By Matt Hanson
Abstract: International refugees and dissidents share a common fate in relation to the United States, particularly with respect to their precarious recognition by the officialdoms of U.S. Immigration at the border. The history of border imperialism in the 20th century is important to understand as a prelude to the current strife facing American border security today. As the nation grapples with the humanitarian politics necessary to processing tens of thousands of child migrants from Central America, the policy debate is rooted in a cultural history. In response, the ultra-conservative “invasion” rhetoric is revealing. It is important to examine the defining features of a nation-state with respect to the transnational characteristics of social exchange. Economic inequality, and partisan politics set American society apart from within, and without. The cultural history of international dissidents censured by U.S. Immigration is significant, opening a context for understanding the narrative of child migrants through news analysis, and literary research. With respect to Indigenous Peoples, and decolonization, the historic crises of U.S. Immigration are held under special scrutiny. The fundamental humanitarian assumptions of border protection, and the mythos of America as an immigrant nation of multicultural syncretism are herein questioned, and critiqued.
In North America, and elsewhere around the world, for example in Mediterranean countries such as Greece and Italy, there is a growing antipathy for migrants. The United States and Canada are not alone in the increasing volume of political distaste for migrants. In the United States in particular, there is an inherent contradiction within this debate, and this crisis of asylum, as concerns the identification of migrants as invaders.
With unabated trends favoring economic globalization, such as the overshadowing precedence of international free trade agreements, wealthy nations have a greater responsibility to receive economic migrants, and equally, forced migrants fleeing life-threatening persecution. To deny this responsibility is to reject the foundations of humanity, and to delegitimize the standard of national boundaries as security zones. Instead, national boundaries fulfill their original purpose, militarized demarcations, where the history of an invasion has simply taken another form.
In other words, the misperception of migrants as invaders exposes the fundamental myth of the modern nation state as a cultural, social, political, or economic distinction. As is most apparent outside of North America and Europe, however within as well, cultural, social, political and economic phenomena observably transcend state boundaries, merging in varying forms transnationally. Similarly, all people, as such, are a part of the transnational social capital that exists in every nation individually, and collectively throughout the globe. The inequalities of the global marketplace are manifest in the story of the modern immigrant.
Immigrant is a very different term than migrant. With its special legal, political, social and cultural ramifications, immigration is a process whereby a foreigner resides permanently in a country other than that of their origin. Immigration also connotes official identification, as recognized by the country wherein one is immigrating. Whereas migration is a primordial concept, immigration entails the officialdoms of international law, and domestic policy.
Anti-immigration is the result of geopolitical insecurity, while deeply rooted in forms of racism steeped in multigenerational, and colonialist inequality. The prevailing myth of nationalism, as a harbinger of progressive social values conceived during the European Enlightenment, purveys concepts as elusive as freedom. In modern Greece, and in the European Parliament today there are openly anti-Semitic officials who hold seats of government, and who won those seats based on an anti-immigrant platform (Cossé, 2014).[i] Unfortunately, in this extreme case, anti-immigrant policies are aligned within an unfounded, racist political paradigm. In the United States, the racism inherent in anti-immigration rhetoric is no less apparent.
Currently, tens of thousands of unaccompanied child migrants are arriving to the United States. They are largely detained, registered as criminals within the overburdened border protection zone along the U.S.-Mexico border, and deported. The trials wherein these children are sentenced to be deported are often pitiful displays of justice, held in a language that the child largely does not understand, and through mostly unintelligible proceedings. While the children are evidently running to border guards after surviving the harsh, overland trip from Central America, they are pegged as invaders. Politicians, such as Texas Governor, and hopeful presidential candidate Rick Perry said, of the child migrants, “I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault” (Prupis, 2014).[ii] Curiously, Perry was indicted for abuse of power on August 15th, and now faces potential jail time following charges related to blocking funding for a government anti-corruption agency (Achisa, 2014).[iii]
Meanwhile, more moderate politicians, only Democrats at present, are expressing compassion by standing together on the House floor (Lee, 2014).[iv] Not surprisingly, however, their sentiments also source religious conviction. For example, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick emotionally referred to his Christian faith at the Sheltering of Unaccompanied Children Press Conference, held on July 18th, while standing at his gubernatorial podium with two clergymen. “My faith teaches that if a stranger dwells with you in your land, you shall not mistreat him but rather love him as yourself,” said Patrick (Brownell, 2014).[v]
Despite acting on good faith, such a strong political and religious backing merely perpetuates the historic relationship between marginalized, stateless and illegal migrants. Internally displaced Native American communities have forcibly migrated, not only geographically, but also between federal regulation and socioeconomic ostracism. Similarly, Latin American migrant children are the subjects of political, and religious leadership, while politicians and religionists have been among the most exploitative, and misguided with regard to saving vulnerable peoples. Outside of the political arena, religious people nationwide are standing as a purported moral compass for the nation’s overt politicization of the basic humanitarian crisis of child migrants (Paulson, 2014).[vi]
The combination of religious zeal, and overt militarization clearly resembles the colonial legacy of an invasion history that is much better documented, that of the European in the lands of Indigenous Peoples, now commonly referred to as the United States, Mexico, Central America and beyond. From 1914 to 1917, the U.S. historically invaded Mexico on two accounts. At the time, Woodrow Wilson expressly backed the first invasion due to domestic pressures from business, politics and the press (Veterans Museum & Memorial Center, 2003-2007).[vii] Now, representatives of the rightwing press advocate for a new invasion into Mexico, in response to the purported aggressions of the Mexican Army, as well as other armed forces along the border, which have allegedly resulted in the shooting of a Tucson man, multiple violent confrontations with U.S. Border Patrol personnel, and the occupation of a small Texas town (Agni, 2014).[viii]
Power politics, as well as propaganda-style journalism, as with belligerent profiteering, merely exposes the ugly continuance of colonialist exploitation at the expense of migrants. Across the globe, migrants are exploited, often to advance racism, militarism, or politics in the name of extremist nationalism. Migrants are exploited because they are often the most vulnerable to the economic abuses that dominant societies depend on to expand. The migrant is not an invader, and has never been. The migrant simply embodies the human will to live. The institutions of immigration, namely border control, and the geographical, political, social, and economic demarcations that are founded on the ongoing histories of conflict, are the bastions of imperialism.