Being able to live, work and travel overseas is seen by many Australians as a rite of passage. A gap year in London, a Contiki around Europe, a roadtrip around California, a ‘finding yourself’ backpacking trip across South America. No matter what kind of adventure you’re looking for, us Aussies seem to find it.
Now imagine having a Honduran passport and having similar aspirations. To find a good job to support your family, to have a taste of the American dream, to explore what else life has to offer. You can’t get a visa to go to the US because you’re from Latin America and you don’t meet the eligibility criteria, that is if you could afford to get there. War-like violence explodes on the streets of Tegucigalpa (capital of Honduras). In 2012, Honduras had the highest murder rate in the world due to gang-related violence, so obviously it’s not the best neighbourhood to raise children. You’ve got an uncle in California and think you might just have a chance of providing a better life for your family if you make it the dangerous 3,700km. For some, the American dream will always be just that. A Dream. Funny how a passport can dictate more than your boozy South East Asian travel plans…
With so many policy changes, executive orders and Tweets pumping out of the US, you’d be forgiven for being angry, confused and quite overwhelmed with the current immigration crisis unfolding. Things are changing everyday, every hour and it’s confronting to see so much pain and suffering simply because someone is trying to cross a border. Sometimes it’s a little easier to step back into your comfortable cocoon of Netflix and burritos and switch off. Immigration crisis’ happen all the time right? It’s easy to think that this doesn’t affect you and therefore it’s not your problem. But immigrant rights are human rights. And these human rights are being routinely violated right now along the 3000km US-Mexico border. Now more than ever, we need to remain focused and pay attention. Here’s why this immigration crisis is everyone’s business.
The US has the largest number of migrants on the planet. In 2017, there were 86.4 million migrants making up 27% of the total US population1. The US, much like Canada and Australia, is a nation of immigrants, of course acknowledging the first nations people in each of these countries. Yet since 1965, immigration policy in the US has become increasingly restrictive, especially towards people escaping poverty and violence. Isn’t it ironic that the Statue of Liberty says;
‘give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.’
Much of the recent media attention has been centered on apprehensions at the border, including the separation of approximately 2,000 children from their parents between 18th April and 31st May 2018. The act of separating families at the border was implemented under Trump’s ‘zero tolerance’ policy to ‘crackdown’ on ‘illegal’ migration. The idea is to punish people who have broken the law and act as a deterrence to thousands more considering crossing the border. But does border enforcement and these crackdowns mean we will see a reduction in the number of people attempting to cross the border? Think of our Honduran man with not many other viable options. It will not.
In fact, ‘illegal’ migration to the US has continued to grow. In 1986, there was an ‘illegal’ population of 3 million. In 2016, there was 11.3 million, despite the fourfold increases in hours spent patrolling the border and a twenty fold increase in funding. And what about these 11.3 million ‘illegal’ people currently living in the US? This population come from primarily Central America with 56% of them being of Mexican nationality, followed by 7% from Guatemala, 4% from El Salvador, 3% from Honduras and 2% from China. It is an assumption that if you are an ‘illegal’ immigrants, you have ‘illegally’ the border. Whilst this is a reality for some, the majority of ‘illegal’ migrants entered the US legally with appropriate documentation and authorization, yet overstay their visas or permits and vanish. But we all know that human beings do not simply vanish into thin air. Instead, the 11.3million people without the security of residency status, live in the shadows.
Despite all odds, a small proportion of migrants have been able to ‘come out of the shadows’ and fight for their rights as contributing members of American society. Under an immigration policy called DACA (deferred action for childhood arrivals), approximately 800,000 ‘illegal’ migrants. These migrants are often referred to as ‘DREAMer,’ named after the failed DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). DREAMers receive protection against deportation and family separation, applying to those who entered the US ‘illegally’ when they were children. Whilst this temporary protection allows them access to healthcare, get a driver’s license and apply for a social security number, it most importantly gives them a sense of security in a country that they’ve called home nearly their whole life. But their sense of security is threatened as Trump calls to terminate DACA and deport ‘illegal’ migrants from the US, whilst sending a clear message at the border that ‘illegal’ migrants, specifically from Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, are not welcome.
Across the US, thousands of people are uniting for comprehensive immigration reform to drastically change the ways the US deal with ‘illegal’ migration. To put an end to children being separated from their parents, people dying from dehydration in the desert, people not able to obtain a driver’s license, people being prosecuted and deported, and families are torn apart. The immigrant rights movement is loud. These people may be undocumented, but they are unafraid. Other groups like the LGBTQI community, the Black Lives Matter movement and the Women’s movement, stand together in solidarity. Because immigrant’s rights are human rights.
Privileged Australians like you and me will never understand the anxiety and distress experienced by millions of people without legal residency status, or fleeing political violence and persecution, or have our families separated due to mass deportations. But people like you and me can raise our voices in solidarity with these people and say this is inhumane, this is unjust, and this must stop. Whilst America is in the limelight, we must not overlook the immigration crisis’ happening all across the world and on our doorstep. Libyans drowning in the Mediterranean, Syrians escaping to refugee camps in Lebanon, Rohingya pleading for acceptance in Bangladesh, Hondurans running from violent gangs, and Afghani men, women and children detained on remote island prisons run by Australia. In our current state of immigration crisis, perhaps we need to look to those fighting in the US and DREAM of a better world.
I originally wrote this article for The Tertangala