South of the Border: Immigration and Contradiction by Lou Cespedes

ICE raids last week in Mississippi captured some 680 suspected “undocumented immigrants”, mostly of Latin American origin, possibly Mexican or Central American, that had settled into the quiet food processing town of Morton. These raids came on the heels of a mass shooting targeting Latinos in El Paso, TX where the murderer wrote in a manifesto that he feared Texas would be “taken over” by Mexican immigrants.

There is no question – we in immigrant communities are facing an existential crisis in the United States. Enforcement of the law, revised immigration policy, the penalty of public charge, and elimination of family parole; all examples of this administration’s efforts over the last month to curtail both legal and illegal immigration. Rightfully we are outraged that this country is betraying one of its cornerstone principles, to receive the “huddled masses yearning to be free”. However, a much harder truth lurks just beyond our southern border, a paradox to be sure, related to the very question of “freedom and opportunity”. It is a truth that transcends borders and oceans, language and culture; that truth is – the economics of immigration!

For most Central American countries, and perhaps a greater part of the Antilles, the issue of immigration goes hand in hand with remittances. Simply put, remittances are in some cases the primary source of GDP for nations that have a large population of expatriates in the U.S. Not only does this income justify for those governments the continuous egress of human capital from those countries, it also perpetuates a cycle of economic dependence, that if disrupted, would bring a large part of those nation-states to the brink of collapse, if not immediate failure. It’s not difficult to imagine. 

Of course, there is also the counterargument. Immigration into the U.S., legal or not, replenishes this nation’s human resources, providing low-wage labor into segments of the market that require an unskilled, under-skilled, and skilled workforce. Yet, although most white conservative Americans discuss immigration today as a detriment to “their” culture and future, they are the direct beneficiaries of the quality of life and economic prosperity that immigrants afford. In addition, the presence of immigrants in this country, and the financial eco-system they support, gives the U.S. enormous leverage over the internal affairs of our Latin American and Caribbean neighbors and therefore exacerbating the hegemony of the U.S. in this hemisphere. This foments the economic stress that perpetuates violence, crime, and drug trafficking which causes mass exodus from these countries.  This is evident in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and in many of our anglophone Caribbean nations. 

Ironically, immigration south of our southern border is little understood. Although Mexico’s southern border is porous, there is little appetite by those migrating from Central America to remain in Mexico, where scarce opportunities and ill-developed economic policy make it unpopular and socially challenging to retain immigrants. There are historic geopolitical and economic reasons for this, nonetheless, the contradiction is hard to ignore. Mexico is not unique, we know that the same has happened in Trinidad and Tobago, in Colombia, the Dominican Republic, and countless other nations that have closed off their neighbors in times of need. It’s easy to be given to anger, but I would instead encourage cold self-reflection and awareness of our own role, motivations, and cultural interests in setting the foundations for greater solidarity among our nations – Nuestra America – for which so many of our forefathers gave their life. 

 

If then in the example of the American “pioneer”, the diaspora reversed the effects of immigration to the U.S., would we not have then a common experience from which to draw in our respective nations? Would we not export the idiosyncrasies of our American ways, initiating the necessary dialectic to ensure our competitiveness? Would we not also simultaneously withdraw talent and resources from the U.S.; our own human and financial capital, which current U.S. political discourse would have us believe it does not need?

I am Cuban-American born in New York City, and I’ve worked in Mexico for 12 years. It is a country which I love and to which I owe much of my success and professional development. When I often discuss the possibility of a future with my family and colleagues, the same recurring question is always asked; How will we live? Just pause for a moment and think about the depth of void in that question. It is a question that demands our collective meditation and action. Furthermore, it will require every person of means, both financial and intellectual, to fill that void. In that effort and mission, we cannot afford to have divisions, and we can less afford the faint of heart.

Isaiah 30 v. 20-22. 

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