At first blush, the phrase seemed useful to make the point, even if it wasn’t quite as prosaic as it seemed.
The U.S.-Mexico border is a “bleeding scar.” That is how Mexican author Carlos Fuentes described it in 1997. According to the Pew Research Center, 1.2 million immigrants, authorized and unauthorized, entered the United States that year. Back then, just like now, there was talk of an overwhelming crisis at the border.
The problem is that scars don’t bleed. Wounds bleed. Scars are what happens when wounds heal, and this wound hasn’t healed. If anything, it’s bleeding worse than ever.
Ever since then, the border has been a region defined by both conflict and extraordinary brotherhood. And for as long as I can remember there have been debates over the people who cross the border from the south and how many should be allowed to do so each year.
There are two distinct problems dealing with people who are here from other countries who have not been lawfully admitted into the United States, now generally referred to as “undocumented immigrants” to avoid the taint of criminality that comes with “illegal aliens.” Except some of them very much are illegal aliens, particularly when they’re back after their third deportation because this is where the big money can be made in narcotics. Others are our neighbors, our friends, our children’s schoolmates and our gardeners. We would be lost without them. Most of them, anyway.
“The border is not open,” the U.S. secretary of homeland security, Alejandro Mayorkas, told me in an interview. “What we have discontinued,” Mr. Mayorkas promised, “is the cruelty of the previous administration.”
Well, apparently, in Central America, people only heard the bit about “cruelty” being over, which is why so many migrants are heading north toward the border. Tens of thousands of asylum seekers, mostly from Central America, have waited for over a year in Mexican border towns and they will not waste this opportunity.
The problem with borders is that they’re borders, and if there are a lot of people who want to cross them, there are only so many options available to deal with them. You can “catch and release,” catch and hold or turn them back. When the number of people exceeds the capacity to deal with them humanely, whatever that means, what do you do?
It should come as no surprise that this is happening along a border that divides one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world from one of its most economically unequal regions. Latin America’s poor and vulnerable — struggling amid a pandemic, the devastation of climate change and the violence of their homelands — are moving north to a safer, more prosperous place. It’s that simple. And this will keep happening for a long time.
This begs the question: why is life in Latin America so bad that people are willing to risk their lives, their children, to enter without authorization “one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world”? Why are these regions “economically unequal”? What is the United States doing so right that others are doing so wrong?
We must accept this unfortunate reality and create a system that can legally, efficiently and safely absorb more of these immigrants and refugees. They will keep coming; there is no other solution. All the other options — walls, detention facilities, family separation policies, forcing asylum seekers to wait in Mexico, expedited repatriations and mass deportations — have failed. The $4 billion investment in Central America that President Biden has promised is a good starting point for tackling the origins of migration in the region: poverty and a lack of opportunity. That project, however, will take years to yield results.
There are millions of immigrants here who made it across the border without authorization and established lives that contribute enormously to our nation. They pay taxes. They follow the laws. They give us labor, art, food and music. They bring a zeal to succeed that is often lacking in those born here who believe they are entitled to happiness without effort or risk.
But how did it become the responsibility of the United States to “fix” other nations that are doing such a bad job of it that their citizens are willing to risk their lives to flee? Is it in our interest to stem the flow of refugees across the border, so investing money in countries that have for decades, generations, proven themselves incapable of overcoming war, poverty and crime despite outside money?
Is the US the nation of last resort, even if many of our own citizens believe we’re the worst place on earth ever? If so, how long can we remain the nation to which others seek so desperately to come before succumbing to the same failings they left behind? Are we importing cultures that gave rise to poverty, crime and corruption? If not, why aren’t other nations healing their own wounds?
Must we accept this “unfortunate reality”? There is a difference between those immigrants who have been here for years, established lives here, contributed so greatly to our nation, our economy, our society, even our military, but lack the papers we require to be official, and those three-year-olds being dropped over the wall.
Then again, those children now in custody may well be our future’s scientists, teachers, congressional representatives. Maybe not, but you can’t discount their future potential.
Unlawful immigration is a complex problem, while most of us have only the most shallow appreciation, bolstered by whether we love or hate the idea. It does not follow that we must accept this “unfortunate reality,” because we can address it, whether by greatly expanding the numbers of legal immigrants permitted or more fiercely defending the border from unlawful entry.
But what we “must accept” is that this is a situation that should be addressed rather than remain the “bleeding scar” it’s been for generations. There may be no perfect solution, and my inclination toward welcoming as many immigrants as we can absorb, just as my forefathers were welcomed here, who will assimilate to our way of life, need not be your favored reaction, but what we shouldn’t continue to do is allow this gaping wound to bleed. We will almost certainly end up with an ugly scar, as there is no pretty fix to this complex problem, but even a scar is better than bleeding in perpetuity.