The current administration has been issuing dire warnings about the impending threat posed by a caravan of asylum seekers making their way towards the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump and those who support him would have people believe that the people in this caravan are dangerous criminals and some have even suggested that they will bring dreadful diseases with them. Claims like this are often signs that a group of people are being scapegoated. In common parlance, what we have here is a ‘red herring,’ a phony distraction from real issues. It’s no surprise that Trump is using racist dog whistles in a bid to attempt to control the narrative prior the midterm elections, which progressives and other anti-Trump Democrats are pushing hard to win. By stoking the fears of his base, many of whom are actively racist and xenophobic, Trump is making scapegoats out of suffering people and inciting more division and hatred based on ignorance and fear. He claims they are breaking the law by coming, but in reality, they are not. These people are coming to seek asylum. They’re fleeing violence and instability in their home countries and for that they deserve to be welcomed, not shot at.
One question often gets lost in the rhetoric of politicians around issues of immigration and refugees seeking asylum. Why are they coming? In the case of immigrants and asylum seekers from Latin America, the answer is related to the economic, military, and diplomatic interventions that the United States has been making in Latin America for over 100 years. As I note in my forthcoming book, Go Golden (out in 2019 from Wipf and Stock Publishers Resources Imprint) America’s military has been used to secure favorable economic deals for U.S. based banking and business interests since at least the early 20th century. U.S. Marine Major General Smedley Butler described himself as a “Gangster for capitalism” because of the expeditions he led in Central America. The C.I.A. began to get involved in the mid-20th century by staging a coup that ousted democratically elected Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in 1954, installing Castillo Armas in Arbenz’s place. In subsequent decades Guatemala became incredibly violent and unstable with countless people dying or being “disappeared.” That first coup became the blue print for U.S. interventions throughout Latin America and the world, particularly in resource rich nations like Iran and Iraq.
Economic destabilization has also undermined the lives of the poor in Latin America. U.S. diplomats seek to ensure favorable trade agreements that keep labor costs there low and environmental regulations at a minimum to ensure higher profits. Free trade agreements have flooded Latin America with cheap U.S. farm commodities which has forced poor farmers from their land to join other poor laboring people in factories where they make consumer goods for the U.S. market, at wages that you and I would never work for, just to keep profits up for companies like Hanes. Republicans, and others who oppose immigration from Latin America, try to convince people that the immigrants are coming to steal jobs and get free benefits. That simply isn’t true however, immigrants that come to the U.S., often for economic reasons, actually add value to the American economy (3) and often do jobs Americans simply refuse to do. As of 2012, undocumented immigrants made up only 3.7% of the U.S. population. (4) That hardly sounds frightening or like a strain on our resources to me.
Again, the people in this highly politicized caravan are seeking asylum in the U.S. because conditions in their homeland are destabilized and violent. That is NOT against the law, no matter how many times Republicans call them ‘illegals.’ But say for the sake of argument that they were coming illegally, what then? Theologically speaking, what should our response be to those who proclaim that “law and order” is of paramount importance? Personally, I’d remind them of the time that Jesus told some “law and order” types in John 8 that the one without sin should cast the first stone. Who among us sticks to the letter of the law at all times? Not I. Take driving for instance. I’d say that a majority of the people ballyhoooing about law and order have broken some speed limits. Perhaps they’ll proclaim that speeding isn’t a big deal. They’d be wrong. Driving faster than posted speeds in residential and other built up areas puts people at risk. Driving over the posted highway speed not only puts people at risk, but also burns through a limited resource much faster, all so someone can “save time.” Burning fossil fuels for something so silly seems way more injurious to me than someone crossing an arbitrary line in order to better their lived experience. So if you’ve broken a law, can you denounce the asylum speakers or any other immigrant? No. Draconian laws that oppress are laws Christians should be working to undermine and change anyway. Our immigration laws are often draconian and Trump is making them more odious. Not to mention the many places where the Bible calls upon us to care for the stranger, clothe the naked, feed the poor, and work towards justice and equitable treatment for all.
Every single person in that caravan of asylum seekers is my brother or sister in Christ. Every single person in that caravan of asylum seekers is your brother or sister in Christ. Every single person in that caravan of asylum seekers deserves to be treated humanely, with dignity, respect, and care. It is a sin for Trump to call for lethal force. It is a sin to call these people “illegal” for that robs them of their humanity. It is a sin to build walls in order to oppress others.
Peace be with you.
(1) Arbenz coup
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Thank you and peace be with you.