Friday, April 15, 2011

The Myopic Nature of the Current Border Debate

Before things began to get so dangerous in Mexico, my husband and I had enjoyed traveling in different parts of the country. As an undergrad, Spanish was one of my two majors. My husband has also studied the language, but to a lesser degree. We both enjoyed being immersed in the Spanish language and getting the opportunity to practice our skills. We also enjoyed exploring the culture. We are both native Texans and have lived most of our lives in parts of the state with a significant Chicano influence and a fairly frequent interaction with Mexico. Because Mexicanidad has been part of our life experience in the United States, I suppose it makes logical sense we would feel an affinity for Mexico.

When my husband and I used to travel in Mexico, border towns like Juárez and Nuevo Laredo were fun day trips from Texas, but we particularly enjoyed traveling well beyond the border. We absolutely adored the culture, history and cuisine of Mexico City. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to a fair number of places around the world and Mexico City is one of my all time favorites. I spent a summer there studying law and interning with the Commerce Ministry, so I have not just seen the city as a tourist. I have been all over the metropolitan area, gotten to know some neighborhoods fairly well, and have braved rush hour on a regular basis.

When we used to travel to Mexico, my husband and I also found Monterrey to be modern and a lot of fun. We have also been to Mexican beach towns in the East. We spent our honeymoon in Cancun and years later went with our family to Isla Mujeres. My husband and I have also visited beach towns on the West Coast like Ensenada. But in our children’s young lives, we’ve never been able to take them to explore the beauty of Mexico because of the security issues.

Obviously, we’re not the only foreigners who are foregoing travel to Mexico. And plenty of Mexicans are fleeing the country due to the violence, political insecurity and economic implosion. Meanwhile, in the United States, our focus on Mexico has been myopic and unrealistic. We vilify Mexican peasants who risk their lives and endure all kinds of exploitation to come here in desperation to provide for their families.

In our public discourse, we insist on “securing the border.” We act like that is a simple task. In reality, it is a complicated, expensive and monumental task due to the huge expanse of territory involved. Some would say it is an impossible task to truly “secure” the border. Undeterred, we build an expensive, ugly (and useless) wall to keep out those whom we do not want to enter our country. But we never get to the root of the problem. We never ask why people are risking their lives to cross the border in increasingly large numbers.

Because we never seek to get to the root causes of the issue and only attack the issue in a simplistic manner, I fear we are doomed to fail in our efforts and simply waste a lot of government resources. If the motivations to cross the border are huge, no literal or figurative wall is going to be effective. The root causes of the exodus are in Mexico, but most Americans seem to have no interest in looking at those root causes.

My sense is that many Americans feel that we have plenty of problems in our own country and whatever is going on in Mexico is a problem exclusively for the Mexicans to solve. That certainly is an attitude with plenty of intuitive appeal. But the fact is that we’re neighbors and our common geography makes it impossible for us to ignore what is happening in Mexico to prompt escalating violence and increasing numbers of people to cross the border illegally.

Our family lives in a suburban subdivision. If our next door neighbor’s house caught on fire, it would be inhumane for us to refuse help. Putting ethics aside entirely, it would also be against our family’s own self interest. If our neighbors’ house fire got out of control, it could also destroy our common fence, our family’s yard or even our family’s home. It would be the right thing to do to let our neighbors use the phone or to call 911 for them. If we had a fire extinguisher or water hoses that could help put out the fire before it became unwieldy, that would not only be the humane thing to do, it would help us protect our own home and property. It certainly wouldn’t make much sense to sit around and ignore the fact that there was a fire. It would make even less sense to sit around griping about our neighbors while we heard them knocking on our front door asking for help.

Luke 10:25-29 (The Message) Just then a religion scholar stood up with a question to test Jesus. "Teacher, what do I need to do to get eternal life?" He answered, "What's written in God's Law? How do you interpret it?" He said, "That you love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and muscle and intelligence—and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself." "Good answer!" said Jesus. "Do it and you'll live." Looking for a loophole, he asked, "And just how would you define 'neighbor'?"

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