By Liz Herrick
In 1994 Operation Gatekeeper went into effect on the US-Mexico border. It increased border security in highly populated areas, forcing anyone attempting to cross into hostile environments. Since then over 5,600 people have died attempting to enter the US. But the majority of Americans think we need harsher immigration laws and stricter border control, with 67% saying military forces should be deployed to guard the border. But if hundreds of miles of desert doesn’t deter immigrants, will more guns and fence? Desperate people, including children, will continue trying to cross, and they will continue dying in that attempt. Although the number of people attempting to cross has decreased (not because of increased security as some would claim, but because of the poor economy), deaths on the border have increased (ACLU).
But does this ever make the news? No. US news is more concerned with how many undocumented people, more commonly called “illegals,” are being deported. Why is this? Why do Americans not care about the people dying on our doorstep because they are so desperate for a better life they are willing to attempt to cross desert that has already claimed thousands of lives? Because only certain people are seen as human beings worthy of receiving the basic necessities to live.
It’s as though there is a checklist:
- Were they born Americans? No? Get off our land (never mind that 98% of our population is descended from immigrants)
- Are they poor? Yes? Well the poor need to work harder and stop being lazy to get themselves out of poverty (it’s not like we live in a system that makes the rich richer and the poor poorer)
- Are they white? No? Well…we won’t say anything about this, because we live in a post racial society…
We live in a society where certain lives are worth a lot, and others are worth next to nothing. We dehumanize people just with the words we use to describe them. Mexicans trying to cross the border for a chance at a better life? Illegal aliens. Unarmed young black men shot by police? Thugs. Any Muslim in the US post 9/11? Terrorists. Remember, when the Nazis began persecuting Jews, the first step was to label them “parasites” and “disease.”
Maybe 5,600 over 20 years sounds like a small number, but remember, these are 5,600 living human beings. These are 5,600 families who love and mourn them. These are 5,600 mothers, fathers, daughters, son, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, and more. These are 5,600 people with hopes and dreams like you and me, people who happened to be born in a place where they could not survive, and who dared to take matters into their own hands and go searching for a better life. But most importantly, they are 5,600 beloved children of God, made in God’s image, people who Christ died for, and who we are called to love and care for. The invisible lines we draw between race, ethnicity, nationality, class, gender, sexual orientation, education, religion and more do not exist to God. And for those of us who call ourselves Christians, they should not exist for us either.
- ACLU. “Death Rate Climbs Despite Economic Decline and Drop in Migration and Apprehensions.” Published Sept. 30, 2009.https://www.aclu.org/news/us-mexico-border-crossing-deaths-are-humanitarian-crisis-according-report-aclu-and-cndh?redirect=immigrants-rights/us-mexico-border-crossing-deaths-are-humanitarian-crisis-according-report-aclu-and
- Bosmaijan, Haig. “Dehumanizing People and Euphamizing War.” http://www.religion-online.org/showarticle.asp?title=1442
- FAIR. “Public Opinion Polls on Immigration.” http://www.fairus.org/facts/public-opinion
- Gerri. Business Pundit. “11 Ways America is Keeping Poor People Poor.” Published Sept. 30, 2011.http://www.businesspundit.com/11-ways-america-is-keeping-poor-people-poor/
- InfoPlease. “American Indians By the Numbers.” Published 2007. http://www.infoplease.com/spot/aihmcensus1.html
- James, Darryl. LA Sentinel. “The Lie of a Post Racial America.” Published Sept. 24, 2009. http://www.lasentinel.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=5196:the-lie-of-a-post-racial-america&catid=93&Itemid=183