Maria Martinez was desperate. Her 25-year-old son had refused a demand from a local gang to join their ranks and now his life and the lives of her whole family were being threatened. Gang members had already invaded her home and thrown them to the ground with guns pointed at their heads to show how serious they were about their “invitation.”
So Maria took her family and fled from her native home in El Salvador, first to Guatemala and later to southern Mexico. But her family was still not safe, as gangs continued to threaten them as they moved from place to place.
Five years after she first started running for her family’s life, she joined a caravan of more than 1,500 Central Americans who were trekking through Mexico to the southern border of our country seeking asylum. By the time the caravan arrived at the San Ysidro Port of Entry south of San Diego earlier this week, their numbers had dwindled to about 200 desperate people, many of them women like Maria trying to protect the safety of their children.
Unfortunately for them, they did not receive a warm welcome from our tweet-happy president. In fact, our commander-in-chief has vilified this caravan of asylum-seekers for weeks, using it as justification for his ongoing campaign to build a giant wall on our southern border that (as far as I know) Mexico is still stubbornly refusing to pay for.
My own feelings about the situation are decidedly mixed. I am not an advocate of “open borders” and I believe that we need to exercise control over how many people enter the country and what kind of people we let in. But I also have a heart, and I sympathize with the desperate people who cross hundreds of miles of rough terrain seeking to make a better life for themselves and their children.
What I have a real problem with is how these people are offered up as scapegoats, the evil “other” who are responsible for all the ills of our society. I can spot a political shell game when I see one.
“Pay no attention to my ongoing legal, ethical, and moral failings, dear citizens – focus instead on those nefarious dark-skinned folks massing on our borders for an invasion!” It’s a simple trick, but it continues to work on the gullible and you can’t blame Trump for sticking with what works for him.
In any case, we have to deal with the practical question of what to do with large groups of people who show up at our border seeking asylum, or just a better life. We can’t take them all in no matter how big our hearts are.
I think the question that needs to be asked by people who know a lot more about foreign policy and economics than I (and Donald Trump) do is how can we – the world’s leading economic and military superpower – invest in countries in our own backyard to help them become places that people don’t feel the need to flee from?
In the age of Trump, isolationism is enjoying a popularity it hasn’t seen since the aftermath of World War I, when it helped set the table for World War II. It was an immature and short-sighted way of thinking back then, and it’s downright ludicrous now.
The world grows smaller every day. People are more mobile than ever and information can travel around the world in the blink of an eye. It’s not smart to turn a blind eye to bad things going on just over the imaginary borders we draw around countries.
Clearly we can’t just fix problems in other countries through sheer force of will, but we need to start thinking of the people in those countries as neighbors (or even better – family members) who have serious problems that inevitably become our problems too if they aren’t dealt with. And we need to accept the fact that we cannot build walls high enough to insulate us from that reality.