Migration, Capitalism and the Border crisisJuly 5, 2019
Photograph (via the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Flickrstream)
The past weeks have seen renewed attention to the United States border and the detention of migrants, especially migrant children, in what essentially constitute concentration camps. The focus of public attention has largely been concentrated on the immediate horrors of these camps’ appalling conditions with many migrant children being held in overcrowded facilities and lacking access to basic necessities.
Given the inhumanity of imprisoning innocent people seeking asylum, including children, the absorption of public attention is justifiable, and these concentration camps must never be overlooked. However, the focus of the bourgeois media on these camps alone, without any broader context, leads to a limited understanding of the American border situation which does not acknowledge how it relates to the entirety of the American political system and capitalism as a whole.
Firstly, the media has so far largely overlooked the effects of Trump’s policies at the American ports of entry in Mexico, which constitute an equally grave threat to asylum-seekers. An ACLU report found that Customs and Border Protection’s ‘metering’ policy, designed to deliberately slow down asylum requests as a deterrent, had escalated to the point that at the point of entry at Rio Grande only two adults and one family were processed per day and that unaccompanied children were being illegally rejected.
It is this policy which lead to the widely-publicised death of a Salvadorean father and his daughter who, after experiencing the chaos at the legal points of entry, drowned in the Rio Grande river attempting the dangerous crossing. Furthermore, even those migrants who manage to request asylum are now often left to wait in Mexican border cities for their court date, for as long as two years, under Trump’s ‘Migrant Protection Protocols’(MPP).
These border cities are far from safe, one such city, Ciudad Juarez, has one of the highest murder rates in the world. There have already been reports of violence inflicted upon stranded migrants and their children in Mexico, and it is clear that the Trump administration is to blame for this situation
However, it is also necessary to extend the blame for the current atrocities beyond the Trump administration alone and to acknowledge that the American bourgeois political system and capitalism as a whole are responsible for the plight of migrants.
Although Democratic leaders act performatively outraged about the mistreatment of migrants, their party’s track record is little better. In fact, one infamous child migrant detention centre in Florida, which many Democratic presidential candidates have recently visited, initially began operation in June 2016 under the Obama administration. Even now, despite their protestations about the treatment of migrants, the Democrats passed an ‘emergency border aid bill’ which, although passed under the guise of humanitarianism, allocated $4.5 billion to the border security apparatus.
Despite their vague promises to improve conditions for migrants, the Democrats seem to have no understanding of the realities of migration. Even the ‘left-wing’ of the Democrats, represented by Bernie Sanders, hold largely reactionary views about migration. When recently asked about ‘open borders’, Sanders argued against them, stating that ‘there’s a lot of poverty in this world, and you’re going to have people from all over the world coming’, and argued that open borders would make his desired reforms impossible. In opposition to this reactionary view, we, as Marxists, understand that migration does not drive down wages or conditions for local workers, but rather it is the illegalisation of these workers, which robs them of access to unionisation and legal recourse against employers that is the true threat to the working class.
Additionally, when examining the root causes of the current wave of mass migration to the United States from Central America, Democrats and American foreign policy have much to answer for. One of the main reasons for the recent increase in asylum requests has been the political and economic crisis in Honduras; Hondurans have made up almost half of all asylum requests for 2018 and 2019. The roots of this crisis can be found in the 2009 coup which was supported by the Obama administration and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Here one can see how American imperialism is one of the root causes of the suffering and poverty that results in mass migration.
However, the roots of the migration crisis are deeper than a singular political expression of imperialism alone, but rather capitalism as a system. One of the main factors causing migration from Central America has been the ravages of the capitalist market leading to a decline in coffee bean prices, which, alongside a drop in coffee bean yields, caused by one of the side effects of capitalism, climate change, has left many farmers destitute with no options left for them and their families except migration.
These facts are why we as Marxists must fight against the inhumanity of the current situation both by challenging the racist American migration control apparatus, and against the capitalist system which gives rise to forced mass migration. By creating a movement of the working class united across racial and national barriers, we can fight against migration controls, capitalism and ultimately for international socialism.
J.E Atkinson, Leeds Marxist Society