This past Tuesday, President Obama announced that he intends to send 1,200 National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border. He also plans on asking Congress for $500 million dollars to target the smuggling of people, drugs, money, and weapons into the U.S. With midterm elections scheduled for November 2010, and with incumbent Democrats in trouble of losing their seats, Obama and the Democrats seem to have succumbed to mounting pressure from Republicans who are concerned with the influx of so-called "illegal" immigrants.
Many commentators, including Ruben Navarrette Jr., argue that Obama has deserted the Latino/a community in this time of great peril. He states:
The nicest thing you can say is that Obama is failing to deal with one of the great moral issues of our time: immigration reform. The not-so-nice version is that Obama is subverting the immigration reform cause to get congressional Democrats off the hook in an election year when their prospects are shaky.
In addition to Obama's political theatrics, Navarrette points out that the president did not forcefully stand up to Arizona's anti-immigration law. All he could say was that it was a "misguided" effort. The legal racial profiling of all Latino/as -- documented and undocumented -- is more than a misguided effort; it is morally and ethically perverse.
Indeed, the entire immigration issue, as Navarrette correctly argues, is a moral and ethical issue. According to a report by the United Nation's Human Rights Council, the U.S. is violating the human rights of undocumented peoples in many ways. Christian ethicist Miguel De La Torre, in his book Trails of Hope and Terror: Testimonies on Immigration, writes that the undocumented "are denied labor protection and when picked up in an ICE raid, they are commonly denied an appeal process and subjected to long detentions in substandard facilities."
Another form of human cruelty is evident in Operation Gatekeeper, which has forced migrants to navigate isolated and hazardous landscapes that often lead to their demise. The Sonoran Desert is an ambiguous place, where migrants can die of either dehydration or hypothermia, of drowning in flash floods or of perishing from heat strokes in the unforgiving mid-day sun. This harsh terrain swallows indiscriminately. Fourteen-year-old Josseline, who was traveling from El Salvador to the West Coast to be with family, was found dead by volunteers of No More Deaths, a humanitarian organization working with migrants. Alone in the desert, she died of exposure to the elements three weeks before volunteers found her body.
Like Josseline, many migrants have died and will continue to die in the desert. What we need along the 1,833-mile border is more humanitarian aid, more compassion, and more dedication to the migrants who have suffered immensely in search of more economic opportunities.
What we need in Washington are leaders who distinguish between real threats (drug cartels) to national security and people who are simply attempting to etch a living in the U.S. for their families back home. These leaders will work tirelessly for comprehensive immigration reform. These leaders will not shy from their call to serve the least among us because of upcoming elections. And these leaders will notice that militarizing the border is only a band-aid solution to the complex issue of immigration -- an issue that involves domestic and international economic policies, race relations, and anti-immigrant rhetoric and sentiment. These brave leaders will not work to placate everyone; they will do what is morally and ethically correct, regardless of their popularity.
I don't deny that Mexican Cartels are a danger to many along the border. But it is unfair to group humble, hard-working migrants with merciless thugs. It is even more disconcerting to deny these migrants their basic human rights of food, shelter, health care, and employment. Throwing more money and bodies at the border will not solve our deeply skewed immigration policies. Actually, statistics show us that the more money the government seems to spend on immigration enforcement, the more immigrants enter the U.S.
Leaders in D.C. need to work toward humanistic-oriented immigration reform that upholds the rights of all. I echo De La Torre's statement: "We say we are a beacon of human rights for the world, yet it is not really exaggerating to say that the borderlands are the epicenter of what is probably the greatest human rights crisis presently occurring within the United States." Will our leaders please stand up!
César J. Baldelomar a graduate student at Harvard Divinity School, is the executive director of the Pax Romana Center for International Study of Catholic Social Teaching. You can visit César at his Web site www.cesarb.com