Description: While President Trump is using his Border Wall and the Caravan of Migrants coming through Mexico as political talking points, the Caravan and the Wall represent a reality of poverty and suffering we can not and dare not ignore.
President Trump has sought to frame the midterm elections around a few key issues, two of which are the building of a wall on the border of the southern United States, and the caravan of approximately 7000 people travelling thru Mexico to the U.S. Border to seek asylum. In response to the caravan the president has suggested that there are “Middle Eastern” people in the group ( code word: “terrorist”) and deployed 5200 army personnel to help stop the asylum seekers from gaining entry in to the country. The fact that 7000 people are seeking relief, more than one-third of them children, is a human tragedy that is hard to comprehend, and yet without a clear and comprehensive immigration policy, the building of wall and sending troops to stop an “invasion” of unwanted “illegals” is the only reasonable people to many people.
While acknowledging the important humanitarian and political implications of the wall and the caravan, in this blog I want to step back and reflect on the deeper and wider symbolic meaning of this caravan and the wall.
First the Caravan. The United Nations HIgh Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there are 65.8 million displaced people in the world today. 40 million of those are internally displaced, that is people who live in refugee camps within their own borders due primarily to war. The 6 million internally displaced persons in Syria is part of that 40 million. Another 25.4 million are refugees who are in camps outside their country; the 5 million Syrians encamped in Turkey, Jordan and other nearby countries would fall into this category. Then there are another 3.1 million persons seeking asylum in a country other than their own because they do not feel safe in their own home country. The folks in the caravan fall into this final category.
Migration is a result of poverty, famine and war. Increasingly a fourth major cause, climate change, has been added to the list. When we look at poverty, 10% of the world’s population, 767 million people, live on less than $1.90 per day; 2.1 billion live on less than $3.10/day. These numbers are so staggeringly high they are hard to imagine. Over two billion people are struggling to live on what I pay every day for my morning coffee. Despite the rhetoric around invasions, drug lords and terrorists trying to enter our country, what drives people to walk thousands of miles to our border is a desire to merely survive. And these migrants are not just coming to our border, but to the countries of Europe as well places like Turkey, Jordan, Kenya and the like. (Statistics supplied by Action Against Hunger).
While we may see the caravan as a political issue, we must also see that it represents billions of people living on the edge of existence, doing what any person would do in that situation: seek to survive.
So what about the wall – what does that represent? While President Trump has advocated for the last 2-3 years the need for a wall, countries in Europe and other places around the world have done all they can to keep out refugees migrating to their border without walls. The wall represents the response of wealthier countries to the need of the poor. Nationalism, a focus on one’s own people alone, has arisen in countries around the globe. The nationalist response has been to protect assets, to maintain a relatively comfortable way of life by literally walling off the problem from national consciousness and sense of responsibility. It is to see these struggling refugees as a threat, as “other, “ as “not our problem.” We seek to disassociate ourselves from these people and the conditions that have created their desperation, and yet we can’t.
The disparities that exist have many sources, but major among those causes is a global economy which connects people around the world. Just this morning I drank coffee from Indonesia, a banana from South America, an cereal made from grain from Asia. I am wearing a shirt made in China, a sweater from Bangladesh and shoes from Taiwan. Later I will get in my Japanese-made car, powered by Middle Eastern oil, and use my computer made of rare minerals from parts of Africa. The point is we are connected economically, which means we are connected humanly. Moreover, as an American I know that many of the companies I deal with on a regular basis for food, clothing and other necessities of life come have operations literally around the world. I am not saying this is necessarily this is a bad thing (though one must look at business practices in these countries to see if employees are being fairly paid and the host country being protected from environmental destruction), what I am saying that those people in the caravan, are not “other” – they are integral to who I am as a person, who we are as a nation, who we are as a human family.
I could go on an offer all sorts of theological, philosophical and ethical reasons we should care about those 7000 folks coming through Mexico, the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States and the 65 million displaced persons around the globe, but I won’t go there. All I am saying is that the basic reality that those of us on this side of the wall are intimately connected to those on the other side of the wall. No matter how high, long and thick, no wall can change that reality. To deny or denounce that reality is to stick our head in the sand and live blind to our interconnectedness.
For over a decade our political leaders have avoided or undermined any and every attempt to create a comprehensive immigration policy, and yet people keep coming. People from countries like Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala suffer under lawlessness, poverty and violence. Instead of threatening to cut off foreign aid to these countries, as the President recently threatened to do, we need to use our resources and our influence to help stabilize those economies and governments so that people feel safe in their own homes and can make a living for themselves and their families. By simply closing our eyes, building a wall and saying “no entrada,” we only prolong a problem that only promises to grow, as long as the wealthier peoples of the world turn the other way, and hide behind their walls.