electoral politics. After the riots, tougher anti-gang laws were introduced; prosecutors tried youths as adults, resulting in hundreds of Latin youths being sent to jail. In 1996, the severity of the law was amplified again and non-citizens with sentences of a year or more would be deported and even foreign-born American felons could be stripped of their citizenship and expelled once they served their prison terms. The list of deportable crimes was increased, coming to include minor offences such as drunk driving and petty theft. And so between 2000 and 2004, 20,000 Central American criminals, whose families had settled in the slums of Los Angeles in the ‘80s after fleeing civil wars at home, were deported to countries they barely knew.
It was the American government that was cunning; they sent the bad ones over and so the deportees arrived in Central America with few prospects other than their gang affiliations. Local governments, which were desperately trying to rebuild after a decade of civil conflict, prompted by U.S foreign policy, were robbed of the right to know who their new citizens really were due to new immigration rules, banning U.S. officials from disclosing the criminal backgrounds of the deportees. And sure enough, disaster struck. Arriving as outcasts in unfamiliar places, culturally disorientated, heavily tattooed with a Spanglish patter and homeboy swag, gang members were and still are routinely stigmatised by police authorities, potential employers and society in general. This socio-economic marginalisation is the vacuum which gangs can fill in a young person’s life; status, money, identity, respect, friendship and fun; aspects of every human life that are necessary to thrive. In the years that followed, deportations continued. As more and more hard-core gang members were ejected from Los Angeles and erased from government consciousness, the Central American gangs grew – finding ready recruits among the region’s burgeoning population of disenfranchised youth. In El Salvador, a country of 6.5 million people, the gangs account for 10,000 core members and 20,000 young associates; in Honduras, with a population of 6.8 million, the UN estimates the gang population at 40,000 with their average age being 19.
Gangs regularly battle each other and the police for territory and today the region is characterized by marijuana and cocaine, blacked-out car windows, gang tags on decrepit walls, para-military forces, rapes, kidnappings, guns and daily murders splashed across newspapers. It’s no wonder that many people prefer to take their chances on the perilous journey through Mexico and across the US border because illegal migration poses fewer risks than enduring the constant threat of death. This relentless anxiety and the pervasiveness of crime in the region has generated widespread hatred of the gangs and increased pressure for governments to crackdown on the crime with hard hand policy measures. This kind of attitude has never worked. It didn’t work in the U.S and past crackdowns, amusingly named ‘Iron Fist’ and ‘Super Iron Fist’ in El Salvador and Honduras have rather amplified the violence.
Under the president, Salvador Sánchez Cerén and his ‘left-wing’ party in El Salvador, which once vowed to rein in the excesses of state repression, is now ramping up attacks on gang territory with armed police bolstered by more than 7,000 troops. They operate with relative impunity as a result of a recent legal revision that ensures no officer will be investigated for any shooting done in “self-defence”. A physically and legally strengthened police force designed to reduce violence and blood shed have in fact had the opposite effect; prisons are overcrowded and act like “finishing schools” for gangs and at the same time, gangs and gang tactics have become more sophisticated in order to avoid detection and arrests. And so the bloody front line of civil unrest and police brutality ensues.
“We’re going to do it in a very humane fashion. Believe me. I have a bigger heart than you do.” Answers Donald Trump, when asked how he proposes to deport his 11 million. But even The Obama Administration cannot escape due criticism on its approach to this refugee crisis. Earlier this week, the White House announced plans to introduce fast track deportations and $116m to pay for the cost of transporting unaccompanied children back home. This act of historical revisionism naively misses the point. America cannot simply take a step back and wash their hands of their Central American neighbours. America dug their grave and should help them climb out of it; not inhumanely shovel them across the border, close the pearly, white gates and leave them amidst imminent danger as if US foreign policy played no part in the problem. The Guardian published an article in October that revealed that as many as 83 US deportees have been murdered on their return to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Human rights groups warn that the hard-hard approach to deportation measures used by the US government has triggered a series of powerful unintended consequences across the region. By forcing vulnerable people through an increasingly criminalised detention-based system, the American government is effectively outsourcing death sentences.
“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” said Karl Marx in 1851. Tragic it was and sinisterly farcical it will be if the current and future U.S government continues on this insulting trajectory of denial. This oppressive display of ignorance that rejects their enduring role in the proliferation of social collapse in the region of Central America abuses not only the legitimacy of international law but the respect for human equality they claim to defend.
Similar to the situation in Europe, this is a refugee crisis, not a crisis of illegal immigration. People are fleeing countries that are dangerous and no longer hospitable for them and their families. America has stomped on the ground beneath them and is now experiencing the wrath of their former fury. It’s easier for us to blame the poor and the voiceless for they have no power to answer back, so content we feel when we’re full of excuses and false promises fed to us by our abusers. A wall is not the answer, and neither is more deportation. The answer needs to be human for it is humans that we are, that they are, not numbers. Are our governments not capable of learning vital lessons from their histories? Are they not capable of admitting their faults and righting the wrongs of their past? Or will the lust for power prove that man can never learn anything from history?