Addressing Root Causes of Spike in Border Crossings

I was immensely relieved to read that Vice President Kamala Harris is looking into the root causes of the spike in Mexico-to-U.S. border crossings, rather than focus on control and enforcement at the Mexican border itself as U.S. policy has typically done.

For all I know, past administrations have also tried to work on the root causes. But this is the first I’ve heard of it, and I always thought it was a no-brainer. In permaculture design, one of our basic tenets is to address problems as far “upstream” as possible. This approach is a lot more effective, and less costly, than a “downstream stopgap” approach.

Not that I think immigration is a “problem.” People coming in to a country bring new energy, new ideas. Personally, I think that easing restrictions on cross-border mobility could solve a lot of problems worldwide. But, when large numbers of people are feeling the need to flee their homelands, that’s an indicator of suffering and hardship. War; gang violence; droughts and other natural disasters are among the extreme circumstances that motivate people to risk their lives and, in many cases, endure separation from their families.

I read recently that some parts of Guatemala have had little or no rainfall for five years.

The decision to leave one’s homeland for another country in search of a better chance at life is not a decision people make lightly. I’ve always thought we had a moral obligation to try to ease hardships for people in our neighboring countries, as well as a pragmatic self-interest in doing so.

Someday, the shoe could be on the other foot. Right now, Oregon and parts of California are in extreme drought, and a water fight is heating up between farmers and the federal government. The farmers are only getting a tenth of their usual water allowance. They seem to feel that the government is deliberately cheating them out of water they paid for, but what it looks like to me is just one example of how we humans are actually running up against hard physical realities brought on by decades and decades of overtaxing our ecosystems.

Further Reading:

• “Harris Rebukes Criticism Over Lack of Border Visit” (Alexandra Jaffe, Associated Press; in Daytona Beach News-Journal, June 9, 2021). “As she closed out a two-day visit to Guatemala and Mexico aimed at strengthening diplomatic ties to help deal with migration to the U.S., Harris declared: ‘When I’m in Guatemala dealing with root causes, I think we should have a conversation about what’s going on in Guatemala.’ … the administration announced a range of agreements brokered between the two governments, including a $130 million commitment over the next three years from the U.S. to support labor reforms in Mexico and loans to bolster southern Mexico’s economy. The administration said the meeting produced an agreement to have an economic dialogue in September on trade, telecommunications and supply chains. And the two countries will also partner on human trafficking and economic programs addressing why people leave El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras for the U.S. … the Biden administration announced a number of new commitments to combat trafficking, smuggling, and corruption, as well as investments in economic development in the country.”

• “Support Immigrants Beyond Food” (Andrew Lee; Anti-Racism Daily newsletter — pure synchronicity that this got served up in my email inbox this week). “After a publicized wave of anti-Asian attacks, a catchy phrase popped up on protest signs and social media accounts: ‘Love us like you love our food.’ From anime to K-dramas and from sushi to sesame chicken, non-Asian Americans now love the culture from various East Asian countries – or what they imagine it to be, at least. Many of those who enjoy consuming East Asian food, music, and movies are nowhere to be found when Asian people’s lives are on the line. … LeRon Barton wrote, ‘I have come to the unfortunate realization that Blacks aren’t meant to be people, just vessels of entertainment in our society. We are looked at as hollow and only possessing culture that is meant to be enjoyed, eventually poached, and finally discarded.’ Similarly, immigrant communities and communities of color in general have been forced into precarious or menial jobs by racist and xenophobic attitudes and practices.”

American OZ: An Astonishing Year in Traveling Carnivals at State Fairs and Fests –& Hitchhiking (book by Michael Sean Comerford). A rich and fascinating read. I’m including it here because of Michael’s touching descriptions of a Mexican carnival crew. It’s common for a bunch of men and sometimes women from a single Mexican village to leave their home for several months out of every year to work in traveling carnivals in the USA. Michael’s description of the simple, cozy, love-filled life back in the village (he visits them there, after carnival season is over) evokes a picture of a place and a way of life that’d be very hard to leave — except under the dire economic or political circumstances which in fact prompt them to seek work outside their homeland.

• Wikipedia article “Immigration“: “…research suggests that migration is beneficial both to the receiving and sending countries. Research, with few exceptions, finds that immigration on average has positive economic effects on the native population, but is mixed as to whether low-skilled immigration adversely affects low-skilled natives. Studies show that the elimination of barriers to migration would have profound effects on world GDP, with estimates of gains ranging between 67 and 147 percent. Development economists argue that reducing barriers to labor mobility between developing countries and developed countries would be one of the most efficient tools of poverty reduction. Positive net immigration can soften the demographic dilemma in the aging global North.”

• “Water Fight Brews Amid Oregon Drought” (Damon Arthur, Redding Record Searchlight USA TODAY NETWORK; in Daytona Beach News-Journal, June 6, 2021). “Federal regulators who shut off water to A Canal have said the decision was forced by extreme drought and the need to balance the water demands of farmers with threatened and endangered fish species in the Upper Klamath Lake and Klamath River … This year, as the drought has tightened its grip on the region, farmers were only allocated 33,000 acre-feet of water by the bureau. In a typical year, a full allocation would be about 350,000 acre-feet … ‘That’s why we’re pissed, because we own the water and it’s deeded to our land, and the federal government is stealing it. People don’t get that part of it,’ Nielsen said. Grant Knoll, who along with Nielsen purchased the lot next to the A Canal, said farmers have exhausted their legal efforts to get the water so they feel they are left with no other choice but to take it by force.”