The Organization of Latin American Affairs (OLAA) hosted People on the Move: Humanitarian and Theological Perspectives on the Migrant Caravan, a panel on Thursday night which examined recent waves of migration, their origins, and the role and responsibility of the United States.
Moderated by Professor Erik Owens, Director of the International Studies Program, the discussion featured two resident experts on the underlying history, psychology, and ethics of migration: Professor Kristin Heyer of the Theology Department and Professor Thomas Crea from the School of Social Work.
Crea discussed the current state of migration, pointing to a spike in 2014, especially among unaccompanied youth. While this sharp increase is inexplicable, movement along the southern border has continued at an alarming rate.
Crea suggested that President Trump’s approach to immigration and inflammatory rhetoric have exacerbated the issue. He speculated that Trump’s policies and language may be an attempt to exert greater influence over the American public.
“[Trump’s rhetoric] has fascist overtones, and this is merely a tool that has been used to consolidate power,” Crea said.
The panelists cited a number of push factors that might drive migration, including endemic poverty, food insecurity, the threat of violence, and fleeing gang involvement. Reuniting with family members and greater economic opportunities are common pull factors drawing migrants to the United States.
Crea noted that all migration necessarily passes through Mexico, where gangs profit tremendously from trafficking and have monopolized the practice of smuggling individuals across the border. Unfortunately, these same gangs regularly perpetrate the acts of violence that drive people from their home countries.
Heyer added that many women are assaulted en route to the United States, which may, in part, explain the formation of caravans. Individuals band together for the sake of security.
When vulnerable groups arrive at the border, the United States places them into camps that Crea described as “essentially prisons.” Heyer expressed concern over the privatization of these camps, which contributes to the growing “Migration Industrial Complex.”
Heyer also argued that the camps’ lack of transparency is undemocratic and that the 22 migrants who have died in custody over the past two years underscore the clear need to provide greater care and services.
Reflecting on the past actions of the United States in South and Central America, the panelists suggested that the U.S. played an undeniable role in fueling the present instability of some nations in the region. The issue of migration is partially the result of informal colonization by the United States. As such, the nation has a responsibility to the region that we must not forget or overlook.
Furthermore, care and concern for others ought to motivate the U.S. to assist nearby countries so that citizens have their basic needs met.
“Everyone has the primary right not to have to migrate,” Heyer stated.
The panelists condemned Trump’s insensitive, alienating rhetoric regarding the topic. They concluded that the dehumanization and degradation of migrants diminish our sense of obligation to asylum seekers.
Discussing the possible path forward, the panelists agreed that the issue was difficult and the solution unclear. In the short term, though, the compassionate response of individuals and organizations like Annunciation House—which houses migrants—and active pushback against the idea that open borders and security are mutually exclusive are important and productive.