Monday, August 10, saw the start of a two-day summit in Mexico attended by "the Three Amigos": US President Barack Obama, Mexican President Felipe Calderón and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. They juggled a handful of international and intra-national challenges—from drug war to economy to climate change—meeting for only one evening and half of the next day.
At the heart of the discussion rests, not so comfortably, an opportunity to flesh out a more progressive view of the US and her relationship with the Americas. The current – but out-dated–border-centric, fearful paradigms do not foster a healthy citizenry, but instead increasingly introduce violence and distress into society, against its natural tendencies.
Those who cling to protectionist measures such as the “Buy American” elements of the US stimulus package seek an isolated vision of “America” that simply doesn’t exist in reality. Raids on workplaces that jail or deport undocumented workers do not protect the US economy or its social fabric, but instead wreak havoc on communities and human beings. The punitive stance on immigration funnels record profits into the coffers of the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigrations and Customs Enforcement department (ICE), but growing the population in our jails and ICE units hardly seems a path to prosperity. Especially considering the US already has the highest incarceration rate and largest documented total prison population of any country in the world.
Increasing the militarization of the border to keep migrants from finding better economic situations does nothing to solve the problems they flee. It is myopic and destructive. In border towns, people travel across as a matter of daily errands and day-to-day life. The idea of a US that has one sort of people living next to a nation with completely separate and different sorts of people is wholly false. The people of the US, and Mexico, and Canada, are interwoven across generations, land, and time.
Canada is now requiring a visa from Mexican nationals who are increasingly seeking asylum there. The Canadian government claims many of the asylum requests are "fraudulent." Yet, a rising number of such requests would hardly be incredible. Especially as the US does not offer sanctuary in such cases.
We need an intelligent discussion of the violence below the border that has claimed over 13,000 lives since 2006, when Felipe Calderón began his drug war–with the US showing enthusiastic support. While mainstream news sources warn us of “spillover violence” as part of a pro-border-wall agenda, the US President lauds Calderón as the "untouchable" Elliot Ness of his era, waging a heroic war against corruption. Almost 900 people lost their lives in México just this past July, and Calderón—whose party and punitive policies were repudiated in midterm elections—shows no signs of easing up on the military occupation of México. This, despite the rising tide of human rights violations allegations filed against the Mexican Army and Police.
Are the gruesome deaths of 13,000 people going to be enough for us to begin an intelligent discussion about drug laws? Portugal offers a striking lesson in its recent decriminalization of drugs that not only didn’t kill tens of thousands of people, but also worked.
Why is the US encouraging a model of “war” that has never been effective and is, after three years, producing corpses at a horrific rate? Why is the US chipping away at its workforce only to increase its incarcerated population?
When the illusion of unrelated cause and effect is maintained, a People will make no progress, but remain mired in a foggy landscape where isolated individuals and incidents can only be chased as they arise; shot at, locked up or kept behind a fence in lieu of understanding. In the absence of understanding, force will always be substituted. And when this illusion is maintained, it is always at the expense of the People.
We need a new way of viewing and talking about the relationship that flows like rivers across borders and unites the people of the Americas. We need to spend less money on the drastic divisions, more time building bridges and harvesting possibility.