Living in El Paso gives a first hand look at the current issues concerning the border. Just recently a large caravan consisting of thousands of people, from all over South and Central America, came to our borders seeking safety. However, with our current administration it is proving difficult for thousands forcing them to camp out at the borders in Mexico. Immigration is an issue that El Paso is very familiar with and will continue to be due to the conditions of the countries these people are attempting to escape from. This is a particularly messy issue because of the various mixed opinions people have on the subject which is exactly why it is absolutely vital to the look at the facts.
Donald Trump made immigration the main focus of most of his campaign and immediately, within five days of taking office, began issuing several executive orders to make major changes to the U.S. immigration system. This, of course, rattled our very own community of El Paso. President Trump advertised the building of a wall thoroughly throughout his campaign, and in fact it is currently in the process of being built, which would run its course in our very city. Many citizens of El Paso are affected primarily because it is being built here right in front of us but also because many El Paso resident have families in our neighboring city, Ciudad Juarez.
Still, El Paso is actually one of the safest cities within the United Sates. Over time,the border has been modified and by the thousands upon millions spent. Including everything from troops on the ground, to agents, fencing, sensors and drones, putting both Ciudad Juarez and El Paso on high alert. Taking into consideration that El Paso and Juarez are currently experiencing the ongoing construction of an 18-foot high fence that will block the view between downtown El Paso and Juarez.
The increasing number of undocumented migrants from Central America, making their way through Mexico to the U.S. has given rise to a humanitarian catastrophe. In 2014, tens of thousands of children and families from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – known as the Northern Triangle of Central America (NTCA) – arrived at the U.S. south border seeking protection and a safe place to live. Many of these migrants were fleeing extreme violence in their home country including organized crime, extortion, forced recruitment into criminal groups, sexual and gender-based violence, and violence against children. While such problems have existed for decades, conditions have worsened in recent years. Today, NTCA countries continue to experience generalized violence, with homicide rates several times higher than what the World Health Organization considers “epidemic” homicide level*.
Despite the fact that most of the migrants are fleeing from life-endangering violence in their home countries, the U.S. largely treats them as a national security menace and as a justification for tougher border controls. More so, since Donald Trump became president of the U.S. in January 2017. Immigration was the centrepiece of his presidential campaign and it has remained a top priority on his political agenda. Within his first days in office, he signed an executive order on border security and interior enforcement, restraining the rights of immigrants and refugees. Until today, President Trump has signed seven executive orders related to immigration and at the time this essay is written, he announced plans to deploy US military forces to protect the U.S. border with Mexico.
Unlike other presidencies, who largely addressed immigration as a positive force and as part of the U.S. DNA, the Trump administration intends to restrict immigration and maximize enforcement. These new policies are unprecedented in its radicality and break from earlier history. On top, the new Trump administration has since the beginning relied on hateful rhetoric against migrants and intent to criminalize them through politically biased labels (e.g. “illegal”) or wrong generalization (“rapists”, “they (migrants) are bringing drugs”). Hence, the Trump administration is not only threatening migrants’ rights in the U.S. but is highly influencing how immigration is perceived and discussed within the country.
Donald Trump’s message that undocumented migrants will be faced with more difficulties to enter the U.S. also made its way south and has been heard by NTCA citizen. However, evidence suggests that hard line border control policies have not stopped Central American migrants fleeing their countries. Instead, they have very likely condemned Central American migrants to more precarious routes. At the same time, the new policies have also changed the human smuggling trade at the border. While so-called “coyotes” used to work alone or in small family-run networks, a recent increase in price of crossing the border has attracted Mexican Drug Cartels to move in. As these criminal networks increasingly see migrants as an alternative, highly profitable revenue source an already dangerous journey has become even more dangerous, putting tens of thousands of migrants at great risk of being abused, kidnapped, extorted or killed.
On the other hand, President Trump’s plan to crack down on undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. and to lift existing migrant protection programs (such as TPS and DACA) may result in mass deportation of Central American Migrants to their home countries and likely exacerbate the misery and instability that have driven the surge of migrants heading to the U.S. in recent years. It also means that the U.S. is unable to learn from its own history, as the MS-13 and Barrio 18 (Central America’s largest and most violent street gangs) is a direct consequence of a previous mass deportation from the U.S. to Salvador during the 90ies and seen as a major cause for the current humanitarian catastrophe.
The new catalogue of immigration policies put forward by the Trump administration clearly breaks with former U.S. immigration policies. They may be in line with the administrative new “America First” strategy but it also demonstrates President Trump’s over-simplistic view on how to deal with complex situations. Trump’s migration policies cannot only worsen the current migration crisis and put the migrants in greater danger, there is also a high likelihood that they are self-defeating and may further destabilize NTCA countries, just after initial improvements have been achieved.