At the moment, the thousands of refugees on our southern border are the beneficiaries of a massive effort by immigrant rights groups, and others, as they seek to gain asylum in America. Attorneys (including from my own organization, The National Lawyers Guild) and legal workers, together with other volunteers, are hard at work helping the refugees maneuver through the barriers in their way as they try to file their asylum claims. It is a truly noble effort on the part of these groups and individuals.
However, there are approximately 6,000 refugees waiting their turn to file their claims. Currently, thanks to the Trump Administration’s Draconian immigration policies, only 30-50 are being initially processed each day. That means it will be at least six months, maybe eight, before they can all even overcome their first hurdle! And in the meanwhile, who knows how many thousands more will join them at our border, in their desperation to escape death and injury in their home countries. In reality, this border crisis could end up continuing indefinitely, or at least for the foreseeable future.
What we now have on our southern border is a humanitarian crisis of tragic proportions. It is a shameful commentary on U.S. immigration policy.
'Meanwhile, the refugees are being forced to live in squalid, life and health threatening conditions, exposed to the harsh elements, both natural and human generated. In short, what we now have on our southern border is a humanitarian crisis of tragic proportions. It is a shameful commentary on U.S. immigration policy. It is a violation of international law, designed to prevent such humanitarian crises.
It is, at its core, a political issue. That is, if the Trump Administration had the decency, and the will, to address the crisis as it should be addressed, it wouldn’t be 6,000 U.S. troops that were sent to the border, but rather—after they were quickly trained—thousands of officials sent there prepared to exponentially speed up the asylum claim process. And, as claims were being fully and more quickly vetted, the U.S. would be providing decent accommodations on our side of the border for those awaiting the final determination of their claim.
Therefore, what is most needed right now is for the immigrants’ rights community, and its supporters, to organize a political response to this crisis. In 2006, when confronted by the prospect of a wholly repressive immigration bill becoming law, nearly One Million people protested in the streets of Los Angeles. And on every May 1st in L.A. since, it’s brought thousands into the streets demanding justice for our immigrant sisters and brothers. Yes, a couple of dozen U.S. cities have held small demonstrations on behalf of the border refugees, but this is not nearly enough. We need nothing less than massive political action at the U.S./Mexican border!
The U.S./Mexican border is only a few hours from Los Angeles by car, train and bus. I believe a massive outpouring of U.S. protesters at that border is urgently needed if lives are to be saved, and something at least resembling adherence to international law, to say nothing of human decency, is to be restored. Such a massive protest by Americans might also inspire those within Mexico to rally their own progressive forces on behalf of border protests demanding decent living facilities for the refugees, during their long wait in Mexico. This is not a fight that can be left solely to those selfless volunteers who are in Tijuana doing, case by case, all they can for the thousands of refugees patiently, but desperately, awaiting their chance to take the first step on behalf of securing the sanctuary in America they so desperately need. It is a fight that all of us who understand and decry this crisis must join.
History shows that the only way the people of America have ever won advances in our biggest battles: the battle for civil rights, workers’ rights, women’s rights, sexual orientation rights, or battles for the end of imperialist wars, is through the power of a massive peoples’ movement, in the streets, marching again and again until the ruling elite in America are left with no choice, if domestic piece is to be secured, than to finally honor the demands of the marchers.
And, so, if we are to fully discharge our duty to our sisters and brothers now languishing at our border, we must get about the business of building, on their behalf, the same kind of politically powerful movement today!
Jim Lafferty is the Executive Director Emeritus of the National Lawyers Guild in Los Angeles; and the host of The Lawyers Guild Show on Pacifica Radio, KPFK.