On the Road of Flight

Photograph Source: U.S. Customs and Border Protection – Public Domain

Where Migrant Children Are Living, and Often Working, in the U.S.,” (New York Times, December 28, 2023), brought back memories of the 1980s and the protest movement to stop US military interventions, particularly in countries in Central America. The article graphically illustrates where migrant children are coming from, and it was no surprise that the countries where US interventions, both secret and open, which had taken place over many decades topped the list. Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador were and are a major source of the influx of immigrants at the US border. Joe Biden is now considering a crackdown at that border to counter Trump’s ceaseless attacks against migrants (“Biden mulls border crackdown in face of Trump’s migrant-bashing rhetoric,” (Guardian, December 28, 2023). Recall how Trump began his 2016 presidential campaign slandering migrants from Mexico. Anti-immigrant rhetoric finds many willing ears in the US. Pandering to hate has been a way to political power in the US. With short, or nonexistent historical memory, many in the US are anti-immigrant and this is not new, as anti-immigrant beliefs and actions date back to the waves of immigrants who came to US shores in the first quarter of the 20th century. Immigrants were perceived as different in a number of ways, including personal and political, and many of those differences engendered hate.

The political landscape moves farther and farther to the right here and there is no room left to move in that direction without courting the destruction of what is left of sane discourse and sane domestic and foreign policy in the US and the US economic and political hold over much of the world. Realpolitik has long since replaced sanity in discussions of foreign and domestic policies.

A friend arrived in El Salvador in the 1980s on his way to live and work in another country in Central America. Many groups in the US had programs such as this. My friend went into a bathroom at the airport in San Salvador and within a few moments heard banging at the door of the bathroom stall. The stall’s door swung open and he faced several Salvadoran soldiers standing there with assault rifles pointed at him. He escaped harm, but ordinary people in El Salvador were not so lucky and fell into the cauldron of official and unofficial violence that plagues that nation. Street gangs proliferated with economies that were ordered onto a course of austerity. Rather than scorn, most escaping these countries deserve support for the courage they exemplify.

That children from these countries make it to the US in one piece is miraculous since they confront all manner of violence, greed, and sexual assault. That many survive to enter the workforce here is also apparent since the labor market searches for the lowest common denominator in labor costs in producing less expensive products and services. The result is right out of Charles Dickens with the abuses of the capitalist economic system without even the charity that Dickens promoted.

My friend had much to fear in San Salvador, as a few years earlier Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated while he celebrated mass on March 24, 1980 for his protest against death squads in El Salvador and social injustices there (Guardian, March 22, 2000).

The murder of three nuns and one lay worker in El Salvador in December 1980 put an exclamation mark on the US-backed National Guard there (New York Times, April 3, 1998). That two military officers, who became generals, later living in the US are believed to be the ones who ordered the murders and this tells much about the orchestration of terror and how it moves across decades. In the time since those murders, over forty years ago, terror still reigns in El Salvador and drives thousands onto the refugee road of flight and El Salvador is not alone. Many from the military in countries like El Salvador trained here at military bases in the US. How many children, who came from El Salvador and elsewhere, were ripped from their families and ended up in chain-link pens during the Trump administration?

The US has offered “help” in the region with coups, austerity, contras, and military training of murderers, then builds walls that the authoritarian Trump and others can use as a cudgel against people fleeing these horrors.

We Are Not Equipped to Deal With This’: Migrant Surge Overwhelms U.S. Border,” (New York Times, December 27, 2023), is telling in the unstated fact that the US has spent resources making the world kowtow to economic austerity while limiting the money available to mitigate this human disaster. I spoke with a social worker in New York City, not associated with the issue of housing immigrants arriving in the city, who said that the city does not have the housing infrastructure to successfully deal with the number of people arriving.

The Monroe Doctrine and murderous anti-communism doesn’t justify any of the US-inspired repression of Central American countries and their people.

Tent encampments in metropolitan areas of the US are our own internally displaced people. The economic and political system isn’t working! Our foreign policy is in shambles!

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer. He is the author of Against the Wall: Memoir of a Vietnam-Era War Resister (2017).