Sitting across the table confined to a wheelchair, Miguel spoke fondly of El Salvador. But his fond memories turned to anguish andgrief when he spoke of Ignacio Martin-Baro, and five other Jesuit brothers assassinated by US-trained Salvadoran death squads in 1989. Martin-Baro, a Jesuit psychologist, not only mirrored the popular protests against poverty and dehumanizing institutions that had marginalized the working poor and oppressed, but developed Liberation Psychology. Accordingly, in order to experience and achieve true liberation, a critical consciousness about how political structures can oppress the human mind must be recognized andtransformed. But since Liberation Psychology was also concerned with changing the structural conditions of the oppressed andmarginalized, including demanding equal political and economic rights through redressing past injustices, the government labeled himand his work as a threat to their regime. Both were marked to be systematically eliminated.
Miquel and Martin-Baro again came to mind when two men beat a Hispanic homeless man with a metal pipe and then urinated on him. Claiming that “Donald Trump was right,” in that, “all illegals and undocumented workers need to be deported in order to make America great again,” the two men laughed as they walked away from their broken victim into the dark night. For being a nation ofimmigrants, and despite a sometimes dignified history of providing refuge to foreign nationals displaced by the ravages of war and the injustice of oppression or persecution, Americans have once again shifted towards viewing people arriving from other countries as being economically burdensome or incapable of contributing, even dangerous. To be certain, many have donned Trump’s “deportationist” mantle in not only wanting to restrict all immigration, but in seeking ways to overturn the US Constitution and its limited protections against refugees and undocumented workers. Meanwhile, vigilante groups, like the two men, hunt and beat suspected immigrants.
Miguel was also a refugee, having arrived in the US after fleeing war-torn El Salvador. His request for asylum was met with a series of”temporary protected status” and reversals, along with irregularities and corruption in the citizenship process. Eventually, and while sharing many of the aspirations and opportunities of most other immigrants and Americans, Miguel and his wife established a small but thriving store that serviced the community. Still, they were met with suspicion, and sometimes denied the rights from unreasonable searches and seizures or proper access to the US court system. Even worse, one night Miguel’s right to life was threatened when two US citizens robbed him and his wife at gunpoint. In the process, he was shot in the back, paralyzed and confined to a wheelchair. In many ways, his broken body reflects not only the United States’ broken immigration policy, but its broken – even pathological – view of immigrants.
Again, Martin-Baro thought only by recognizing deep social problems from the viewpoint of the lives of the poor and oppressed or refugee and immigrant, could a psychological liberation occur, collectively establishing a just and peaceful society. For this to occur, Americans must understand how globalization increased the disparities in wealth between nations. In addition, US wars, the flow ofarms and foreign policies-like backing brutal dictators-created social instability abroad while driving many to migrate. Indeed, the long flow of colonization across North America, and then the empire-building in many parts of the world, produced counter-colonization, where immigrants are forced to migrate to the very imperialist nations that became rich from either internally displacing people or militarily occupying other countries while benefiting from an influx of cheap labor, resources and uneven trade agreements. In effect, the real “anchor babies” and “chained immigration” were Americans, including their corporate fascist policiesand foreign wars.
Before his death, Martin-Baro wrote, “We must affirm that any effort at developing a psychology that will contribute to the liberationof our peoples has to mean the creation of a Liberation Psychology.” Unless the US experiences this same Liberation Psychology, there will be more cycles of anti-immigration. In addition, the consequences will be devastating, as more and more broken bodies pile up at home and abroad. Instead of developing punitive mechanisms or xenophobic ideologies to keep undocumented workers,immigrants and refugees at bay-like borders and drone warfare or Trump’s deportationism – the real struggle resides within the United States’ collective mind and historical consciousness. In other words, the mental borders preventing Americans from understanding the true causes of immigration should first be addressed-and redressed. The same can be said of the political and ideological structures that have oppressed the American mind, leading to a false sense of freedom, equality, justice, and security.
For the US, immigration has always been more of a moral dilemma instead of an economical one. If one questions such an immigration narrative and framework, just look at Miguel, or the homeless man that was beaten by Trump supporters, or even the lifeof Ignacio Martin-Baro, including the night of their broken bodies.