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Drug War Blowback: Why Those Central American Immigrants Are Still Coming

| July 10, 2018

immigrants central america

Not a mystery. (Otherwords)

By Mitchell Zimmerman

What goes around comes around. This familiar phrase explains why Central American families and children are coming up to our back door, seeking asylum in the United States.


And they will keep coming — even if the Trump government resumes tearing small children away from their parents — because for them it is literally a matter of life and death to escape the horrific violence that our government sowed in their homelands.

Why wouldn’t they try? Attorney General Sessions asserts that gang violence is no longer a basis for seeking asylum. But try telling that to a teenager whose parents have been murdered by one of the gangs that have overwhelmed El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and so many parts of Mexico.

Try telling that to a mother whose 13-year-old daughter is being “recruited” on pain of death for sex with a gang leader — and who has seen girls her age gang-raped, mutilated, and murdered.

Would you stay and “wait for your turn” for lawful entry to the United States, a turn that might never come? Or would you tell your daughter: Go! Get away as fast as you can, for God’s sake, and get into the United States any way you can!

other-wordsIt started long ago in the 1980s, when a million Salvadorans fled a brutal civil war. In desperation, many entered the United States unlawfully. Similar struggles in Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua in that era generated still more refugees.

The U.S. backed brutal parties to each of these conflicts, making them that much bloodier.

A decade later, many of those who came to America as children — by then teenagers living in cities awash in racial tension, and despairing of achieving a better life — were recruited into gangs and inculcated into U.S. gang culture. Instead of addressing the problem, America chose an easy solution in the 1990s: Take those who weren’t citizens and dump them elsewhere. Our government “exported” them to El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala.

But the thousands of deported gang-bangers — many of whom had been carried to the U.S. as small children, spoke only “Spanglish,” and had few marketable skills — had no better chance of lawful integration in their supposed “home” countries. So they re-formed and resumed gang life and gang warfare in Central America.

We also gave them something to fight over: the multi-billion-dollar business of exporting drugs to the United States. For decades, American politicians made political hay by waging a supposed war on drugs, a war they know can never be won, rather than recognize drug abuse as a public health problem.

The results: ever-more fierce, drug-driven gang wars in Central American and Mexico. And a reign of terror from which unaccompanied children and entire families have fled, as murder, assault, and rape by gang members became rampant. Do you wonder they need to escape to our country?

If common decency — if the crying of small children — isn’t enough for us to recognize them as human beings deserving asylum, then we should recognize that they are America’s responsibility because the United States helped create the disaster they seek to escape.

These children and mothers and fathers aren’t criminals. They’re refugees. If America isn’t a refuge for those in desperate need, what are we as a nation?

Mitchell Zimmerman is an attorney who’s represented a number of DACA–Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals–applicants.

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7 Responses for “Drug War Blowback: Why Those Central American Immigrants Are Still Coming”

  1. Robin Polletta says:

    Thank you for this column. I recommend reading the memoir by by Francesco Cantu, a former border agent ‘The River That Divides Us’. It really explained the havoc the drug cartels have wreaked on ordinary people in Central and South America and the consequences for us.

  2. Ready says:

    What we are is a nation that has been inundated with so many immigrants legal and illegal that we are exhausting our financial future to start, not 100 percent sure how accurate your statements are so I will give you the shadow of doubt and say 50 percent of what you say maybe true but let’s not forget that although we are a nation of refuge and we do actually allow and let thousands of immigrants into the country, you along with many others disregard that fact that there are laws that must be followed in order to keep the flood gates from being so overwhelmed that we will actually become just like those countries you speak of and the atrocities you speak of will spill over into our streets and then what do you do Mitch??

  3. Pogo says:

    @A hundred years, and more, of the United States’ prohibition on drugs has done nothing but create death and corruption around the world – and at home.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_United_States_drug_prohibition

  4. Richard says:

    Build The WALL! Keep the drugs out! Let the truthful asylum seekers and legal immigrants in. Let ICE do their jobs and protect our borders. If the borders remain open to every living human being that wants to live in the USA, there won’t be enough welfare to care for these people and this country will become worse than where they came from. What then? I may have to move to Alaska.

  5. Born and Raised Here says:

    What is THERE COUNTRY doing on the war on drugs. It’s all corrupt.

  6. Anonymous says:

    They can go through a LEGAL process to seek asylum in our Country by going to the Consulate in their Country. They do not have to cross our borders ILLEGALLY! Meanwhile, these parents are sending their kids over here with human traffickers, gang members, etc., they’re gonna get raped along the way if they don’t die first trying to get here!

  7. Johnson says:

    (((Zimmerman’s))) entire argument us on feelings, and white guilt. The same rhetoric as always. “Look what you’ve done, now pay for it!”

    Nevermind the fact that even if the US government were directly or indirectly responsible for other people in other countries being murderous, violent rapists that doesn’t detract from the fact that I, and the hundreds of millions of other Americans are not responsible in the slightest. Yet, we are told it’s our fault through association of national origin and especially skin color if you’re a straight white male.

    It is awful, what is happening in their countries. If they want help, they need to ask for it and not pack their belongings and travel thousands if miles to another country and expect them to tolerate their incursion while providing them ample services out of their own pockets while the undercut locals in wages destroying entire fields of work.

    You want us to support other countries because we should feel guilty? It is bad enough we support Israel, and we were their heroes.

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