Lives of loud desperation
I write about human beings in every one of my columns. To read more of my work about issues like immigration as more than numbers and pejoratives, you can buy a subscription here:
There was a headline in one of the major newspapers today – I won’t say which one, because other papers have posted similar headlines before, and they will all post them again: “Illegal border crossings fell sharply in January, U.S. figures show.” Those figures! They’re always rising, or falling, or up slightly, or close to last month’s.
So many of the stories are about illegal border crossings, and why? Because they can count them, so some headline writer up in New York City or Washington D.C. can get a tight enough word count to fit in the space of a newspaper headline.
You want to know what’s wrong with these headlines and their numbers? They’re flat, they’re emotionless, they’re imprecise, and they don’t tell you what’s really going on. Oh, the story quoted above goes on to tell you that the Biden administration has come up with a program offering “parole” to a certain number of migrants from four countries, Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Haiti after the U.S. expelled 30,000 of them – there’s another number -- back into Mexico earlier in January before following that move with the so-called “parole” program permitting migrants from those countries to enter the U.S. legally if they fill out an online application and have a sponsor in this country.
See how easy that was for me to write the word “people?” Because that’s what the newspaper headline is actually talking about. It is people who are crossing the border illegally, and people from the countries left out of the parole program, amounting to about 150,000 in January, “down from the record-high 251,487 tallied in December,” again using typically flat language to describe the ongoing humanitarian crisis along the U.S. border with Mexico.
A group of 20 states, which the post tells us were “led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R),” because of course they were, filed a lawsuit on January 24 against the new parole policy, calling it an “unlawful amnesty program, which will invite hundreds of thousands of aliens into the U.S. every year.” As if that prospect is a terrible thing that must be avoided because the United States, described in high school and college history text books as “a nation of immigrants,” might continue on that heretofore unthinkable path.
In other news this afternoon, Representative Andy Biggs, a Republican from Arizona who was deeply involved in the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, including speaking at the Trump rally on the Ellipse before the riot and voting to help Trump attempt to overturn the election results only hours later, filed articles of impeachment against Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, accusing him of “high crimes and misdemeanors” for attempting to end Trump-era policies such as Title 42 that restricted immigration at the southern border. Texas Republican Representative Pat Fallon, another signatory to Biggs’ articles of impeachment, said in statement that Secretary Mayorkas “has willfully abdicated his duties as Secretary of Homeland Security and actively misled Congress and the American people. To make any progress at our southern border, he must go.” The articles of impeachment have been referred to the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio.
You will not find the word “people” anywhere in the story posted today about “illegal border crossings.” You’ll find the words “migrant,” “individuals,” “aliens,” and “asylum seekers.” You’ll find “enforcement tool,” and “expulsion,” and “illegal entries,” but you won’t find the word “people,” which apparently does not fit into the dry language of these stories.
But sadly, every one of these stories is about the people who are attempting to immigrate to the United States. What must it be like to be one of these people? Some are men, some are women, some are children of school age, some are babies, but they are all people living lives of loud desperation. I say “loud” because everything about being a migrant is loud. It’s loud in the places where people attempt to cross the border, children yelling for parents who have slipped from their view in the crowds, babies crying from hunger and fatigue, husbands calling out to wives, and once across, border police yelling to crowd into the back of this truck or that van, to line up to file into pens and confinement facilities, more yelling to line up for food and water if they’re lucky.
Arrested for illegally crossing the border, people are penned up in wire enclosures and then crowded into temporary shelters like tents and converted schools and warehouses where frightened children and babies cry and guards yell and family members try to find each other by calling out names of wives or husbands or children. Try imagining the clamor of a crowded cafeteria in junior high school, two or three hundred kids all talking over each other trying to be heard, teachers yelling fruitlessly for order -- it's loud in a way we have conveniently forgotten at this point in our lives, and not just a 30-minute lunch hour.
Now imagine it is hundreds and hundreds of desperate frightened people crowded together hour after frightening hour, tumultuous and scary and frantic with no let-up, no one knowing what’s going on, what’s going to happen to them, watching fearfully as a man or two men or a whole family are escorted out of the big holding facility through a door, no one knows where, and never returning.
It is loud and it is desperate. People, these hundreds and hundreds of people from a dozen different countries, were desperate to flee from gangs in Guatemala and Nicaragua, from poverty and unrest in Venezuela, from crime in Colombia, some of them all the way from Ukraine, desperate from crime and hunger and war and persecution. They’re desperate on the other side of the border and desperate once they get across, hungry and frightened and desperate to be able to stay here, desperate for someone to listen to them, desperate for food and water and blankets to cover them from the unseasonable cold which has recently gripped the border region, desperate for their children not to be terrorized by men in helmets and bulletproof vests with guns, desperate from the noise and confusion in a place where everything is foreign and strange and threatening, desperate because money and papers were stolen from them along their journeys, desperate because in all of the noise and madness surrounding them there is plenty of terror and so, so little hope.
They may be seeking asylum, they may be migrants, they may have indeed broken a law by not crossing at a customs and immigration checkpoint and gone through the proper, lawful process, but they are people, each and every one of them. They are our parents 50 years ago, our grandparents 100 years or even 200, or 300 or 400 years ago. In 10 years, or 20 years, they will be Americans, but even right now, right this minute, they are human beings and they are us.
This piece is why I subscribe. Immigration, legal or not, is all about people just trying to lead quiet, safe lives. I never could have written what I've been thinking for years as passionately or eloquently.
I wish I could post it, but the image during the Trump years which will always stick with me is that of the drowned father holding his drowned baby daughter washed up on the bank of a border river. That is the result of the innate cruelty of the Republican Party---stupid, cruel, and psychopathic.