Friday, June 14, 2024

‘Don’t come’ rings hollow to migrant hopefuls who are out of options

Opening the news apps on my phone almost the minute I wake up is a habit I’m trying to get out of, but so far, I’ve been unsuccessful. It’s depressing, and exactly none of us needs more depressing. But I also want to know what’s going on in the world, so here we are.

This morning when I was once again unable to avoid the pull, I was greeted with a harrowing photo editorial about families deported from the United States shortly after arrival: a mother crying, her 5-year-old daughter standing at her feet and her 2-year-old son, with a full and dirty diaper, in her arms. A father with his young daughter, struggling to keep his face from contorting as he cried, trying to get cell phone reception to let his family know that they didn’t make it after all. The bitterness of the pictures was almost too much to handle.

They’d been taken to the bridge between El Paso (where they’d recently been flown) and Ciudad Juárez, and then essentially dumped on the Mexico side of the bridge. They hadn’t been told where they were being taken before that and must have felt trapped in a nightmare when they realized what was happening.

The huge number of migrants showing up on the United States’ southern border is a challenge if there ever was one, and it’s all the greater in the midst of a pandemic.

After president Donald Trump’s senselessly cruel policies that separated children from their parents at the border (some of whom have yet to be found and reunited), many have assumed, wrongly, that the current administration’s talk of “a gentler approach” meant that the border would simply be open to whoever wanted to show up and get in.

Desperate migrants making their way north are no doubt occupied with many things besides being glued to the news in order to check out the policy du jour, but I’d be willing to bet that Republicans’ hyperbolic fearmongering about “open borders” and “free health care” — neither of which are true — are getting back to migrants through traffickers eager to make a profit and are being treated as gospel by those with too few options to be skeptical.

Meanwhile, President Biden has left in place a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule that Border Patrol agents can turn back pretty much anyone, including families with small children, except unaccompanied minors.

It’s a problem that defies any kind of simple solution. “Don’t come” is a message that rings hollow when it’s coming from the equivalent of a slightly stern but ultimately civilized irritated rich guy in front of you while you’ve got the equivalent (and sometimes the very real personification) of a guy behind you with a gun pressing against your body.

It’s easy to scowl at and judge people when we’re the ones on the accommodating end. We humans are in the habit of doing that anyway, after all, especially when children are involved. “I just don’t understand how they could do all that with their kids!” is something I’ve seen many exclaim, as if these families had decided to flippantly use their children as gaming chips.

But I’d bet money that many of us in their same situation would do exactly the same thing given the chance … I know I would. And besides, another thing about desperate people: they don’t care that you’re scowling at and judging them. They’re just trying to live.

Think of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs: someone who’s struggling to get their basic needs of safety, food and shelter met are not yet going to be worrying about what others think of them. One thing at a time.

We all want to live, preferably well, and we all especially want our children to live as well as they can — hopefully, better than us. Desperate people will always play the odds to get to where they’re most likely to survive. For many migrants showing up at the southern border, that ain’t their home countries where, presumably, they’d certainly prefer to stay if they could.

It ain’t Mexico either, apparently. And who can blame them? Though AMLO scoffed at the assertion that narcos control a third of Mexican territory, those who are dealing with the reality on the ground, and not from the National Palace, know what’s up. I often think of the perilous journey north as a video game: the hardest and most treacherous part is right before arrival. It’s darkest before the dawn and all that.

Not that the United States is sunrise. But if I were a vulnerable person having to bet on one or the other law enforcement systems to keep me safe, I’d bet on the U.S. every time. Mexico simply is not in a position to guarantee anyone’s safety. If they can’t reasonably provide it for their own citizens, what does that mean for migrants, an exceedingly more vulnerable group?

I can’t get the picture out of my mind of those parents sobbing together with their tear-streaked, unbathed children as they stood on the wrong side of the Ciudad Juárez bridge with the bitter realization that they’d been escorted out of the country that many had spent their life savings to get to. What would they do? Where would they go?

It would behoove the U.S. to help its next-door neighbor to the south, where so many rejected asylum seekers are being dumped indefinitely. The nation surely has enough on its plate, but so does Mexico. And in the end, dealing with seas of desperate people is everyone’s problem, especially when they’re so pessimistic about their prospects that they’ll send their kids on their own to give them a fighting chance.

That’s some “I’ll stay back here and maybe die, but you go on and try to find happiness” level stuff, y’all. And all of us would do the same for our children if it came to that. Surely there’s more we can do collectively than ensuring they stay locked in their own impossible communities to deal with whatever atrocities knock on their doors alone.

When I saw those pictures of the parents losing their last bit of hope for them and their children, I saw myself. There but for the grace of God go us all, people. Here’s to finding humane and empowering solutions.

And some fresh diapers, for goodness sake.

Sarah DeVries is a writer and translator based in Xalapa, Veracruz. She can be reached through her website,

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