joe strummer sang about this border crisis hypocrisy 30 years ago

Soundtrack in my head: The Clash, “Straight To Hell”

The image of Americans protesting against busloads of refugee children represents a new low in American hatred of the “other.”  To them, it matters little that these children are refugees and desperately fleeing for their lives.  They are “illegals” that don’t belong here–regardless of their needs, regardless of what U.S. federal law saws, and regardless of the likelihood that U.S. policy towards Central American nations actually helped precipitate this crisis.  This border crisis hypocrisy has American fingerprints all over it.

The roots of the current crisis goes back to U.S. government support for violent right-wing governments in Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador in the 1980’s and before. These bloody civil wars created waves of refugees in the U.S. Because their legal status was often in question–and because we supported their governments–we did not consider them refugees.  And, as was true of other immigrants going back a century, their status caused them to avoid the police and made them easy prey for criminal elements that both protected them and took advantage of their situation.  We deported many of these criminals for understandable reasons, but when the civil governments of these countries finally negotiated some semblance of peace, the superpowers lost interest and cut aid, and these “made in USA” gangs ended up filling the void in countries still dealing with devastated infrastructure and desperate poverty. A more detailed analysis of the roots of the crisis is here.

What this crisis demonstrates is something that many social workers have understood for years:  Every effort to sweep a problem under the rug only results in the problem popping up elsewhere. We can take a “hard line” on immigrants but if we ignore or contribute to the circumstances that brought them here, they will continue to knock on our door.  Israel cannot “bomb” the Palestinian question away or starve it into submission. We can’t just “lock people up and throw away the key,” when our prisons leave devastated communities in our wake.

I heard the song “Straight To Hell” by The Clash this morning and so many of the lyrics absolutely nailed the current situation, even though the song came out more than thirty years ago.  The song links abandoned industrial towns to the plight of the Amerasian “war babies” in Vietnam, to the arson of Puerto Rican neighborhoods in New York’s “Alphabet City” neighborhood to clear the way for gentrification (which also happened in Chicago’s Wicker Park neighborhood). In the thirty years since the song was first published, it seems more and more that “King Solomon he never lived ’round here.”

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