Unspeakable Conditions on our Southern Border: Where shall we direct our rage?
Op/Ed by Lynn Gerlach
So, honestly, when Julian
Castro suggested the repeal of Section 1325, did you know what he was
talking about? I certainly didn’t, so I Googled the darned thing and read it.
It says nothing of separating children from their parents, yet I’m told that’s
the law the Trump administration uses to justify holding children in cages.
I determined to learn everything I could about the history of
our southern border, our immigration policies, and the apparent causes of
the current atrocity. Here I’ll briefly lay out the key facts in the hope
you’ll undertake some research of your own.
Until 1917, people came and went at all ports of call on all
our borders without documentation. No one worried about passports and visas. In
1924 the U.S. imposed quotas on various countries, but NOT from within the
Americas. And it still wasn’t a crime to enter. The newly formed Border
Patrol focused on barring Asians and discouraging Canadian rum-runners.
Mexicans came and went, providing cheap labor for our farms
and ranches. But “nativists,” (racial purists) didn’t like that, and they found
their champion in South Carolina in 1929: Coleman
Livingston Blease, a Democrat and an unapologetic white supremacist whose political
strategies bear frightening likeness to those of our current president.
Blease offered the
compromise between agricultural employers and racial purists: Section 1325. Let them come only at official entry points – otherwise, prosecute
them for a crime. BUT NOT FOR THE SOUTHERN
BORDER! The braceros program to allow for cheap Mexican labor ended only
in 1965; that’s when it became illegal to cross our southern border except at
official points of entry.
For years single, young
Mexican laborers sneaked in where they could to seek a job. Jimmy Carter first
the border, and George H.W. Bush
built the first fence. Every president since then has added a bit of fencing
for a total of 700 miles of fence on our 1,953-mile border.
And then it all changed. Drought,
flooding and coffee blight destroyed the economies of Honduras and Guatemala. These
two countries, the third- and fourth- poorest in the western hemisphere, suffered
gang violence, police abuse, and corruption on a growing scale. Families traveled
through Mexico to the U.S., seeking asylum. They didn’t sneak in; they waited
endlessly at official ports of entry and then began to walk and swim and climb
into our country where they could, begging for the “credible fear interview”
guaranteed by both international law and U.S. law. They presented themselves to guards or simply
waited to be taken for their asylum interviews. They were, instead, taken into
That’s how Section 1325
sends children to cages: If the adult is going to be held for prosecution, you
must provide alternative detention for minors. And what an alternative, right?!
Finally, I discovered the
Office on Latin America (WOLA). There I learned why two-thirds of the people
who now cross our southern border are families – and not Mexican. WOLA also
presents a vision for a smooth and humane process – and what steps might create
that workable border-crossing system for asylum seekers with children.
Space does not allow me
to detail the insight I found at WOLA. I can only urge you to visit that
website and enhance your own understanding of the crisis at our southern
border. And then, I think, it would make sense to expect our Democratic
candidates to understand it too – and propose a long-term, realistic solution.
WOLA says, “This is the new pattern, not a
temporary surge or distortion.”
While we direct our justified fury at a callous administration and its
horrifying border policy, let’s also demand answers in place of acrimony
from our Democratic candidates seeking the highest office in the land.