The mob mentality of those protesting the Central American migrants who were shuttled to a detention center in Murrieta, California typifies a rage against Otherness in the United States that hasn’t been seen in a long time. The irony is that at the moment when border crossings are at 40 year lows, nativists, racists, and others who let fear rule their emotions speak of an immigration crisis of epic proportions. Yes, there is a crisis among migrant groups, but it’s a humanitarian one.
Bethania Palma Markus has written a powerful piece about the uptick in deaths among migrants due to dehydration during their journey to the US through desert conditions. In this Truthout Interviews, Bethania recounts her experience with the volunteer group Eagles of the Desert, that looks for migrants in distress, but unfortunately, often finds the human skeletal remains of those who perished in the desert. Moreover, she discusses some of the structural changes in both border security and free trade agreements (i.e., NAFTA) creating conditions that pushed people from their homes in search of work to journey into environmentally inhospitable areas because of barriers posed by border fences and increased military presence in borderland towns. Among those who survive the grueling trek to the US, some get apprehended by immigration agents and sent to detention camps (often run by private companies). Detainees in these camps often work in economic conditions that are close to slave labor. Paid around a dollar a day, many detainees are assigned maintenance and food prep work in the detention center. The extremely cheap labor force adds to the profits of the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America (who run many of these centers). Because these companies employ detainees to do work for them, they do not have to pay legal workers in the US a minimum wage and offer benefits to do the same jobs. So while migrants from Central America have become a symbol of Otherness for nativist and racist rage, the reality of migrants who face possible death in the desert or exploitation by corporations in detention camps is where the collective outrage of Americans should be focused.