Crying Migrant Child has ascended to the photojournalism hall of fame alongside the iconic Vietnamese Napalm Girl and Tiananmen Square Man. Unwittingly conscripted to the front lines of the Resistance, she was chosen to represent the morally unconscionable (this week) separation of undocumented children from their parents. As the establishment appeals to cheap sentimentality to distract from its own much more horrific treatment of children around the globe and pin another catastrophe on its favorite presidential scapegoat, it does not matter that Crying Migrant Child is still with her mother, who with one illegal entry already on her record has only escaped felony charges through the miracle of a government that bit off more than it could chew with a zero-tolerance border policy enacted more for theatrics than law enforcement. It is immaterial that Mom paid $6000 to smuggle the two of them into the country when more than half of Americans can't even scrape together a tenth of that amount for an emergency expense. Americans have not evolved beyond knee-jerk emotional reactions to the perceived suffering of children and small animals, which - properly deployed - can distract from any number of more distant atrocities. Crying Migrant Child is not mere fake news - in all her innocent duplicity, pressed into the service of a propaganda narrative, she is the perfect poster child for this made-to-order controversy.
It is no surprise to see the thousands of doe-eyed migrant Children detained in recent months deployed as a weapon by the Resistance, used to bludgeon the Trump administration into relaxing its border policy. Democrats who've knighted themselves Protectors of the Child hold a stubbornly ahistorical view of Trump’s immigration policy, choosing to ignore its roots in the legislation of his predecessors, and maintain a convenient amnesia regarding the words of their own leaders - Pelosi, Schumer, Feinstein, both Clintons, even Barack Obama have all voiced the same ideas the Resistance now finds so repulsive in the mouth of Trump. Why is Rachel Maddow only now rustling up crocodile tears from the depths of her freeze-dried soul for the migrant children locked in detention facilities? Surely she felt some pangs of conscience when some kids detained under the Obama administration were mistakenly released into the custody of human traffickers? Surely her viewers have seen human beings cry before and recognize Maddow's sick pantomime of human sadness for the crass emotional manipulation it is? The Trump immigration controversy is not about the plight of the Children, or the morality of separating families, or the utility of borders in a globalized world. The Resistance's concern for Central American migrants has clear limits. One cannot discuss the political context of this refugee crisis, the fact that the US is to blame for turning nations like Honduras and El Salvador into violent exporters of desperate humanity, or the strident Defenders of the Children lose interest. They’re here to virtue-signal, not to learn history. Blame Trump or GTFO.
Cause and Effect
Honduras held the dubious distinction of murder capital of the world for four years following the 2009 coup that ousted President Manuel Zelaya, a reformer who presided over a 10% decline in poverty nationwide but ran afoul of powerful corporate interests when he tried to raise the country’s minimum wage and called for a vote to reform the constitution. The UN and OAS condemned the coup while Hillary Clinton’s State Department called for immediate elections to legitimize its plotters, who’d learned their trade at the notorious School for the Americas. The new regime unleashed a torrent of repression, tanked the economy with the standard SoA neoliberal Friedmanism, and scared the murder rate up to 169 per 100000 people, sparking a wave of refugees which has been crashing on our borders ever since. The country has continued to deteriorate since the coup, though it is no longer the murder capital of the world, thanks to another US-backed conflict - this one in Syria.
Nicaragua, too, was recently plunged into violent upheaval, with the National Endowment for Democracy up to its old tricks coopting opposition movements, arming death squads, and sowing chaos to unseat the popular leader who presided over a drop in crime and rise in economic fortunes over the last decade. Until two months ago, Nicaragua’s good fortunes presented a stark contrast to neighbor El Salvador, whose MS-13 woes were largely created by the US when we deported thousands of gang members in 1989 to a country ravaged by more than a decade of civil war. The corrupt and violent right-wing government which emerged from that war sicced the military on the gangs in a policy called mano dura which accomplished little beyond strengthening the gangs and pushing up the death toll. El Salvador has mostly doubled down on these failed enforcement policies since then, with the brief respite of a two-year gang truce followed by a rehash of mano dura. El Salvador's homicide rate is 60 per 100000, while Nicaragua's is just 6 per 100000, but the US is working to change that - one look at the coverage of Nicaragua by the western media establishment, united against President Daniel Ortega, reveals who now controls the “opposition” movement, however genuine its origins may have been. Americans can expect a wave of Nicaraguan refugees to join their Salvadoran cousins at our borders soon.
Guatemala, whose own civil war lasted 36 years following the US overthrow of democratically-elected president Jacopo Arbenz in 1954, is also experiencing a resurgence of violence and consequent spike in migration, with a 71% increase in deportations to that country from the US this year. It is home to the highest percentage of chronically malnourished children in the region - 44% as of 2009. Even Costa Rica - dubbed “the Switzerland of Central America” for its stability - has experienced a rise in homicides due to drug-related violence, which the newly-elected president has promised to combat with a police crackdown and stronger asset-forfeiture laws (because those work so well), ensuring the cycle of violence and corruption will continue as it has elsewhere in Central America, producing a reliable stream of refugees.
The nasty truth at the heart of the current controversy is that Trump is damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t with regard to separating migrant kids from their parents. This is not about the children - they are merely weapons in the war against Trump. If he houses them separately, he’s a monster for splitting up families. If he houses them together, he’s allowing contact between children and unrelated adults who may have criminal histories, creating the potential for abuse. Trump's executive order halting the family-separation policy almost immediately came under fire for leaving kids vulnerable to abuse by other detainees and has also been criticized for failing to provide for the reunion of already-separated families. No matter what Trump does here, he can’t win, unless he points out the hypocrisy of his enemies for their extremely narrow selection of which children they care about, and their refusal to consider the historical context of the refugee crisis - which he won’t, because with neocon dinosaurs like Bolton and Pompeo at his side, he’s gone all-in with the US war machine and its attendant crimes against humanity. Democrats and Republicans are locked in battle for who can occupy a more repugnant position, both using migrant kids as a political football to advance their preferred version of immigration reform and both failing miserably. Americans love immigrants, except when they’re moving to their neighborhoods.
Out of Sight, Out of Mind
Those on the Left who actually care about the fate of children, or human beings in general, have been watching in horror as the US arms and directs the Saudi Arabian genocide of the Houthis in Yemen. Already the poorest country in the Middle East before its government fell during the Arab Spring, Yemen’s population is now facing the largest cholera epidemic in history and a famine that threatens 18 million lives, both artificially created by the Saudi assault. The US has intervened - on the side of the Saudis, who couldn’t wage this war without American support. By selling them hundreds of billions of dollars in weapons and guidance systems, training their troops, and even filling out their ranks on the ground, the Trump administration has facilitated the worst humanitarian crisis of the 21st century. No White Helmets have materialized in Yemen to package propaganda narratives for American viewers, even as the Red Cross and other aid groups are forced to evacuate the areas where they are most needed. Last week, Saudi coalition forces began their assault on Hodeidah, the port that supplies 90% of the vital food aid to Houthi-controlled areas, despite international humanitarian outcry. The destruction of Hodeidah would place 10 million people on the brink of starvation, in addition to the 8 million already at critical risk, according to the UN.
The Houthi genocide has gone largely uncovered by US media, since the Saudis are supposed to be our allies and their penchant for bombing wedding parties and cholera hospitals and using chemical weapons on civilians is unspinnable. When they do cover the conflict, it’s to wring their hands about how “complicated” the issue is, or take a page from Netanyahu’s bloodstained playbook and blame Iran. Horrifying images of starved Yemeni infants do occasionally surface on establishment media - babies so malnourished they don’t even look human, dead before their first birthday because military contractors want a return on their investment. The number of children suffering moderate malnutrition doubled just a year after the start of the war, reaching 1.3 million in 2016, according to the World Food Program. UNICEF says 320000 children face “severe acute malnutrition”. Imagine how many Yemeni kids could be fed with the $6000 that smuggled Crying Migrant Child and her mother across the US border, or - better yet - the $15 million raised by RAICES after ProPublica released an audio file of crying children purporting to originate from a youth detention center. Children are dying every 10 minutes in Yemen, but Rachel Maddow reserves her cloying pantomime of human sadness for the comparatively privileged border-crossers of the Americas. Out of sight, out of mind - American exceptionalism is alive and well and dictating our foreign policy.
It isn’t just Yemen, of course - children are suffering and dying all over the Middle East because of US foreign policy, which is less a policy than a direct pipeline from taxpayers’ wallets into the pockets of arms manufacturers. Neither Right nor Left seem to care anymore about the undeclared wars that are bankrupting the country financially and morally - gone are the days when thousands of people took to the streets to protest Bush’s invasion of Iraq, even though the Trump regime is dropping an insane 121 bombs per day while amateur-hour Bush could only manage 24. “Collateral damage” has mushroomed as more attacks are conducted remotely, with less than 10% of these bombs hitting their targets, ensuring a plentiful supply of America-hating survivors among the family members of the dead in years to come. Our soldiers may as well be playing video games for all they care.
Pentagon policy is increasingly to tag all dead adults as “combatants” after the fact, a dirty trick we learned from Israel, another "ally" with a blank check to mow down children who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time. If a drone bomb wipes out an Arab village and no one is around to hear their screams, was a war crime committed? US media says no, and Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans of enabling these atrocities. Just 7 of the 47 Democratic senators voted against the latest $82 billion increase in the “defense” budget, belying the sincerity of their anti-Trump rhetoric, since who would hand him $716 billion to blow up defenseless civilians halfway around the world if they really thought he was the Tangerine Antichrist unless they were a bunch of cynical, bloodthirsty sociopaths?
Just as the Resistance categorically refuses to connect US policy in Central America with the refugee crisis at our southern border, so do they fail to connect US policy in the Middle East with the refugee crisis in Europe. Seven US representatives drafted a letter to Defense Secretary Mattis imploring him to stop the Saudi assault on Hodeidah, perhaps emboldened by the toothless resolution they passed last year that condemned Saudi targeting of Yemeni civilians but accomplished little else (a Senate resolution that would have ended US military support for the Saudi offensive was shot down in a 55-44 vote in March). Perhaps Congress was merely caught off guard when reminded of their duty to authorize such foreign military adventures - Trump never asked permission for the illegal missile strike he launched on Syria before the latest "gas attack" could be investigated. Nor did he seek congressional permission to strike Syria last year after photographs ostensibly depicting gassed children convinced him to discard his plan to abandon regime change in the country. Yemen and Syria, of course, are both on Trump's list of countries from which emigration and most travel are banned, as are Libya and Somalia, also decimated by US bombs. Photographs of dead children can only inspire so much compassion, apparently.
Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss
There has been no meaningful anti-war movement since Bush left the White House. Obama and Clinton put a kinder, gentler face on the suffering they inflicted on the Middle East and Afghanistan, couching their destruction in humanitarian rhetoric to set it apart from Bush's belligerent us-vs.-them imperialism. Like the war in Yemen, Trump’s immigration policies are rooted in the actions of his predecessor; for this reason, establishment critiques of Trump are deliberately devoid of context. Those who would beatify Obama while condemning Trump as Orange Hitler forget that immigrants’ rights groups mocked Obama as the “deporter in chief” with good reason - in 2013, deportations reached a record high of 434015, numbers unmatched even by Trump’s 2017 high of 105736. In 2012, funding for immigration enforcement was $18 billion, 24% higher than funding for the FBI, DEA, Secret Service, US Marshals, and BATF combined. While the Trump administration has overseen an increase in apprehensions of aliens qua aliens (as opposed to aliens arrested for another crime), Obama’s first term was marked by similar policies, including the imposition of quotas, incentivizing agents to hunt down illegal immigrants Blade Runner-style in the country’s interior, violating the rights of citizens and non-citizens alike. His administration deported a record 2.4 million people, 40% of whom were guilty of nothing beyond their illegal presence in the US. His bestselling 2006 propaganda tract Audacity of Hope even mentions the "flush of patriotic resentment" he supposedly felt upon seeing Mexican flags waving at immigrant demonstrations. No wonder the establishment Resistance is so vehemently ahistorical.
Under Trump, Democrats have discovered a visceral loathing for ICE, even though the agency assumed its current form under Obama. This time, they've found a worthy target. ICE was created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 as part of Bush’s sinister post-9/11 police state buildup. The agency raids homes and workplaces, terrorizing the undocumented who are committing no crime beyond their presence in the country, and sets up roadblocks where agents demand proof of citizenship in “show us your papers” routines straight out of the Third Reich. While ICE’s stated mission is enforcing immigration law within US borders, the agency now employs 20000 agents in 48 countries, and detains over 100000 people per year - more than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined. This is mission creep on a grand scale. More recently, ICE has decided its job is “protecting our nation’s children from sexual predators around the globe,” a nauseating nugget of hypocrisy from an agency that only investigated 3% of the 1224 reports of child sexual abuse its Inspector General received during the Obama years. The agency continues to place migrant children in facilities with horrific track records; one of these, Shiloh Treatment Center, is being sued for forcibly drugging its child detainees, while others have renamed themselves after kids turned up dead on their watch. While scaling back bureaucracy is never easy, ICE is a branch that should be pruned, ideally as a prelude to dissolving the entire Department of Homeland Security police-state apparatus and returning the component agencies to independent functioning. Returning Border Patrol agents to the task of patrolling the border (instead of an absurd 100-miles-from-the-border grey area that encompasses two-thirds of the country’s populated areas and facilitates abuses like roadblock papers checks) and streamlining the legal immigration process would make much of the police state obsolete by eliminating the official rationale for policies that are frequently turned against legal American citizens.
It was not Bush and his merry band of neocons but Bill Clinton who passed the law that lay the groundwork for the DHS and its militarization of immigration policy. Passed in 1996, the IIRIRA was just one piece of Clinton’s ideological bodyslam of the Overton Window to the Right, along with the welfare “reform” that made it much more difficult to climb out of poverty, the criminal justice “reform” that has consigned hundreds of thousands of low-level drug offenders to lengthy prison sentences (and also made it difficult if not impossible for them to climb out of poverty), and neoliberal wet-dream NAFTA that devastated the US economy. Clinton’s “tough on crime” and “tough on immigration” stances helped distance the Democratic Party from the progressive Left; it has inched Rightward ever since, to the point that the most notorious Republican neocons defected to the Clinton campaign in 2016 rather than vote Trump. The anti-Trump “Resistance”’s violent allergy to historical context is largely due to Democratic responsibility for Trump's immigration policy. The Right has delighted in flooding social media with clips of Democratic establishment luminaries espousing the same policies they now decry in Trump, but even they don’t transcend the surface hypocrisy, since they’re just as guilty of using illegal immigrants as a political football - in their case as a scapegoat for the economic tribulations of working-class Americans. Indeed, Trump’s 2016 campaign initially focused on illegal immigration as its signature issue when preliminary polling revealed it was the #1 issue among likely Republican voters.
Alarm bells should ring the second an elected official in the country with the world’s largest per-capita prison population starts acting concerned about detention facilities separating children from their parents. It goes without saying that this is the result when a nation imprisons non-violent drug offenders for years at a time, as the US does under the policies which have turned a generation of mostly black men into fodder for the prison-industrial complex. Yet not one of the newly-sentimental lawmakers calling on the Trump administration to #reunitethe2300 migrant kids separated from their parents has said a word about the 2.7 million kids barred from seeing their parents outside brief, heavily-restricted visiting hours because those parents got caught with a few joints. Why are Facebook users only now donating $15 million to RAICES to pay bail for non-citizens when so many of their fellow Americans have languished behind bars, sometimes for years, for want of a couple hundred dollars? The recent marijuana referendums in such unlikely states as Oklahoma are proof that Americans don’t actually want to see their fellows jailed for nonviolent drug offenses.
The migrant controversy should serve as an entry point into a larger discussion about the morality of separating families in the name of a war on drugs that has proven so alarmingly ineffective that more Americans now die of opiate overdoses than any other cause. The kiss of death for any American policy is to declare it a “war on” something - whether it’s Drugs, Poverty, or Terror, our opponent always gains the upper hand - but with Central America also suffering the fallout from this particular “war,” there’s no time like the present to end it. ICE's mission-creep, too, has been largely under the aegis of drug interdiction, as if any more proof was needed that the war on drugs is merely a Trojan horse deployed to usurp national sovereignty and expand the US police state outside its nominal borders.
There's No Virtue Like No Virtue
The gold medal for hypocrisy goes to Laura Bush, waxing lachrymose about how children who’ve been “interned” are twice as likely to suffer cardiovascular disease than their non-interned peers. One wonders where her concern for detainees was during her husband’s presidency, when his CIA ran a shadowy network of “black site” prisons where sadistic creeps like Gina Haspel learned to express themselves creatively through torture away from the prying eyes of international human rights law. At least the children in US detention centers are alive, and thus better off than the hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqi and Afghan kids weighing on the Bushes' consciences. Yet liberals blinded by Trump Derangement Syndrome have forgiven and forgotten that family for their crimes against humanity, obediently following the establishment media’s two-minutes-hate directive against the current occupant of the White House.
"Never Forget" that Bush signed the law blamed for much of the migrant crisis - a bill supposedly aimed at curtailing human trafficking that ended the rapid deportation of unaccompanied minors arriving from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Obama’s DACA virtue-signaling merely exacerbated the problem he had tried to keep under wraps as unaccompanied minors piled up at the border, their numbers doubling in 2012 and again in 2013. His administration first denied the existence of the new detention centers they built in response to the migrant flood, then forbid photography of them; finally, it compounded its mess by instituting what has become known as “catch and release 2.0” which discouraged the detention of illegal aliens not otherwise engaged in criminal activity. Like Trump’s decision to drop the charges against the parents separated from their children under the new zero-tolerance policy, this decision had less to do with morality than a lack of resources - Obama asked for $3.7 billion from Congress to deal with the migrant wave and instead got stern moralizing lectures about bailouts from the Republican-controlled congress that had suddenly developed a sense of fiscal responsibility. Ironically, given the Bush law’s original intention to counter human trafficking, an unknown number of children ended up in the hands of “sponsors” who turned out to be traffickers. Trump has also prohibited photography in detention centers, citing the privacy concerns of detainees, though given the American government's utter lack of respect for its own citizens' privacy, this excuse does not stand up to scrutiny.
Trump hasn’t helped his case by blaming “Democrats” for the laws he’s supposedly following - his immigration policy is built on solid bipartisan precedent and he would be wise to emphasize its adherence to the status quo. However, his executive order halting family separations seemingly negated the much-vaunted zero-tolerance policy, as a West Texas jurisdiction dropped most illegal immigration charges against parents separated from their children pending the emergence of a coherent new policy, while cabinet members have appeared in the media pushing at least three separate lines: the separation policy is a deterrent (John Kelly) / there is no deliberate separation policy (Nielsen) / the separation policy predates Trump (Trump). Many children crossing the border arrive alone, and it’s uncertain how many other kids are traveling with unrelated adults hoping to avoid arrest by using them as human (legal) shields, but the lack of coherent leadership from Trump's administration ensures the latter practice will continue. The legislative “solutions” drawn up by Feinstein et.al - so sloppily written that they exonerate anyone committing a federal crime, so long as they're accompanied by a child - expose the shoddiness of our entire legislative structure, which relies on rushed 11th-hour lawmaking to pass unpopular and unconstitutional legislation by rolling it into massive, unwieldy bills pertaining to essential governmental functions.
TL;DR? Our government runs on hypocrisy, corruption, and violence barely concealed beneath a crumbling facade of moral superiority. Someone should tell the refugees fleeing the corporate-authoritarian kleptocracies and incipient narco-states of Central America that they’re running out of the frying pan and into the fire.