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 suggested fencing 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 custody.
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 Washington 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.