Faces in the Cages — How US Policies Shaped the US-Mexico Border Crisis

Images of the children, separated from their parents and huddled in detention center cages at the US-Mexico border, have shocked the world. Verified reports of these children being denied basic necessities like blankets, soap and toothbrushes have escalated the global outcry. And detained adults are not faring any better, as recently released photos and videos show.

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Basic facts about the people being held in US border facilities

As of July 2019, there were over 80,000 men, women and children in detention at the US southern border. So who are they, and where did they come from?

Why are conditions so terrible at border detention centers?

In the past, US Border Patrol holding facilities were primarily used for the short-term detention of migrant laborers without legal immigration papers. The centers are far from ideal even for that purpose, but they have usually managed to house people in minimally adequate conditions. And they did so with fewer agents than the US has patrolling the border today.

Links between US policies and Central American violence

If they wish to move beyond crisis management and toward long-term solutions, US leaders must first recognize that the country’s past and current efforts to curtail Central American violence have come up short. The reality is a lot grimmer than just that, however.

Drug trafficking and violence in the Northern Triangle

In spite of spending over $78 billion a year on a so-called War on Drugs, the US remains the world’s #1 consumer of illegal drugs. Cynics believe that this failure of US domestic policy has always been intentional, with drug enforcement efforts providing a smokescreen for the sinister activities of the CIA.

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Interestingly, the poorest country in Central America, Nicaragua, has historically been among its least violent. Even with recent unrest and a resulting escalation of violence, Nicaragua’s murder rate remains far below the sky-high rates of Honduras and El Salvador.

Cold War roots of the crisis in Central America

In the Cuban Revolution of the 1950s, rebels led by Fidel Castro overthrew the right-wing dictatorship of Fulgencio Batista, establishing a Communist government that remains in power today. The revolution was a pivot point of the global Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union (USSR).

How the US exports weapons and criminals to Central America

The end of the Cold War greatly reduced the legal movement of weapons from the US to the Northern Triangle, but guns still flow south out of the US through illegal channels. The ease of obtaining guns in the US makes the country a magnet for illegal arms dealers. These traffickers purchase large quantities of weapons at US gun shows, and then resell them to smugglers who distribute them throughout Mexico and Central America.

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Lingering economic impacts of the “banana republic” era

Long before the Cold War, US companies played a central role in the impoverishment of Central America. The arrival of the Cavendish banana (originally developed in Asia) on American shores in the late 1880s sparked rapidly growing national demand for the easy-to-eat fruit. By the early 1900s, US agricultural companies like the United Fruit Company (Chiquita today) and the Standard Fruit Company (now Dole) had set up shop throughout Central America.

Reported failures of US aid efforts and Trump’s plans to cut aid

In spite of all the negative impacts of US policies on Central American politics and life, it would be wrong to conclude that the US has never attempted to improve the situation in the Northern Triangle. Billions of dollars in aid have flowed from Washington, DC to countries throughout Central America over the years.

Have American citizens tried to help people in detention?

At US border detention centers, the dire realities of the present drown out all the lessons of history. With government agencies failing to meet the basic needs of people held at the centers, it is reasonable to ask whether private citizens have attempted to fill the void. Americans are known for generosity, with the US ranking fourth among nations for charitable giving.

One family’s tragic journey from violence to heartbreak

“The world should know what is happening to so many children inside these ICE detention facilities.” — Yazmin Juárez, former detainee from Guatemala

News features from The Millennial Source

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