The Imperial Roots of the So-Called Immigration Crisis

By Ashley Smith, Democratic Socials of America and PJC member

What’s the cause of the so-called migrant crisis on the US border with Mexico? The Trump administration of course avoids this question preferring to demonize the human beings trying to find refuge in this country. Trump claims immigrants and asylum seekers are the problem and the solution is to build a wall, deploy the Border Patrol to turn them back into Mexico, and if they manage to get into the country unleash ICE agents to arrest them, thrown them into concentration camps, and deport them.

But few ask the radical question—why are these people risking their lives against all of these forces of repression to get into the US? When you ask that question, you inevitably arrive at a very different answer than the Trump administration; people are fleeing poverty, violence, and political repression in their home countries.

And then you must ask, what caused these conditions? The simple and honest answer is that US military, economic and climate policies did. These three evils of US imperialism have driven people from their homelands in Mexico, Central America, and throughout the world.


Creating Borders at Gunpoint

Truth be told, the US state has been displacing people from their homes since its foundation. Remember, the US was a settler colonial project. To succeed in its aims to colonize North America, the US had to drive the original Native Americans from their land, massacre those who resisted, and forcefully relocate those who survived into Washington’s original concentration camps—reservations.

Having staked its claim on the east coast, the US, driven by the expansionary logic of its capitalist economy, set its sights on westward expansion all the way to the Pacific. That, US rulers arrogantly proclaimed, was their “manifest destiny.” The march to the west required not only further genocide and displacement of Native Americans, it also entailed war with Mexico to establish the US state’s southern border.

Through the Mexican American War, the US boundary was drawn with the blood of its previous inhabitants. Chicano descendants of those who survived the conquest say, “we didn’t cross the border; the border crossed us.” The US state was born out of that conquest and its economy was built on racist slavery and exploitation of workers.


Imperial Conquest and Migration

The US state compounded its barbaric displacement of Native Americans with international expansion that further disrupted and displaced people in other countries. This was not an accident or policy decision of this or that politician. The logic of capitalism drove the US state to stake out its position against its European imperial competitors and secure resources, cheap labor, and markets for its corporations.

Using the so-called Monroe Doctrine, the US laid claim to Latin America as its first sphere of influence. With the Spanish American war, Washington seized Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain. With all the European powers driven out of the region, the US policed it through so-called gun boat diplomacy: invading, toppling and installing governments at will to serve its thirst for profit.

A veteran of this gory process, Major General Smedley Butler, after his conversion to anti-imperialism he admitted his criminal participation in the conquest of the hemisphere. He declared:

I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.

I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street.

I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.

Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was to operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.

After World War II, the US emerged as the world’s most powerful imperial power locked in a rivalry with its Russian Cold War nemesis. The US used anti-communism to continue its depredations throughout the world from Southeast Asia and the Middle East to Latin America.

Left wing governments that threatened to redistribute wealth, especially in this hemisphere, were toppled. For example, the US overthrew the democratically elected government of Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala in the 1954. In another example, we overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973. It replaced them both with dictators that ensured the flow of profit to the capitalist classes.

In the process Washington proved itself the enemy of democracy, self-determination, and equality. Its predatory foreign policies and war drove untold numbers of people from their homes, producing waves of refugees from Southeast Asia and Latin America some of which found their way into the US as the harvest of its empire.


US Dirty Wars Drive People from Central America

Just like in this bloody past, Washington’s foreign and economic policies over the last few of decades are almost wholly to blame for the more recent waves of migration from Central America, especially from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras.

These policies and actions laid waste to these countries after the Nicaraguan Revolution in 1979 to stop the spread of communism. In Nicaragua, the Sandinistas had toppled the country’s US-backed dictator, Anastasio Somoza, and tried to build a new democratic and egalitarian  society.

The US, first under Jimmy Carter and then Ronald Reagan, conducted a string of dirty wars to strangle the revolution in its cradle. These wars backed death squads and generals throughout the region to crush uprisings in countries like Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.

They imposed an embargo on Nicaragua, mined its harbor, backed the terrorist opposition called the Contras, and eventually succeeded in getting the right elected to government. It turned back the wave of revolt and emerged in the 1990s with the right in power throughout the region.

Workers and peasants paid the price in blood as thousands upon thousands lost their lives at the gunpoint of US backed regimes. Many that survived fled to the US—the source of their misery—in search of refuge.


US Neoliberalism Intensifies Migration

With Central America pacified, the US imposed neoliberal free trade on the region. They said to countries they had trapped in debt, if you want money to pay back your loans, you have to open your country to US multinationals, privatize state owned companies, and slash your welfare states. This is the textbook definition of neoliberalism.

The US enshrined these dictates in two free trade agreements, NAFTA and its partner for Central America called CAFTA. These treaties made wicked profits for the capitalists but wrecked the lives of workers and peasants.

Take NAFTA as an example. The US took advantage of the opening of the country’s economy to flood its market with American state-subsidized agribusiness exports. Unable to compete, Mexican peasants left their land in droves. Mexican workers fared little better; they lost their jobs in domestic industries.

The US had promised that people dislocated from their livelihoods could find jobs in the new maquiladora factories US multinationals had built on the US Mexico border. But they were too few jobs to absorb the unemployed, so millions of workers and peasants crossed the border in search of jobs in the US as criminalized cheap labor.


Coups, Sanctions, and Cuts to Aid Displace More

The political and economic catastrophe wrought by the US produced not only migration but resistance. Opposition to US imperialism brought Hugo Chavez to power in Venezuela promising 21st century socialism, and he was soon followed by a pink tide of reformist governments that were elected to power in Latin America.

As it always has, the US responded by plotting counter-revolution. Bush, Obama, and now Trump have tried to strangle Venezuela, backing the government’s right wing opposition and imposing sanctions on the country. The Obama administration backed a coup against the democratically elected president of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya in 2009.

And the US worked with the right throughout the region to roll back the pink tide and restore the prevailing unequal neoliberal order with right wing governments enforcing poverty for the benefit of the rich. No wonder people started fleeing the region for the US. Their lives had become so unbearable and so jeopardized that they were willing to risk death to cross the dangerous US border.


Climate Change Creates Climate Refugees

US climate policy has only accelerated the flight of people from the region. As everyone knows US capitalism has been one of the main causes of climate change. It was for decades the leading emitter of greenhouse gases and was only recently been topped by China.

Climate change has devastated Latin America, especially Central America and the Caribbean. It has melted the glaciers in the Andes, dried up reservoirs, desiccated  formally arable land, raised sea levels making the coastlines uninhabitable, and caused giant killer hurricanes that have laid waste to whole countries most recently the Bahamas.

US induced climate change is thus compounding the terrible conditions caused by its imperial interventions and neoliberal economics. Thus, the migrants are not just political and economic refugees but now climate refugees.


Uncle Sam, Tear Down that Border Regime

The root cause of the migration crisis is not these people but US capitalism and imperialism that created horrific conditions throughout our hemisphere and globally.  Border walls, ICE patrols, concentration camps, and mass deportation are no solution to these conditions. They only enforce them with state violence.

Instead of this reactionary solution, we—the workers and oppressed—must unite and fight to dismantle this border regime and the system it protects, a system that perpetuates poverty, violence, and climate disaster. We all have a common interest in this struggle.

Join us for our protest on October 20th when we march to demand the closure of the camps, the abolition of ICE, the conversion of the police state jobs into socially useful and just ones, and in support of Migrant Justice campaigns for migrant rights in our state.

Our guiding slogans in this protest will be those of the immigrant rights movement—”No One Is Illegal”—and that of the labor movement—”An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!” Our march is only the first step in building solidarity across borders and within this country to fight for a world we all have common interests in bringing into being—one that puts people and our planet first.