“They were fleeing down the road with only the shirts on their backs – many were carrying their children or the family pet.”
So reported a BBC commentator this week, clearly shaken by the spectacle he was witnessing. But what catastrophe was he covering – refugees escaping murderous violence in their homelands, or people running from the raging Camp Fire near Chico? Should it matter?
Granted, the parallels are imperfect. The wildfire struck with the suddenness of a tornado – many of those Californians may have been sitting down to dinner, moments before - whereas the violence in Central America has been building for years to dire, intolerable levels. There are also differences of ethnicity, custom and language – and our species may be constitutionally pre-disposed to appreciate similarity.
But pre-dispositions are only a starting point. After pondering it a bit, are those differences enough to justify withholding empathy – to deny those other people’s very humanity? After all, it’s not where you unconsciously start, but where you consciously end-up that really counts. Where do you end-up?
There might also be a sense that the Hondurans’ tribulations are somehow their fault – man-made and of their own doing, so they should just stay home and fix it. If early indications hold up, however, man-made-and-approved utility lines may once again have sparked our local inferno. Is that so different?
As to staying-home-and-fixing-it, there is polarizing political distress aplenty in our country – whichever side you’re on, are you staying home and fixing it? What’s your plan? Will you risk your life to implement it? And while we’re at it, if things get worse, will you have the desperate fortitude to trek on foot as far as 2,000 miles to Chicago, in this country, to escape its consequences? Those are some brave souls on that slow march north through Mexico.
But what about all those gang bangers and terrorists who may lurk among refugees? Your mileage may vary, but have you asked yourself why the gangsters who control their home turf would choose to leave those comforts and security to trudge 2,000 miles among a ragtag bunch of people they despise and victimize at home? For a likely in-vain chance at asylum at journey’s end? The logic escapes me, as does any sense to deploying five American soldiers for every migrant man, woman and child. How about you?
This is not a plea for ‘open borders’ or any other dismissive semi-solid that anyone may choose to fling at the old RC. Immigration policy needs attention – of a kind that the Senate reached across its aisle and approved in 2013. Even with the House no longer the fatal impediment it was to reform at that time, I despair that such sensible legislation could get past the nationalist in the White House (But who knows? Maybe a trade for another rich-man’s tax cut would do the trick. The lure of that third yacht and fourth mansion might be irresistible to the deal-cutting artful codger).
It’s also a truism that the US can’t solve all the world’s problems. But our self-interests are truly implicated here at the borders. Think of the possibilities, if the cool $Quarter Billion currently being wasted to militarize the border were instead invested preventively, to help the locals upgrade the rule-of-law elsewhere in this hemisphere. Then, think about how we might better devote a further $20 Big Ones than on a wall (or just consider its futility – ask the French).
There is way too much suffering in the world – near to us and far away. Assuming our great good fortune in these valleys continues into next week’s celebrations, please keep and hold the plight of unfortunate victims in your heart – those near to us, and those far away. They’re not so very different.