Recently in the news, there has been a flurry of outrage, indignation, and disgust regarding the separation of children from their parents who happen to have entered the US illegally under the existing law. Most of these are from Mexico. At present, there are approximately 2,000 children in shelters near the Mexican border while the parents are incarcerated in a separate place. What is to be done regarding this situation?
Let’s step back and see how these circumstances came about without looking at the emotional, heart-wrenching aspect for just a moment. The current situation did not crop up overnight. The factors involved are numerous, and there are a lot of moving parts. The bottom line question is “Why would a family want to leave their country and do it in a manner that is fraught with danger along with possible criminal repercussions?”
Mexico has a roller-coaster of a past with revolts, wars, and revolutions. In 1934 President Cárdenas began a revival of social programs that helped the peasant class. His work provided for the country to thrive after an extended period of turmoil. Part of the reforms included agrarian redistribution-land given to peasants, and confiscating property owned by foreign companies. The US and European oil companies that had their property confiscated were not treating the workers well and forcefully stopped their employees from forming labor unions.
By 1940 the confiscation of the oil company property is paid back to the companies involved to the tune of $24 million + interest. This happened as Mexico joined WWII. The country enjoyed economic growth in the years after the war while the financial gap between the rich and poor widened. In 1976 substantial oil reserves were discovered off-shore in the Gulf of Mexico which produced more than a million barrels a day. With the promise of this bounty, the government borrows money at high interest to fund social reforms, along with industrial and agriculture expansion. Unfortunately, the oil is a poor grade, and Mexico is plunged into enormous debt. In a deal with the IMF in 1982 to restructure its debt, Mexico agreed to devalue its peso while cutting many programs including social ones to the detriment of the people. Mexico’s borders hemorrhaged with thousands of the poorer class leaving for greener pastures.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect between the US, Canada & Mexico in 1994. Longstanding trade barriers begin to phase out with President Gortari promising Mexico would start exporting goods instead of its people. In 2014 it was clear that NAFTA was not suitable for Mexico in the way it was promised. Poverty remained to stagnate at about 52% the entire time along with an increase in unemployment. In the years since NAFTA, the illegal drug trade has taken off. The profit margin for marijuana, crystal meth, heroin, and cocaine is enormous. Cartels can buy a kilo of cocaine in Peru for $2,000 then by the time it goes through the trafficking pipeline, which includes Mexico, and on to New York, the cost of that same kilo broken down to salable quantities is at least $100,000. In Europe, it goes for much more. Mexico’s poor who are looking for a new life are recruited to bring these drugs into the US. To be fair, most of those seeking to cross our borders are not involved in this trade, but plenty of them are. Those that are may be forced to participate in exchange for protection on the treacherous journey or are drawn to the money paid to carry it across the border. For every one who is involved in this illicit job, there are many more executed because they won’t succumb to the cartels’ persuasive tactics.
The Mexican government has been reluctant to prosecute anyone involved in the drug trade which has made the cartels emboldened in their endeavors. They have expanded into human trafficking, guns, and ammunition but have also taken up more legitimate operations. This mix of legal and illicit businesses has given them immunity in their communities. Many of the poor and middle class depend on them for legal jobs which makes the local government, who are not adverse to taking “hush” money, reluctant to bring them down. In 2008, the drug trade was the country’s 5th largest employer. Many were shocked when Chapo Guzmán was arrested, but hundreds of people took to the streets in protest. The local economy had been kept infused with El Chapo’s money.
The US government has also had a hand in Mexico’s troubles. America is Mexico’s major importer of illegal drugs with a $100 billion-a-year market. To be sure, Europe is another major importer, but they do not share a border with Mexico and therefore do not deal with the immigration difficulties. They have their own from the Middle East. Marijuana was Mexico’s most significant export though with the advent of potential US federal laws making that commodity legal in the states, that status is changing. Since the cartels are diversified in their goods, there are other lucrative drugs to take marijuana’s place.
The US has not kept up with people’s desire to emigrate and therefore have outdated visa quotas at the border on how many people can be handled efficiently causing a severe back-up of people waiting to get into the country. Desperate people increasingly look to more drastic means to leave a country in turmoil. At the same time, the US has increased its militarized presence at the border which further endangers those trying to cross both legally and illegally. The American government has not kept up with the needed infrastructure to handle the number of people wishing to be here so when those desperate people do get into the country, there is not the Utopian society they may have envisioned.
America has not stayed out of Mexico’s affairs when it comes to the separate drug cartels and their war with each other. Taken from the US play-book that has been attempted in many other countries, the US Drug Enforcement Agency and the Mexican government chose one of the cartels to “back” by arming and supplying them with aid to run the rival cartels out of business. When El Chapo was arrested, both the US and Mexico then basically backed off allowing the cartel that was left to take over the whole operation. This did nothing to help the situation as the drug trade still flourishes, rivals sprang up to take the place of the fallen, and it’s business as usual.
With the cartels becoming diversified in legal and illegal businesses, there comes a time when all that money has to be put somewhere. The banks in Mexico and now globally have taken on that job. As the tangled mess that is Mexico’s economy, the increasing financial chasm between rich and poor, the difficulty in finding safety and the indifference of the government to interfere or help in any meaningful way, it becomes apparent as to why Mexico’s impoverished want to flee their homeland. The sad thing is that they may be jumping from the frying-pan and into the fire.
We in the US have helped to make this situation along with Mexico. Our world has increased its consumption of goods, both legal and illegal. It has sought diversion and distraction instead of purpose and meaning. We have traded our ability to talk with each other and work things out for a feeling of safety. Our rants on social media regarding the children we see on the news may help us blow off steam, but they do not support those children. Asking President Trump to allow the families to be together, which is ignoring a law that has been in place since 2014, will assist for the moment but will not stop the situations that caused it in the first place- there are plenty more people making their way to what they believe is a better land. Do they have any idea what they are in for?
I believe disentangling the leviathan that our world has become will take dedication, courage and sacrifice. Some people will not live to see a better tomorrow. Those of us who work for that time we may never see, are encouraged to find small victories in the everyday. Blaming someone for the world’s ills only slows the progress we could be making. Creating an environment of cooperation instead of name-calling and separation is the order of the day. If you must separate yourself from those you do not agree with, go ahead. Just don’t condemn those who choose to find common ground with all folks so we can dismantle what doesn’t serve us anymore and build a more equitable future. Fighting on two fronts divides our effectiveness. We all helped create the world that is here. It will take us all to re-create it as well. Let’s not muck up the process.
Timeline of Mexican History https://www.history.com/topics/mexico/mexico-timeline
Poverty in Mexico https://borgenproject.org/poverty-in-mexico-2/
Drug Trafficking by the Numbers https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/drug-addiction/drug-trafficking-by-the-numbers/
How Mexican Drug Cartels Earn Billions http://www.latinpost.com/articles/113055/20160203/how-mexican-drug-cartels-earn-billions-drug-trade.htm
How the Mexican Drug Trade Thrives https://www.thenation.com/article/how-mexican-drug-trade-thrives-free-trade/
Immigration and Drug Trafficking http://immigrationtounitedstates.org/466-drug-trafficking.html
Petroleum Industry in Mexico https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Petroleum_industry_in_Mexico
Timeline- History of Legal and Illegal Immigration to the United States https://immigration.procon.org/view.timeline.php?timelineID=000023#1950-1999
Catch & Release Immigration Policyhttps://www.us-immigration.com/us-immigration-news/us-immigration/catch-and-release-policy-for-undocumented-immigrants-reinstated/