July 26, 2018
TED MORGAN FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT
The cruel separation of undocumented immigrant children from their parents and the Trump administration's continuing deportation of parents persists as a hot-button news item.
Much can be learned from the way the mass media have informed and misinformed us about immigration issues.
For starters, as is often the case, dramatic and heart-wrenching visuals of children being separated from their parents catapulted the issue into public awareness and debate over administration policies.
Yet importantly, this latest chapter took place against a backdrop of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign that effectively played on fears of "criminal" immigrants "stealing Americans' jobs." Fears of "illegal immigrant gangs" burning down cities have been stoked by right-wing media for years.
Interesting that many of these cities have declared themselves "sanctuary cities" to protect undocumented immigrants from deportation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Meanwhile, empirical research has demonstrated that immigrant populations are, in fact, less likely than citizens to break the law and that rising immigration does not lead to rising crime.
Yet Trump's repeated dismissals of "fake news" helps to lock his electoral base into a right-wing echo chamber, led by Fox News. In effect, exposed to no countervailing views that might be considered legitimate, they live in a kind of totalitarian realm.
The Boundaries of Mainstream Debate
The inhumane practice of separating children from their parents legitimized widespread denunciation across much of the political spectrum, and was the catalyst for recent "Families Belong Together" protests erupting across the US and in cities around the world.
Trump administration responses appealed to a simplistic "law and order" mentality: "Illegal" immigrants are "criminals" and should be treated as such, and separating children from parents will "deter" future migration from Mexico and Central America.
Mainstream media coverage makes it too easy to see this as simply a Trump-caused problem, when in fact it is produced by an imperial US foreign policy and the wider exploitation of the Global South by the wealthy nations of the world.
As many in the mass media have documented, most migrants are fleeing for their lives from gang violence or state oppression in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico.
The question is: Where does this violence come from?
The answer has the bloody hands of the United States all over it.
Gang violence in El Salvador took root after the US deported hundreds of gang members from Los Angeles, without letting the government of El Salvador know that the deported had criminal records.
These MS-13 members grew up poor and marginalized in the barrios of Los Angeles, the children of parents who had fled for their lives from the brutal police-state violence of the US-backed regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala in the '70s and '80s -- what mainstream media outlets like The New York Times sanitize as those countries' "civil wars."
This makes their parents legitimate recipients of political asylum. However, US policy has restricted that category to those who fled repression from enemy(e.g., leftist) regimes. To designate Salvadoran or Guatemalan immigrants as political refugees would be to acknowledge the brutal repression the US supported. Hence, they instead became "illegal immigrants."
Those foreign policies were echoed in the 2009 Obama-supported military coup in Honduras that restored the brutal repression of the traditional Honduran elites. Honduras has joined El Salvador as one of the murder capitals of the world and is now a leading source of immigrants fleeing north.
As Honduran singer, Karla Lara, put it at a Bethlehem, Pennsylvania concert, "We are not a violent people. [Honduras] has been made violent by US guns. For years, the US military has been killing us."
Rarely acknowledged in mainstream media, support for brutal police-state dictatorships has been a persistent feature of US foreign policy for decades, typically justified in the name of "defending freedom" -- against, you know, the "international communist conspiracy," as Sen. Joseph McCarthy liked to put it.
Yet beneath this support lies the imperative of imperialism -- of creating a good climate for business and investment in what was called the "Third World." As political scientists Daniel Hellinger and Dennis Judd have written in The Democratic Façade,
The important features of a good business climate, as defined by corporate and foreign policy elites, are: a tractable low-paid labor force; an absence of worker-controlled unions; weak or nonexistent environmental protection laws; lax health and safety regulations in the work place; tax concessions and government subsidies for business; the use of public money to provide the infrastructure necessary for the functioning of business; and laws permitting the tax-free repatriation of corporate profits back to the United States. Because political revolutions commonly arise in reaction to such a system of exploitation, a repressive political system is a necessary feature of a `good business climate.'US policy has, of course, been reinforced by international institutions of capital like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund. Loans to aid "development" follow the "good business climate" model. Nations devoting too much public effort to the needs of their own citizens are then required to make "strategic adjustments" if they want to receive more aid.
A similar dynamic can be seen in the wealthy European Union seeking strategic adjustments by the struggling nations of Greece, Spain and Italy.
So much for "spreading democracy" in the world. But as with blowback from US policies in the Middle East, the plight of immigrants brings the impact of US policy abroad back home to us.
These costs are only the tip of the iceberg of what Americans pay for our heavily militarized, imperial foreign policy. The political mainstream operates much like a totalitarian society where these crucial truths are invisible to all who don't seek access to progressive resources.