by Robert C. Koehler
“Go back to where you came from.”
This is basic American politics – what I might call spiritual ignorance: a dismissal of refugees fleeing war, famine, and poverty as global sludge, clogging up our way of life. So many media stories about the border – our border – begin with an unquestioned presumption. These aren’t individual humans fleeing hell and trying to reclaim their lives. They exist only en masse – basically, in the millions.
And they’re going to be nothing but trouble for us. Either they want to work for a living and, thus, claim American jobs, or they’re simply leeches, utterly without skills, simply in possession of their needs, which of course will drain our resources. Go back to where you came from!
Look what happened earlier this month, when New York City’s mayor bused a bunch of migrants out of town – oh, boohoo, too many for you, Mayor Adams? – to several hotels in Orange County, about 60 miles to the north. It just so happened, according to a bogus claim that made big news for a while, that in order for the migrants to get their living space, a bunch of homeless veterans, a.k.a, American heroes, had to be evicted.
Yes, this was a lie, fabricated by a small veterans’ assistance organization called the Yerik Israel Toney Foundation, but until actual investigative reporting by the Mid-Hudson News exposed it as such, it was a kick-ass news story for the anti-immigrant right, hitting all the right buttons.
On May 12, the New York Post, for instance, reported:
“Nearly two dozen struggling homeless veterans have been booted from upstate hotels to make room for migrants, says a nonprofit group that works with the vets.
“The ex-military — including a 24-year-old man in desperate need of help after serving in Afghanistan — were told by the hotels at the beginning of the week that their temporary housing was getting pulled out from under them at the establishments and that they’d have to move on to another spot, according to the group and a sickened local pol.”
Outlets such as Fox News (can you believe it?) and Newsmax ran with the story, then it came out that it was bogus and then some. The foundation had apparently gone to a homeless shelter and recruited a bunch of the men staying there to attend an event pretending they were veterans. Oops. Story retracted, media outlets move on. Nothing, of course, will change.
But what if . . . ?
The essence of U.S. coverage of global immigration is that it’s simply an unexamined nuisance, which is, of course, growing worse under Joe Biden. And it quickly turns into a political “issue.” They’re coming in by the millions – kind of like rising sea water – totally messing up our wonderful society. We need dams and barriers, not to mention laws and tough guys, to maintain control over this flow, the reasons for which we are clueless.
So not only is there a blatant lack of humanity in such coverage, there’s also a missing question: Why? Why is this happening? What can we do about it? Asking such a question, here in the USA, is, alas, awkward, considering the role this country plays in the surge of global refugees.
As Brown University’s Costs of War project points out, for instance, the United States has spent some $8 trillion on its wars in the Middle East over the last 20+ years. Ponder this number as you shudder about migrants’ draining of U.S. resources.
These wars have killed almost a million people, and have shattered countries’ social structures, displacing millions more. U.S. policies going back many decades, both military and economic, have also played a major role in the chaos and indebtedness of nations in Central and South America, creating turbulent living conditions for enormous numbers of people.
As Azadeh Shahshahani has pointed out: “Nearly 24 people are displaced per minute. About 66 million people around the world have been forced from their homes.”
Note to Ron DeSantis: I’m not writing this to make you feel uncomfortable, simply to start opening the causal question regarding global migration. As well as war, there are plenty of other causes, from climate change to God knows what; and no doubt most people fleeing them would prefer not to leave their homes and loved ones.
Throwing the question of “why?” into the media’s immigration coverage will help veer the national focus beyond armed paranoia toward finding and participating in global solutions. It might even start making Americans aware that migration, problematic as it may be for the countries of arrival, is a million times more difficult for the migrants themselves.
Norma E. Cantú, writing at Tikkun, asks: “. . . why not dream on an even greater scale and advocate for a Global Marshall Plan . . . and for the eradication of all borders? The reimagined ‘world order’ would be one of cooperation and mutual respect.”
This is what you would call healing, and it’s naïve beyond belief, right? That’s certainly what those would say who cannot let go of their armed paranoia and hatred of outsiders. A borderless world? All people are citizens of the world?
That’s the future. Perhaps it is not yet the present, but the future has to start now, however minutely. The United States of America, armed and pathologically racist as it may be, is also a nation of immigrants. A good place for us to start creating the future is by recognizing that today’s immigrants are arriving not just with poverty and need, but with skills, with wisdom, with value – with much to offer this bleeding country.