Over the last few years, President Trump has led a nationalist, “America first” administration, where illegal immigrants and refugees are unwelcome. By calling the phenomenon of immigration a “crisis” and deeming it a matter of national security, the government has separated families, shut down the government, and deported swaths of people.
Many cower at the prospect of mass immigration, but there is very little discourse considering its actual causes. Unfortunately, this “crisis” is due in large part to decades of deleterious U.S. foreign policy in Latin America, a legacy of the Cold War that continues in the status quo.
Aside from flashy events like the Bay of Pigs or the Cuban missile crisis, the American government quietly waged wars on numerous Latin American governments throughout the second half of the 20th century. It helped overthrow democratically elected leaders and propped up dictatorships in their wake, under the guise of containing communism. Perhaps most notably, the CIA supported a 1973 coup against the Chilean president Salvador Allende, for little reason other than his socialist label. After Allende’s death, Chile, which was previously a beacon of stability that had been democratic for the last forty years, turned into an oppressive military dictatorship that killed and exiled thousands of people. A similar pattern holds true for Argentina, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay, and others; U.S. involvement undermined democracy and ran counter to its own professed ideals.
This instability and lack of a strong central government on the continent paved the way for chaos and a power vacuum that was quickly filled by criminal organizations known as drug cartels. Funded by the illicit drug trade, drug cartels are absolutely terrible — they ransack villages, behead opposition, and threaten, rape, and murder little children. They control entire areas through fear and corrupt government officials along the way with bribery and threats.
These cartels are the real cause of the immigration crisis. They are the groups who make conditions in Latin America so terrible that people are forced to flee, and they are the professional smugglers who get illegal immigrants across the border. Additionally, these cartels are often linked to gangs in America and smuggle drugs into the United States, meaning taking them down would also alleviate illicit drug usage back home.
So, instead of targeting the people who undertake arduous journeys to America in hope of a better, safer, freer life, why not target the cartels, the root cause behind the immigration issue and many others?
Of course, previous administrations have made some attempts at attacking cartels, most prominently with violence as a tenet of the famed War on Drugs. America sent combat advisors and weapons, and tried to beat rebel groups and drug cartels to their knees. Unfortunately, punitive and combative measures had the opposite effect: constant firefights and violence destroyed land and killed civilians. And it wasn’t even effective at stopping cartels, either; if a cartel was defeated in one area, it simply resurfaced in another area and caused socioeconomic damage there. Arguably, the Trump administration has exacerbated these policies even further, both by continuing what clearly hasn’t worked and by cutting funds from USAID and State Department programs that have.
More than just policy, however, immigration is a matter of human dignity and respect. America is the richest and most powerful country in the world. Given that, is it not an ethical imperative to offer refuge to those who need it, especially when that need was kickstarted by our own meddling in Latin American affairs? Immigrants, undocumented and documented alike, are our peers, our classmates, our coworkers. They commit crimes at a lower rate, work longer hours, and use less welfare than natural-born Americans.
Immigration is a far more complex problem than superficial sound bites make it seem. President Trump should consider the real causes— namely, poverty and violence and Latin America— and act accordingly.
By Anshul Barnwal