Manifest Destiny? U.S. Immigration ‘Crisis’ a Bipartisan Toxic Legacy
Migration is here to stay regardless of fences or chicken coops used for vetting migrants as labor, and the corruption of gangsterism will continue to normalize itself with the U.S. corporatist state.
Since Joe Biden took over the White House nearly three months ago, a recurring controversy dogging his administration is the plight of migrants crossing the southern border from Mexico. In the following interview, Randy Martin gives his take on the subject as a seasoned observer and campaigner based near the border. He says much of the political heat on the subject recently is being generated by the bitterly divisive, bipartisan politics of Republicans and Democrats. Martin points out that migration numbers are at historical lows. What needs to change, he says, is a policy that addresses the ongoing legacy of exploitation, conflict, and crime that the United States has inflicted on its southern neighbors.
Randy Martin is a blogger, political analyst, and activist who lives in New Mexico near the U.S.-Mexican border. He has devoted most of his life to political activism on a wide range of issues, from defending human rights to anti-nuclear weapons and waste campaigning, as well as promoting anti-war causes, and combating hunger and homelessness in the United States. He was part of the Sanctuary Movement in the early 1980s which provided safety and material support to refugees from Central America fleeing from conflicts fueled by malign U.S. military interventions in the region; those interventions were either aimed at toppling governments Washington disproved of, or at supporting repressive regimes. Randy has maintained support for immigrant rights throughout his life in the southwest border area and has helped organize New Mexico communities around social and environmental justice issues. Environmentalism and public health are major local issues due to the proximity of U.S. military weapons testing sites in the area and the toxic impact from decades of contamination. He lives not far from where the world’s first-ever atomic weapon was tested on July 16, 1945, three weeks before the bombing of Japan. As an internet activist – hacktivist – he has also been involved in international solidarity campaigns through social media projects that included the popular website crookedbough.com in support of the Pearl Uprising in Bahrain in 2011.
Question: The numbers of unauthorized migrants being detained at the U.S. border with Mexico, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency, has greatly increased compared with the same period last year – by a factor of five. Is the surge in numbers due to a specific change in policy under the Biden administration compared with the previous Trump administration?
Randy Martin: Historically, there is always a surge in numbers of those headed to the U.S. Southern border when administrations in Washington change – by way of testing the waters to see what will be acceptable to the incoming administration. Part of the recent surge has to do with “clearing the queues” of those waiting to cross the border after Trump pressured Mexico and Guatemala into keeping migrants on their sides while the migrants waited on processing that was never to come. It was inevitable that the queue of migrants on the Mexican and Guatemalan sides of the border would have to be resolved and those seeking immigration to the U.S. would have to move north.
The heightened political noise about the current surge is part of the unfortunate rhetoric of race-baiting in the bitterly divided politics of the U.S. Migration to the U.S. for Mexicans has been trending downward for decades and for Central Americans more generally the number of migrants has seen a modest increase in the recent decade and a half. Sadly, the current state of U.S. domestic politics misdirects attention from meeting the real needs of those that migrate to the U.S. who are trying to escape intolerable violence and poverty in their home countries.
Question: Do you think it is more accurate to refer to the people moving up from the south toward the United States as “migrants” or “refugees”? From which countries are they mostly coming? Which U.S. states are particularly seeing the most influx of people?
Randy Martin: Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras are the main Central American countries from which people are currently migrating to the U.S., according to data from the federal Customs and Border Protection agency. Once migrants enter the U.S. they make it to the major population centers where there is work, usually in the service sectors like hotels and restaurants and where there are established communities of other migrants – Cincinnati, Birmingham, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Seattle, among other destinations.
When someone has to make a tough decision to leave their home and family behind and make a treacherous journey with very little to nothing in their pockets, in order to escape violence, drug wars, civil wars or just find work, they are escaping from a grave situation that leads to horrific choices. When your daily goal is to eat, find shelter, and maybe send a few dollars back home to help those left behind, words like “migrant” or “refugee” don’t mean much.
Question: Images from detention centers indicate that conditions are harrowing for thousands of people. Is it accurate to refer to the situation on the U.S. border as a “humanitarian crisis”?
Randy Martin: Anytime we find it expedient or necessary to put people in cages there is most certainly a “humanitarian crisis”. Unfortunately, given the present divisive bipartisan politics of the U.S., words like “humanitarian crisis”, are manipulated to serve political agendas rather than meet real human needs. For decades, U.S. politicians from both Republican and Democrat parties have been spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year on the problem of migration. The “humanitarian crisis” is driven by those who amass wealth off the backs of those who slave to the oppression of poverty and escape the violence in the home countries.
Question: President Joe Biden is coming under fire from Republicans for undermining U.S. national security by being too lax about border controls. Is that criticism fair?
Randy Martin: U.S. national security requires both parties to bring it about. Both parties have been busy for decades building fences, spending money on high-tech gadgets, adding border guards to hunt down people, and returning them to the other side of the border. The U.S. spends hundreds of billions of dollars solving an intractable problem that reflects U.S. policy failures as a consequence of the economic exploitation of the people who migrate. The problem is not a “lax border control”, it’s the legacy of corruption that stems from the long-term effects of colonial exploitation that has plagued Central America and Mexico since colonialism arrived in this hemisphere, colonialist relations which have been continued by Washington ever since the United States was founded nearly 250 years ago.
Question: Biden is also coming under fire from some Democrats in his own party who charge that his policies on immigration are too harsh and are exacerbating the problems of detention and of families being separated. Is that fair criticism?
Randy Martin: Fair or not, the criticisms are there and Biden has to deal with them. Different members of his party have different realities with their own constituents and their agendas which they are obliged to satisfy. If the Democrats are to survive in power beyond Biden’s current term, he has to listen and accommodate party criticism. The Democrats can ill afford to fracture and splinter over the issue of border policy and security.
Question: In the long historical view, how do present numbers of people trying to cross the U.S. border from Mexico compare with past periods? Why does the present situation seem to be a more hot political issue than in previous times?
Randy Martin: Every administration goes through a period of peak migrations. In recent years, Central American and Mexican emigration has been at an all-time low. Only recently has Central American immigration into the U.S. seems to be on the increase. The U.S. seems to be incapable of developing the flexibility to handle the “flux” in migration both from a legal system and for a system that cares for the material needs of the migrants.
The current intensity of the border political issues is because we are coming out of one of the most contentious elections in U.S. history. The nation is grotesquely divided, both major parties have severely agitated the already sore issue of migration, so the political rhetoric is high and the nerves are raw. The Republicans are being sore losers, agitating issues just like the Democrats did when Trump defeated Clinton in 2016. Both parties are conflating the migration with racial issues – race-baiting as a political tool has reached a toxic level in the U.S.
Question: What, in your view, is a long-term, sustainable policy that the U.S. government should adopt in order to deal with continental migration from south to north? Republicans and even the Biden administration lately seem to think that building a fortress wall at the border is a solution. Is it?
Randy Martin: The notion of keeping people out with walls is primitive thinking. The phenomenon of migration dates back centuries. You can slow migrants down but there will always be a way around walls. Walls will never be high enough to stop migrations on this planet. The first thing that should be done to mitigate migration is the U.S. needs to get a grip on how the legacy of its current behavior as a colonial power drives the migration from Central America and Mexico.
The U.S. southern border is 3,145 kilometers long (1,954 miles). The U.S. so-called Border Wall is about 654 miles of non-contiguous, anti-pedestrian, anti-vehicle barriers and fencing. The wall gets a lot of political hype but few realize that under Trump the actual amount of new wall built is somewhere between 15-45 miles. The true legacy of Trump’s Border Wall initiative is that he expedited maintenance projects. After it’s all sorted out, the reality is that the supposed Great Wall Trump built was actually just in the imagination and political rhetoric of the mainstream media and asinine leaders of both political parties. Trump will go down in U.S. political history as a fence-maintenance man and an ignorant bully who agitated racist thugs to riot at the White House.
The people indigenous to these lands have historically migrated routinely from Meso-America all the way north to Canada before and after the appearance of the European colonialists. And they will continue to do so as long as humans have legs. Migration is a reality and a basic behavior of all peoples on the planet. Everything from drought to wars and violence, compel them to do so.
Question: Some critics of historical U.S. policies and conduct toward its hemispheric neighbors would point to past imperial machinations as being pertinent, if not a causal factor. Such as Washington sponsoring despotic dictatorships, death squads, subversive wars, regime-change operations, all-out military invasions, predatory economics, and so on. Are the recurring migration problems facing the U.S. a case of “chickens coming home to roost”?
Randy Martin: The legacy of European colonialism of Meso-America and U.S. colonial expansion westwards across North America established borders (circa 1848) from notions of Manifest Destiny and land appropriation through genocide and enslavement of native people for cheap labor required by the evolving plantation and extractive economies. These economic models are alive and well today. Today, the genocide is muted and the post-industrial revolution age has brought on minimalist labor rights that make subsistence the new tyranny over workers.
The late 20th Century brought illicit drug narco-production and narco-trafficking that has flourished since the era of the U.S.-sponsored Banana Republics. As the rise of the drug cartels has marked the decline of the Banana Republics they have ushered in the new gangsterism of massive organized crime of the 21st Century which is now endemic from Central America to Canada. Gangsterism with its street-level violence and corruption now permeates the political and economic systems of North America making “legitimate business” largely indistinguishable from organized crime and corruption.
The market for illicit drugs and the permeation of gangsterism into U.S. society has spawned reverse logistics from the U.S. to Mexico and Central America for chemicals vital to the production of heroin, fentanyl, cocaine, and methamphetamine. The backflow of black-market cash from the U.S. along with weapons makes for the perfect reverse logistics channel.
The notion of “chickens coming home to roost” is much more ominous than the idea evokes. Those amassing wealth off the backs of the Mexicans and Central Americans are building chicken coops on the border to hold and return incoming migrant labor while much of the service industry in the U.S. and Canada are shut due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the meantime, the economies of the U.S. and Mexico, with their economies intertwined with organized crime, have dumped billions of dollars via “stimulus checks” into the U.S. economy with much of it trickling back up to the organized-crime activities of the cartels. The U.S. economic desperation and corrupt government are muscling in on cartels’ turf taking a share of the illicit drug market through the legalization of marijuana to prop up state coffers.
The prognosis? Migration is here to stay regardless of fences or chicken coops used for vetting migrants as labor, and the corruption of gangsterism will continue to normalize itself with the U.S. corporatist state.