If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all over the past week, you’re probably aware of the chaos at the U.S.-Mexico border. Perhaps you’ve been following the migrant caravan that traveled through Central America for several months before finally reaching Tijuana, Mexico., and wondering what the U.S. government’s course of action would be.
Yet as chaos erupted at the border in mid-November, it became clear that the chosen course would not be a favorable one. The U.S.’s treatment of immigrants, especially those of Central American descent, has become atrocious over the past few months, and now approaches a violation of human rights that demands our attention and opposition.
The caravan of over 7,000 originated in Honduras in October and grew in size throughout the 2,500 mile trek, according to BBC News. As news spread north to the United States, right during midterm election season, reactions were mingled with fear, anger and hatred. BBC reported that President Donald Trump sent nearly 6,000 troops to the California border weeks before the caravan was set to arrive to secure part of the border fence with concertina wire, and referred to the caravan as an “invasion” in tweets and at rallies.
However, the president’s claims are unfounded, as BBC also reported that the majority of the caravan members were asylum seekers fleeing violence in their home countries, with no malicious intent towards the United States. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, numbers of asylum seekers claiming fear for their lives has jumped by 75,000 over the past 10 years, a trend that The New York Times says the Trump administration has attributed to people applying under false pretenses. Thus, those who do make it to the United States are subsequently faced with disbelief, prejudice and xenophobia.
In late November, news broke that the U.S. government was deploying tear gas on asylum seekers waiting at the border, while the the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego, CA was temporarily closed, according to The New York Times. Notably, many victims appeared to be women and children, which enraged parts of the American public. Amidst the chaos, one question was repeatedly asked: Is this even legal? According to a Customs and Border Protection manual, U.S. border agents have the authority to use even deadly force if necessary, and that tear gas is allowed to subdue violent individuals.
Yet, according to The New York Times, asylum seekers had been peacefully marching when the tear gas was deployed. Similarly, according to the United Nations Charter, the U.S. government was unjustified in its actions, as the tear gas was released into Mexico, a foreign territory. Furthermore, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) reported that tear gas is prohibited in warfare, yet not in domestic matters; thus, police forces have historically used the weapon against protesters in the Civil Rights Movement, workers strikes and in the Ferguson, MO protests. The implication is clear: the U.S. is prohibited from using the harmful substance against foreign enemies, but not against civilians and the innocent.
As human beings, migrants and asylum seekers are protected by their human rights, according to the United Nations. The United Nations Human Rights Council released a statement on Nov. 28 calling for the U.S., Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras to respect the rights of the migrants, and asserting that states have the duty to protect those rights. The Council also cited xenophobic American rhetoric as “detrimental to the right of mental health” for both immigrants and the general public. Still, the rhetoric continues.
According to The Daily Dot, Tomi Lahren of Fox News tweeted that watching the U.S. defend its border was the “highlight of her Thanksgiving,” and Dallas News reported Trump’s assertion that adults were grabbing random children and taking them into the tear gas zone in order to receive preferential asylum treatment.
Thousands of miles away from the border, on Willamette’s campus, the issue of migrant rights is just as relevant and meaningful. In mid-November, WU Causa set up a Border Fence exhibit in Jackson Plaza to call attention to immigrant detention centers and the caging of immigrant children. This came just weeks after Oregon voted to keep sanctuary state status, following a ballot measure to remove the status which caused concern amongst residents in the weeks leading up to the midterm elections. However, the failure of the ballot measure doesn’t mean that Oregon is unaffected by the actions at the border.
“The implication is clear: the U.S. is prohibited from using the harmful substance against foreign enemies, but not against civilians and the innocent.”
“I think the best thing to do is to stay educated about what’s happening,” said Cynthia Ramirez (‘20), WU Causa member. “Also, supporting some of the canvassing that WU Causa had, and coming to Alianza events to learn about the culture part. Just stay educated on the topic, and find ways to talk to your friends about it.”
The actions of the U.S. against asylum seekers at the border are reprehensible, horrific and worthy of all of our attention as compassionate humans. At this point, it’s not even a question of whether or not the United States was built from and supported by immigration. It’s a question about whether or not our country, even in the midst of the season of giving, will lay down arms and extend a hand to those fleeing danger. After these past few weeks, the answer seems to be no.