Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus
Sore of feet, yet full of hope, a throng of thousands of Central Americans, mostly Hondurans, is slowly wending its way north through Mexico to the United States. Now that the cacophony of the recent midterm elections is mostly behind us, let’s turn our attention to these desperate, hardy folks trudging about 2,000 miles seeking to better their lives.
Consider this, though: while they have set out on their perilous journey, what about the tens of thousands of other Hondurans who have chosen to abide by the law? They have filed their immigration documents legally at the U.S. Embassy in Tegucigalpa and are patiently awaiting their turn to be admitted to the U.S., a process that could take many years. Should they be considered loco? After all, why not speed the process by joining the throng?
And the numbers aren’t small. According to the New York Times of Nov. 11, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection agency reported over 50,000 illegal migrants (23,000 traveling in families) were apprehended at the southwest border in October.
Although many other groups of Central Americans preceded them, this throng has captured the attention, if not fears, of Americans. President Donald Trump has reviled the throng and sent thousands of troops to the U.S./Mexico border to bolster the Border Patrol to prevent illegal entry into the country. He has also used the throng to explain the necessity of building an impregnable wall along the border.
The president’s fixation on the wall has been mocked and vilified as impractical at best and racist at worst. Yet history is replete with border walls of various kinds going back to the Great Wall of China, the Romans’ Hadrian’s Wall in Britannia and, more recently, the Berlin Wall.
Currently, according to USA Today, 77 countries have erected border walls of some kind. Even some European Union members who signed the Schengen Agreement eliminating internal borders have reacted to millions of Middle Eastern and African refugees battering their outer borders by erecting inner walls.
While shrill, Trump’s view of the importance of the U.S. border is correct. In “What Is A Border?," Manlio Graziano, professor of geopolitics at the Sorbonne, states: “International law essentially deals with the defense of the status quo, in the case of borders, the prevention or resolution of infringements of their inviolability.”
Even as the throng wends its weary way north, there are rumors of others forming in Honduras. Such rumors have alarmed the U.S., Mexico and Central American countries.
Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray Caso recently met with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss immigration matters. A similar meeting involving top Central American and Dominican Republic immigration officials was also recently held in Belize to explore ways to deal with the migratory phenomenon, and another will be held in Panama early next year.
While Belize is off the beaten path of the throngs, it faces similar pressures from Guatemalan citizens encroaching on Belizean territory to exploit its resources and even establish illegal farms and hamlets.
Fleeing Central Americans say they are seeking asylum in the U.S. because of murderous gangs, domestic violence, government corruption and poverty. If so, most citizens of Belize, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua could decide to flee their homelands. But the Trump administration suspects instigators are coaching people on what to say once at the U.S. border. Furthermore, Mexico had extended asylum to those of the throng who qualified but was rebuffed.
In any case, Trump has said only those who present themselves at a legal port of entry will be granted due process. While hardly an earth-shattering position, some American politicians, pundits and others decry it as insensitive, inhumane and racist. But from the president’s perspective the issue is control of one’s borders hardly a novel idea — considering border walls going up around the world.
Furthermore, the issue is not of his making. Since the mid-1980s, the U.S. has made valiant efforts to aid the region.
Going back to the President Ronald Reagan era, the U.S. instituted the Caribbean Basin Initiatives I and II encompassing the nations of the Caribbean and Central America, plus CAFTA-DR in 2004. It also has the Alliance for Prosperity to spur economic development in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras initiated by President Barack Obama in 2014. During that time the U.S. also allowed hundreds of thousands of Central Americans and Haitians into the country under temporary protection as refugees from natural disasters, but now finds it difficult to repatriate them.
The crux of the matter is the U.S. must maintain full control of its borders. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, to that end: “The president may by proclamation, and for such period as he shall deem necessary, suspend the entry of all aliens or any class of aliens as immigrants or nonimmigrants, or impose on the entry of aliens any restrictions he may deem to be appropriate.”
As a Central American immigrant who has contributed to and benefited from this country, I say to the throng: I understand and sympathize with your plight and aspirations. The golden door is not closed. You merely need follow U.S. law and knock to gain entry.