After a meeting with Texas Gov. Rick Perry recently, President Barack Obama said that politics, not philosophy, divided him from Republicans on how to respond to the mounting numbers of children fleeing Central America and Mexico.
Both men want more border patrol and quicker processing for expulsion. Obama calls the situation a humanitarian crisis, but his solution is to “humanely” deport the kids back to the disaster areas from whence they came.
Neither Republicans nor Obama ask why the kids come. Instead, Obama smugly blames their parents saying, “I’ve asked parents across Central America not to put their children in harm’s way in this fashion.”
Does he really think these children would come if they weren’t already in harm’s way? For decades our government’s policies have made Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador dangerous places. Our government has propped up dictators and oligarchs.
Our failed drug war has militarized communities and thrown them into chaos. We have imposed so-called free trade and free markets on the region, breaking the back of small businesses and its rural economy. The crisis at the border is in fact blowback from these policies, and the children are refugees.
The president should visit Honduras, where his administration condoned and quickly recognized a coup in 2009. I highlight Honduras because the largest share of unaccompanied children on our doorstep is from there (29 percent), an increase of 227 percent over last year. I traveled there three times on human rights delegations since the coup and witnessed the effects of the carnage.
Since 2009 the Honduran poverty rate, which was declining under ousted President Manuel Zelaya, has shot up 13 percent while extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) has increased by 26 percent. After the oligarchs seized power, they turned Honduras into the most unequal nation in Central America. The administrations of Pepe Lobo, who replaced Zelaya, and Juan Orlando, the current president, have welcomed in multinational corporations and together with them are evicting farm families from their little plots of land so they can grow African oil palm.
Water and mining companies build mega-projects on land belonging to indigenous people, while police and military kill whoever gets in their way. While Honduras gobbles up millions in arms from the U.S., its savagery, corruption and impunity are shameful.
Obama should look at his own “free” trade policies, which turned farmers into migrants and cut jobs and social spending, or his drug war that has militarized corrupt police and army, making Honduras the murder capital of the world. And then he should revisit his support for the coup, which overthrew an elected president who was the first in years to raise the minimum wage, provide free education, create jobs and make the country a democracy instead of a breeding ground for forced migration. Many Honduran parents now work fixing our food, mowing our lawns and changing our sheets so they can send money home to kids they haven’t seen in years. They are not the cause of this mess; they’re its victims.
Rather than blame them and build more fences, our elected officials should stop playing politics with children’s lives and start fixing the disasters they’ve wrought overseas so people don’t have to migrate. They should protect the children as refugees with Temporary Protected Status while they consider a real immigration reform that would let families unite and live in safety.
Judy Ancel lives in Kansas City, Kan., and is president of the Cross-Border Network.