The Delusion of Borders
On Migrants, Abundance, and Manufactured Scarcity
Politicians love to invoke the idea of borders in service of a scarcity doctrine, as if we need to hoard and defend what we have within these borders from all the bad actors beyond our borders who want to take what is rightfully ours. Of course, the “we” here is primarily middle-class and wealthy, white folks. Middle-America. The people riddled by “economic anxiety.” The rest of us are trespassers who just happen to have the right documentation, for now, to reside within these borders.
In Del Rio, Texas, thousands of Haitian migrants have gathered, hoping to gain asylum and in turn, entry into the United States. They are fleeing poverty and political instability. It is only desperation that would drive people to cross an ocean and then make their way through Central American and Mexico while holding on to the fragile hope that maybe at the end of their journey they might find a safe, bountiful place to live.
Borders are incredibly arbitrary and we make equally arbitrary decisions about who we allow within those borders. Right now, Afghan refugees are welcome (mostly) while Haitian refugees must be deported, immediately.
There are images of American border patrol agents riding horses, whipping at the Haitian migrants, trying to send them back across the Rio Grande, trying to keep them as far away as possible from our imaginary borders. The images are horrifying, surreal. They are echoes of 400 years of white supremacy and a centuries long American project to hoard as much wealth and privilege as possible in the hands of a very few powerful people. The administration has issued standard denials, feigned disgust. They have said that this is not who we are when this is precisely who we are. What they haven’t done is come up with a solution that transcends politics. Certainly, solutions may take time, but this manufactured border crisis is not new. And the administration has found planes to deport hundreds of Haitian migrants at a time, in no time at all. Time, like borders, is arbitrary.
Because professional Democrats worship at the altar of “both sides,” they are hiding behind policies like Title 42, a Trump-era COVID preventative measure, to keep the Haitian, and other migrants, out of the country. It’s political expedience because the Biden administration doesn’t want to expend the political capital it would require to do the right thing.
Political rhetoric often obscures the reality that the United States is a wealthy country. We are a nation of abundance, but we are not generous. Wealth is not distributed equitably. And millions upon millions of people prefer to believe it is in their best interest to treat our abundance as an illusion, or to believe the abundance is a birthright to which no one else is entitled, and that each person must secure and strengthen at all costs.
Every election cycle there is a cynical group of voters who suggest there is little difference between the political parties. When it comes to the matter of borders, there is some truth there. Trump was a petty tyrant, surrounded by petty, evil sycophants, who tried, with some success, to impose their toxic ideologies on the American people. We will deal with the effects of that administration’s policies for years to come. And we’re seeing that play out right now. When Biden was elected, this country did not immediately become a better place and I don’t know that anyone was naive enough to think it would. But many of us did think (hope) we would abandon the delusion of borders and create humane, equitable immigration policies. That has not yet happened. It will probably never happen. Many of Trump’s policies remain in place as Biden does his (and Stephen Miller’s) dirty work.
It goes without saying that I am disgusted by the images of migrants being herded and harassed. If this is what happens in plain sight, I can only imagine what happens when no one is watching. We talk a lot about empathy in contemporary discourse, probably because there seems to be so little of it
During the early days of the Trump administration, when Trump was clumsily trying to implement some Draconian immigration policies, there was a vocal outcry. He wanted to ban immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. All refugees were included in this ban. Thousands of people protested at airports across the country. Immigration lawyers flocked to the airports to help get people from these countries through customs. I was stunned by how immediate and passionate and righteous the protests were. For a very brief moment, I thought there was reason to hope. And then the ban was overturned. The moment passed.
I wondered if people would rise up again to defend the Haitian migrants. And on social media people have expressed anger and disgust. But we haven’t seen the protests we saw nearly five years ago. In Miami, two hundred Haitian Americans stopped traffic to protest, but people aren’t taking to the streets and airports. No one is flocking to the Southern border. Not all immigrants receive equal consideration. I wish I had something more eloquent to say but I don’t. I am fucking disgusted. I feel helpless. It is only luck that allows me to sit here in my den, writing in the middle of the night, instead of clinging to the most fragile hope in squalid conditions beneath a bridge near an imaginary border.
I won’t soon forget the image of those border patrol agents treating people like animals, treating people seeking sanctuary like criminals; I have been haunted by the images for the past two days. Nor will I soon forget Vice President Kamala Harris, in Guatemala, when she said, “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our borders.” Most of the time, politicians can’t be taken at their word but once in a great while, they say precisely what they mean.
***There are many organizations to which you can contribute. Today, I’m recommending the Black Alliance for Just Immigration.