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  • Demonstrators march during the "Day Without Immigrants" protest in Washington, D.C., Feb. 16, 2017.

    Demonstrators march during the "Day Without Immigrants" protest in Washington, D.C., Feb. 16, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

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The U.S. deportation machine is inflicting psychological strain on migrants, who already often endure harrowing journeys.

While sojourning in the central Mexican state of Guanajuato back in 2005, I became friends with a young Venezuelan man who was subsequently detained by immigration officials on account of an expired Mexican visa.

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As I had little else to do, I was tasked with frequenting the local immigration office in short skirts in order to plead for his release — which eventually saw him deported to Venezuela. From my visits to the office I learned about various other activities overseen by Mexico’s immigration outfit, including the regular transport to the Mexican-Guatemalan border of busloads of Guatemalan migrants apprehended en route to the U.S.

One official informed me that many of the deportees were victims of rape and other crimes that continue to be par for the migrant course.

This, incidentally, was more than a decade prior to the dawn of the Donald Trump era, lest anyone assume that forcing Mexico to do the United States’ dirty work is somehow a novel policy.

Barack Obama’s singlehanded deportation of 2.5 million people from the U.S. further underscores the fact that pathological xenophobia and counter-empathy are national traditions long predating Trump.

On the current dirty work front, Trump’s unilateral proposals have ranged from making the Mexicans pay for his monstrous wall-fantasy on the U.S-Mexico border to a new brainchild that would entail re-depositing in Mexico undocumented migrants who enter the U.S. from Mexican territory — regardless of their nationality.

According to a fact sheet emitted on Feb. 21 by the Department of Homeland Security, the “returning (of) aliens to contiguous countries” means that “DHS detention and adjudication resources” can be saved “for other priority aliens.” Never mind that the Mexican government might also have resources it would rather use for its own projects.

The non-priority aliens, meanwhile, get to hang out in Mexico “pending the outcome of removal proceedings” in the U.S. In other words, the game plan is essentially for Mexico to serve as a holding pen for extremely vulnerable migrants who are in many cases criminalized for the mere act of fleeing economic oppression and violence — two interrelated phenomena that have been greatly exacerbated in Central America and elsewhere by none other than the United States.

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An article on the Fox News website specifies that “it’s unclear whether the United States has the authority to force Mexico to accept third-country nationals.” And while any human being with moderate reasoning capabilities would presumably conclude that, no, the U.S. is not in possession of such authority, a lack of objective authority has never deterred the country from activities like invading Iraq, torturing detainees, operating illegal prisons on occupied Cuban land, backing right-wing coups and death squads in Latin America, or wiping out Afghan wedding parties via drone strikes.

In short, it seems that a wall around the U.S. wouldn’t be such a bad idea — if it were erected to keep the country from messing with other people. This is especially true in the aftermath of Trump’s announcement to Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto that he would unleash the U.S. military on Mexico to deal with the nation’s surplus of “bad hombres.”

Lest the army find itself with too much time on its hands, Trump has also suggested that the purging of unwanted migrants from the U.S. is fundamentally a “military operation.”

This particular statement occasioned some backpedaling from underlings. A BBC article on the recent visit to Mexico City by select Trump cabinet members reports that “it fell to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to reassure his hosts that there would be ‘no mass deportations’ and no use of the U.S. military in immigration enforcement.”

The article continues: “That appeared to directly contradict what President Trump had said earlier in the day.”

I myself also arrived to Mexico this month, where I was not deported to some contiguous territory and my U.S. passport was instead stamped in a process requiring approximately twenty seconds. The customs official on duty furthermore shook my hand and said he liked my name.

On the flight over from Madrid I spoke to a young Mexican woman from the state of Campeche on the Yucatan Peninsula who declared that, despite having a U.S. visa, she wouldn’t be paying any more visits to the imperial neighbor to the north: “What business do I have in such a place?”

Later on in the Yucatan city of Merida, I spoke with a 32-year-old named Juan who had in 2015 been deported from Newark Airport while attempting to travel with his wife — herself a U.S. citizen — to visit her family in New Jersey for two weeks. The final page of his Mexican passport now reads: “ORDERED REMOVED.”

According to Juan, the new alien deportation strategy is worrisome not so much for the potential strain on Mexican resources but for the psychological strain on non-Mexican migrants, who already have to contend with considerable levels of persecution on top of what is often a physically punishing journey.

As frenetic “removals” continue unabated, the new scheme is simply the icing on the cake of total alienation from humanity. 

Belén Fernández is the author of “The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work,” published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.


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