Letter From the Border: New Crisis is the Old Crisis

The title is the title from an article in The Intercept about how it works with what we call illegal immigrants into the US. If you read the article you will see that the label refugee makes a lot more sense for many.

A few nights ago, Ana crossed illegally into the United States from Guatemala. Her husband paid a coyote $4,000 dollars to smuggle Ana and their son through the lowland jungles of southern Mexico, up the San Pedro river to the Texas border. “A gang was after us,” Ana says in a daze, digging her knuckles into her cheeks to stay awake. She and her child were just released from a 48-hour stay at a detention center where it was too cold to sleep.

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Refugee implies a little more than a “gang” in our then current city of residence wanted a payoff. Those in danger could change cities, regions, neighboring countries, etc. - fleeing thousands of miles is something much more than that. Were that all it took to be a refugee, then people fleeing L.A. gangs in the 1980’s could make a refugee claim on Canada, Panama, Uruguay, etc. - though it is unlikely people consider that all so believable. Aside from that, what it takes to save $4000.00 is another, very interesting, matter. The average Guatemalan (Nicaraguan, Honduran, whatever, fill in the blank) has great, GREAT, difficulty saving 4000 Quetzales, Cordobas, Lempira, let alone $4000 - a pipe dream for almost everyone. Where do such people actually GET $4000.00? Find an honest answer to that question and you are on your way to learning a great deal about the debate and what underlies it. Ignore that question and you merely end up in the capitalism/pity debate circles per emigration. It is naive to assume that most people entering the U.S. illegally now are primarily former entrepreneurs, in any realistic sense. But, this doesn’t get away from the fact that there is that giant statue in the harbor, complete with engraved invitation…: “…Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door Give me your tired, your poor, your tired, poor….”. At some unpleasant point either the plaque comes down or you actually honor the words on it.

The $4000

I agree that's a big number but I also know it is not necessarily raised through illegal activity. I know multiple people who have raised the cost of going to the US or Spain through two different approaches:

  • The first is the method that many Koreans have used to get to the US west coast. They talk to their extended family and cut a deal where the family loans them the money and then, after they get set up they start bringing additional family members. A good example of this is on the Washington state coast (near/around Pacific Beach). All the small grocery stores are Korean owned.
  • All too common is to borrow it from locals who have some money are loan it at disgusting interest rates to people wanting to make the move. One Nicaraguan that I know makes these loans. She charges 10%/month interest.

To me, the distortion of reality in the US is the real problem. While I do know people who have illegally let Nicaragua and ultimately got a good position elsewhere (one in the US, one in Spain), this tends to be someone with some skills. For example, one person I know in the US now is young, strong and has some decent construction skills. Being from a poor family, his overhead costs in the US are much lower than what a Gringo would have and he is making good living while doing something the local Gringo is not willing to do (or, at least at the wage he is receiving).

If people in Nicaragua saw less of the success stories and more of the 10 people living together all cleaning toilets as their job, Nicaraguans might see a path to success without the move.