Immigration: A Continuing Cascade of Failure
Immigration in America is a continuing cascade of failure. It could be said that the failure begins in the growing number of countries that are failed states — due to economic collapse, corruption, violence, or financial and physical disinvestment, or a combination of all these failures in their home country; leaving people with the feeling that there is no option but to escape. The long journey to the United States can be filled with failure — succumbing to illness or the elements or predatory coyotes — or some other horror.
The failure becomes more technical upon arrival at the US border. I saw a manifestation of this when I visited an ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) facility several years ago in Douglas, Arizona. There was a 30 foot high fence that stretched as far as the eye could see. The fence was impregnable and imposing, and the metal slats were close together enough so nothing could be passed through, but wide enough so the squadron of ICE officers could see what was happening on the other side. There were cameras every fifty feet or so, which were monitored in a control room, and which also had electronic eyes on the several holding cells where migrants were detained. The imposing building was clean, organized, state of the art.
And supposedly efficient. And yet. Our group learned that whatever barrier was put up, enterprising and risk-taking migrants somehow found a taller ladder to climb over, or could dig a deeper tunnel to go under. We assisted a humanitarian group by bringing barrels of water to the Mexican side of the fence, and I kept hopping from one foot to the other, because the desert heat burned through my sneakers. Providing barrels on water on the American side was often a fool’s errand, as local Americans were known to shoot at the plastic barrels so the water would spill out. I attended a weekly memorial service for people who died during the crossing, usually of heat or dehydration, and the crosses which we held up in their honor were visible symbols of failure.
And then there is the tangled mess of asylum applications, which can take up to four years to process. Staff shortages, lack of political resolve — and the literal wrenching of children from parents adds cruel insult to a morass of failure.
And now we have migrants being shipped to New York City, Washington DC, and more recently to Martha’s Vineyard. At the very least the impulsive interstate transport system represents a failure of communication, in that the senders apparently have given no notice of their action to the receivers. On another level, it conveys the message that the passengers have been dehumanized to being regarded as unwanted cargo.
Failure is often accompanied by trauma. Across the country, people on all sides of the issue are experiencing political trauma as one side tries to score points against the other side. But that holds no candle to the trauma being felt by the thousands of migrants who have suffered a crippling array of trauma for months, if not years.
Over several decades the immigration issue has become an endless chess game played by the back line of kings, queens, rooks and bishops. And the front-line pawns are ignored, exploited or sacrificed. There are those who say that we need to protect our borders, and that we keep America safe for us Americans. But as I hear that argument I can’t help being reminded of the journey my grandfather took one hundred years ago as he fled the failed state of Germany (the inflation rate when he left was 100 percent PER DAY) to come to this country, where he eventually became an American citizen.
The first step in Alcoholics Anonymous is, “we are powerless over our addiction, and our lives have become unmanageable”. It is a statement of failure, and the subsequent eleven steps outline how failure can be transformed into wholeness and health. But it all start with the acknowledgement of failure.
In the immigration policy battles, failure is readily identified— and always attributed to the other side. There is a deepening hostility emerging: fingers get pointed, blame is ascribed, the world is divided between us and them, and the lives of the “pawns” in this brutal chess game end up being traded and sacrificed, without an honest hearing of their stories and their trauma. For far too long the situation has been unmanageable.
Until we acknowledge our failure to acknowlege failure — not just from “them”, but from all of us — regardless of our political position on immigration, we seem destined to continue to aggravate our addiction to vanquish the other side, thus denying our complicity in failure. There does not seem to be political will to challenge this addiction, but there are spiritual and moral steps we can take, by calling out the addiction to score points and avoid failure; and employing the resources of solidarity, hope, courage and blessing. They can be invoked. They need to be used.
And they can make a difference.