“We’re Here Because You’re There”

Rally against Muslim ban, Copley Square, January 30, 2017
Rally against Muslim ban, Copley Square, January 30, 2017. Boston Herald photo

This article appeared in our Spring 2017 Newsletter

The Trump administration’s Muslim ban and executive order on the deportation of undocumented immigrants has generated enormous popular and legal opposition. While many thou-sands have rallied in protest across the country and around the world, and much ink has been spilled commenting on these orders, the foreign policy dimensions of immigration and asylum seeking have been ignored.

Why do immigrants and refugees seek entry into the United States? Are they just terrorists and bad hombres, as the President asserts?

Some years ago, a British immigrants-rights activist wrote, “We’re here be-cause you’re there.” This statement applies with equal force to the United States. Many are here because we are there.

This may be most obvious in the case of the refugee crisis in the Middle East. There was no refugee problem in the region (save for Palestinians who had been expelled from the lands that be-came Israel) before the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

We are familiar with the sequence of events: the chaos and violence of Iraq, which overflowed into neighboring Syria, adding gasoline to an already incendiary civil war; the cruelty and everyday violence of ISIS, which stoked fear across both Iraq and Syria. The displacement of some 15 million Syrians as a consequence of these developments is unprecedented in the Middle East. George W. Bush’s illegal invasion of Iraq set off this horrific chain of events.

The flood of migrants from Central America is another case in point. In the 1980s, the United States declared war on the Sandinistas in Nicaragua, which is today the second poorest country, after Haiti, in the western hemisphere. Under the Reagan administration the people of Central America were the victims of brutal US-backed regimes in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

The violence has continued unabated—El Salvador is today the murder capital of the world, a status it achieved by pushing aside its neighbor to the east, Honduras. US interference in the region continued when Secretary of State Hillary Clinton green-lighted the 2009 coup in Honduras. Is it any wonder that Central Americans by the thousands risk life and limb to trek north through Mexico to make their way into the United States?

Brazil has also faced US meddling. Under the presidency of Lula, the Workers Party government lifted 20 million Brazilians—10% of the population—out of poverty. The US objected but could not do much because of Lula’s extraordinary popularity. How-ever, his less popular successor, Dilma Rousseff, was deposed in a soft coup, which brought the plutocrats back to power. During the Lula years emigration to the US fell, but it is likely to in-crease again as the Brazilian state tilts towards the rich.

Finally, US economic policies, most critically in the form of free-trade agreements, have taken a toll on working people around the world, including of course the United States. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) devastated the peasant economy of Mexico. In the early 1990s imports accounted for less than 10 per cent of Mexican corn consumption. Fifteen years later cheap, subsidized corn imports from the United States were nearly 35 per cent of consumption. In that period, Mexican campesinos flooded north, having lost their livelihoods. Something similar is being replayed around the world as US sponsored free trade agreements give open access to the products of US-government-supported agribusiness in markets from sub-Saharan Africa to Southeast Asia.

The peace movement must make the above connections and bring them to the table in debates on immigration and refugee policy.