Equity issues extend beyond the borders of the United States. Immigration is a significant issue that our country faces. The media has been focused lately on Ukraine and the refugees from that war who are being welcomed in many countries, including the United States. However, refugees seeking asylum along our southern border reached a 22-year high in March as people from Mexico and Central America continue to seek safety and security.
Immigration has been an issue for decades. Our political leaders have tried to resolve the issue with increasingly severe measures of deportation and detention, but these have been short-term changes and do not address the reasons that increasing numbers of people seek to leave their homes. These reasons that drive people from their homes include poverty, political instability and violence, all of which are deeply rooted in history.
Many of these countries have been mired in poverty since achieving independence from Spain 300 years ago. Populations were largely poor, rural and didn’t own land. They were ruled by a small group of people who held the vast majority of wealth, land and power. Their wealth depended on exports, which benefited the rich but further impoverished the majority of people. This continues today as climate change and large corporations controlling large proportions of agricultural land force people out of rural areas and into the cities to seek economic stability. When people continue to face poverty even in the cities, they attempt to provide food and housing for their families by traveling to the US.
Political stability has also long been a factor causing poverty in these countries. There have been struggles for power between liberal and conservative elites for many years, creating uprisings and violent conflicts. The United States has been involved, providing military support to whichever group seems to best support our business interests. These conflicts have only increased in the last 60 years. Popular movements of the working classes have attempted to challenge the power of the elites, sometimes violently. The response of the elite leadership has often been to invite the military to take power, creating civil war. The United States has again been involved, providing logistical aid, money, training and weapons, even when this support has been used to commit human rights atrocities against the population. People attempt to seek safety and stability for their families by traveling the US.
Gang violence is a third factor which drives people from their homes. One of the world’s largest gangs, MS-13, started in the poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles which housed large numbers of Central American refugees who had fled the political upheaval in their countries. Many of these gang members were imprisoned in the US, then deported under President Bill Clinton. These countries had already been impoverished by years of civil war and didn’t have the resources to deal with the influx of gang members, which caused a new wave of violence, extortion and lack of punishment for their crimes. People attempt to seek safety for their families and to keep their children from being forced to join gangs by traveling the US.
There are also pull factors which draw immigrants to the United States. We have long been dependent on immigrant labor for menial jobs, particularly in agriculture, construction, and the service industry. However, immigration policy has made it very difficult for these laborers to enter the country legally. It can take a decade or more for a family to sponsor a family member to come and work in the US, and those visas have primarily gone to immigrants with at least a college degree. People desperate to support their families cross illegally, knowing that even without legal status, they will be able to find a menial job that will allow them to support their families, however humbly.
Current policy allows one way for these migrants to immediately gain legal status. They must request asylum upon entry into the United States. This entry is done illegally and most are expecting detention and immediately deported (creating numerous reentry attempts), but families and unaccompanied minors have the best opportunity of seeking asylum.
It’s a complicated issue, which is not going to be resolved by walls or detention centers or deportation. Our political leaders need to acknowledge the role that our country has played in creating this problem and develop policies that support legal immigration and even more importantly, to provide financial and logistical support to countries that continue to be plagued by the violence and poverty that drive people from their homes.
In the meantime, we will continue to provide support to a small community in Mexico to allow two families to provide shelter and an improved standard of living. We feel helpless and hopeless to find solutions in the face of the changes necessary to allow people to stay in safety and comfort in the countries that they love, but Manito UMC has made a difference for at least two families through our support for the community of Tlancualpican and the organization, Give Ye Them to Eat (GYTTE). Six of our members visited the community at the end of 2019 and learned about the needs of the community, the causes of the poverty there, and the assistance that GYTTE provides. We worked on the new home of an older man who had been living in a tent for two years. Our church generously raised for funds to provide construction materials for two more families, and more volunteers from our church will be visiting and learning and working in the community at the end of this year. Six people are signed up and reservations made. We have room for up to six more people.