I’ve wanted to write this essay for some time since reading so many immigration reform advocates in the U.S. who so passionately work for a more just and humane system. I’m often saddened by the lack of historical awareness around the immigration issue, though I also understand the passion of simply wanting to help those now caught in an unjust system. I also am concerned that now as the winds for change seem to be blowing a bit more strongly this may not be a good time to reflect on this historical perspective. But I just want to make clear my unwavering support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, especially for so many of my Mexican friends who are tired of living in the shadows. However, I also want to say that I often encourage these same friends to come back to Mexico with me to seek the welfare of their home country. (I’m also well aware that Mexico has its own immigration problem with the horrendous mistreatment of Central Americans passing through their country).
It is common to talk about push and pull factors when engaging in debate about immigration, although my sense is that the pull factors are often given more weight. Talk about the lure of the American way of life spread globally by Hollywood or the myth of the American Dream, which finally may be waning in its appeal, are some of the pull factors. On the other hand, push factors, if talked about at all, usually take the form of generalities such as escaping poverty and the lack of opportunities. Asking the why question about the reasons for such realities gets one into political questions and U.S. foreign policy. As a Catholic bishop said so many decades ago: “When I give food to the hungry they call me a saint, but when I ask why they are hungry they call me a communist.”
First then, I want to suggest that U.S. foreign policy over our whole history as a country has contributed to the flow north to our border. From the Monroe Doctrine to the (Teddy) Roosevelt Corollary to the Reagan Doctrine, we can see the worst of U.S. hegemony. The desire to make all of the Americas its own domain and declare its own obligation to intervene whenever it deems necessary on national security grounds has led to many of the “push” factors. Even the more benign “Good Neighbor Policy” of FDR and “Alliance for Progress” of JFK, while offering some substantive development, was not without conditions.
Secondly, from my friends in Latin America, I have noticed a strong and deep love for one’s own country and even some resentment toward those who choose to migrate. This is especially true for Cubans who often see those who flee as traitors for going to the U.S., which is seen as their enemy. For Mexicans it is a bit more complex, but some of these same attitudes can also be seen due to a long history of antagonistic relations with the US. From the loss of nearly half of Mexico’s territory in the 19th century to the nationalization of their petroleum in the 1930’s to the contemporary war on drugs, all contribute to feelings of betrayal. The historical awareness of those left behind, and the resulting attitudes, provide insight into the lasting effects of U.S. foreign policy.
Thirdly, as we move more deeply into this new century and millennium with all of its changes and challenges, and with the ideas of nation-states, borders, climate change and economic upheaval, many people are beginning to reconsider how, where and why one lives in the place he or she has chosen or been destined. This is a bit more philosophical, which requires much more space than allotted in this blog, but may be the strongest reason why the immigration issue may soon begin to resolve itself. (See Jubilee Economics for more on this).
Finally, I just want to reiterate my support for Comprehensive Immigration Reform, as short term of a solution as it may be, while also calling us to see the issue in its historical context. This involves not only the historical context of the U.S. but also of Mexico, and all of Latin America for that matter, which goes back many centuries before the founding of the U.S. and carries within it the legacy of once proud civilizations that may hold some wisdom for our own day as we attempt to meet our challenges.
Dan Swanson and his Mexican wife Angelica, along with their dual citizen son Jacob, are missionaries in Mexico. During the 90’s Dan served with the La Villita Community Church in Chicago while teaching bilingual Sp. Ed. in public high schools. During the 80’s he interspersed short-term mission assignments in Japan, the Dominican Republic, Central America and Mexico while studying for his Master’s in Cross-cultural theological education. He blogs at [email protected]
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