Sep 24, 2021
The Texas side of the Rio Grande was alive with the sound of cruelty earlier this week. On Sunday, shouts of outrage in Creole mingled with orders barked in southern accents by American border patrol agents on horseback warning Haitian migrants and asylum seekers to turn back to Mexico.
There is an instantly iconic photo taken by Paul Ratje of Agence France-Presse (AFP) that captures the spirit of the past week on the U.S.-Mexican border perfectly.
In allowing our national conscience to fall to this level, we've shown that our country has been overrun by something far more diabolical than desperate migrants.
The photo shows a border agent wearing a cowboy hat and chaps leaning over the right side of his horse as far as he could to grab the back of the shirt of a Haitian who is trying to avoid being trampled and captured.
The young man is carrying three blue shopping bags that look like they contained white styrofoam containers of food. The man is trying to squirm from the border agent's grasp as the horse's reins cut the distance between.
Another man in the foreground of the photo takes advantage of the distraction to sprint away with his bag of food newly purchased in Ciudad Acuna, Mexico.
Both men had recently emerged from the river with the intention of rejoining the encampment under the international bridge in Del Rio already swelling with hundreds of Haitian refugees fleeing what can only be described as the apocalypse on steroids in their own country.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, political instability generated by a presidential assassination and extreme income inequality have made daily life in Haiti untenable for most humans, especially during a global pandemic.
So, the Haitians have done what humans have done for roughly 1.8 million years when climate conditions and other environmental challenges pushed our common ancestors to migrate from the Horn of Africa to Eurasia and beyond. That walk made our species better and helped us adapt to various environmental conditions around the world. Migration has always ended up being a net gain for humanity.
But we live in an era where too many people are threatened by the sight of migrants, the sound of new languages and the challenges that come with living in a world that no longer looks like the one they grew up in. There's an open contempt for those who are fleeing countries that the previous president referred to as "[expletive]-hole countries."
Policies were erected to purposely slow the legal migration of immigrants from the global south to America. It is more difficult than ever to get an asylum hearing to argue one's case to enter this country. The mass of migrants and asylum seekers at the border is partially the result of the most draconian immigration policies in half a century.
While the Trump administration's cabal of anti-immigrant hardliners deserves a great deal of the blame for much of the chaos, the Biden administration is guilty of being caught flat-footed and seemingly disinterested in the crisis until the bad press focused its attention to the border.
Despite its attempts to project competence in its handling of the escalating crisis, the Biden administration has fumbled badly by trying to thread the needle between Trump's hard-line anti-immigration policies and the demand by the Democratic base to substantively reform or jettison those policies because they make a morally coherent U.S. immigration policy impossible as long as they're in place.
Vice President Kamala Harris and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas have expressed their horror at the images that came out of Texas on Sunday, but it's going to take more than an investigation of the circumstances of that particular p.r. disaster to make that situation right. "Fixing the border crisis" was the No. 1 agenda item Biden tasked Harris with after they were sworn into office.
But this isn't something that can be compartmentalized into a vice president's portfolio of "to do" items to cross off her list over the next four years. This is a crisis that requires radically new thinking and creativity that previous administrations and the U.S. Congress have been unable to muster.
We know that when many Americans see Haitians at the border, the fears that have always been present somewhere in their lizard brains are activated.
Instead of seeing people deserving of their compassion and empathy because of the Job-like disasters they've experienced in their country, they see an "infestation"--an invasion of this country by dark-skinned occupiers who will be guaranteed to vote Democratic if they're allowed to settle into our communities as fellow American citizens.
Primordial fears have been triggered by the images from the border. Every night, Fox News' Tucker Carlson, the most powerful voice in cable news in terms of ratings success, reminds his overwhelmingly white, elderly viewers that there's a Democratic plot to "replace" them with people from the Third World who don't share their values.
"Our system cannot handle this many destitute newcomers, period," Mr. Carlson said this week. "Imagine what hospitals are going to look like a year from now. How about schools? What Joe Biden is doing now will change this country forever."
Ever the showman, Carlson cued up 2015 tape of Biden acknowledging that whites will be a minority in a few decades and how it's "not a bad thing" and that it was "a source of our strength."
"This is the language of eugenics," Carlson said practically hyperventilating. "It's horrifying, but there's a reason Biden said it. In political terms, this policy is called the Great Replacement--the replacement of 'legacy Americans' with more obedient people from far away countries.
"They brag about it all the time, but if you dare to say it's happening, they will scream at you with maximum hysteria. And here you have Joe Biden confirming this motive on tape with a smile on his face. No one who talks like this should ever be the president of the United States," he said.
At this point, what Tucker Carlson says every night at 8 p.m. on Fox prime time is materially indistinguishable from what any klansman, white supremacist or Proud Boy foot soldier would say about immigration if given that platform. Belief in the Replacement Theory is becoming as pervasive in Republican and right-wing circles as an adherence to an anti-mask ethic and the acceptance of Trump's "Big Lie."
It may not be too late to turn some of our conservative friends, neighbors and relatives away from this lie by introducing an alternative way of reframing the Replacement Theory so that it invokes a more compassionate response.
Instead of masses of Black Haitians and brown Afghans "yearning to breathe free" in America, ask conservatives to imagine these people "replaced" by the same number of Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Germans and white Anglos from the British Isles.
Instead of fleeing an earthquake or political instability, these nice looking and well-dressed Northern Europeans are fleeing the oppression wrought by hygge, superior education and socialized medicine. These tall, blond yodelers want asylum from high taxes and nanny states that insists on protecting them from nihilistic political parties and the subversion of common good by unregulated corporations and the rich.
Now, take the instantaneous desire to open every border to these folks after only minimal interrogation and apply that same goodwill and credit to the folks currently at the border. Ask these conservatives why they're willing to tolerate a discrepancy in treatment between Swedes and Haitians that isn't racist.
If they're shameless enough to insist that it isn't racial and that they're only mindful of the "economic drain" that poorer immigrants represent compared to wealthier immigrants, ask these good Christian conservatives what Jesus says about this contempt for the poor and destitute that he declared as "blessed" on one hand while denouncing the rich in unambiguous terms on the other.
The picture of the Haitian being chased by a border patrol agent on horseback really can't be isolated as one bad day in America. It is a picture of the unacceptable that our society has chosen to accept for now. In allowing our national conscience to fall to this level, we've shown that our country has been overrun by something far more diabolical than desperate migrants.
© 2023 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
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