A Murrain on Murrieta

If the 20th was the American Century, it follows that the United States spent much of that time–especially during the Cold War–propping up and otherwise aiding democracies across the globe. Just in the last decade we have joined battle in both Iraq and Afghanistan with the stated aim of promoting stability (democracy) in those countries. We have, admittedly, supported dictators when it was politically expedient–but it seems to me that we have, sometimes at gunpoint, pulled for the cause of democracy worldwide. I cannot even begin to calculate what this has cost us in terms of blood and treasure–a considerable sum, to be sure, but a price we appear always willing to pay in securing a brighter future.

So when the future comes to our door gift-wrapped, how do we react? By protesting, at least in Murrieta, California, where on July 1 of this year, three busloads of immigrant women and children were prevented from being processed in that town’s Border Patrol facility. According to the Los Angeles Times, these arrivals, scheduled for every three days during this month, have been rerouted to San Ysidro. I say: Shame and infamy on Murrieta. A murrain on Murrieta.

The influx of mostly unaccompanied Central American minors–children, really–crossing the border illegally since last October has been heartbreaking to witness. Cynics might suggest that this represents nothing more than naked opportunism in the face of a lax or byzantine–certainly overwhelmed–immigration system that everyone agrees is badly in need of reform. What is badly in need of reform is the condition of life in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. In travelling north through Mexico–a truly dangerous journey where youngsters are at the mercy of strangers at every turn–these kids are escaping poverty and gang-related violence on a scale that we here can scarcely appreciate.

The following figures, from the years 1992-2011, are illustrative of the plight of these three Central American nations. The World Bank initially set the international poverty line, a monetary threshold at which an individual can be said to be living in poverty, at one dollar per day. It is currently $1.25 daily. Extending poverty to be defined as existing on two dollars per day, the CIA World Factbook counts 47.8% of Hondurans this poor. In Guatemala, that number is 39.9%, while 25.9% of El Salvador’s population lives under this level of poverty. Furthermore, the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime cites Honduras as the most murderous country in the world, with 90.4 killings for every 100,000 of its citizens. Fourth and fifth on that list, El Salvador and Guatemala respectively, suffer 41.2 and 39.9 slayings.

I don’t know of anyone in this country who could survive each day on two dollars. Keep in mind–that’s everything. The sum total. It’s not merely a question of fasting, say, but of making two dollars cover all expenses. Quite literally, everything. At least the murder rate in this country is not nearly so high as it is in Central America; here, it is 4.8 homicides per 100,000 of us. So the youth arrive in droves, unaccompanied, having braved the perilous and arduous thousand miles to our border–where they immediately surrender themselves to the authorities. It seems fairly clear to me that they are seeking a safe harbor. Asylum. These children are refugees, and they’re running for their lives.

To hear the far right talk, you would think the border is entirely too porous, and that these illegals are coming for all the nefarious reasons that adults usually do–to take jobs away from good Americans, causing a drag on our resources, paying next to no taxes, and costing us all money we can ill afford. I’m more than a little crestfallen to have heard the current batch described as a threat to public health, referred to as dirty and diseased. We are talking about people–specifically, children.

And they come to us! In how many countries have we intervened to promote democracy? How many of our troops have invaded other countries in the name of this cause? And how much has it cost us over the years?

We would do much better–and it would be cheaper–to accept these kids for what they are: the future. Compared with our military adventures abroad, and the foreign aid we annually dole out globally in terms of money and foodstuffs, it would be much more expedient for us to take these young people in. To welcome them. To feed, clothe, house and educate them. It would be better–and cheaper–to give these children a decent shot here. And who knows? They could well grow up, many of them, to be solid, contributing members of our society.

This is our chance to mold some model Americans. We’re not talking about terrorists or criminals or even adults. We already have enough dubious adults in this country, as the July 1 protest in Murrieta plainly attests to. And now that town is suffering some of the consequences of its intolerance. Unlike the city of Bell, which is working with the Salvation Army to create temporary shelters for these children, Murrieta’s police department has had to increase its active patrol from eight to 25 officers to control protesters. City employees have worked long hours to contend with the situation–with the result that, according to Mayor Alan Long, Murrieta has thus far incurred $50,000 in overtime pay. Good. I say again: A murrain on Murrieta.

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