What does it mean to change is a question of what does it mean to risk? We are attracted to daring displays because they call out something in us—of what we remember—taking a chance feels like. We have all heard that life is a succession of choices. We talk less of all that we, inside ourselves, have to surmount in order to make just one choice. To choose that job that you always wanted but no one else understands. To choose that lover that everyone tells you that you shouldn’t. To choose to face the same crowd after dismal disappointment.
When I first learned about the caravan of migrants arriving from Central America to Mexico, on their way to the United States, I thought about all that they had to risk—in leaving everything they’ve built their entire lives—to choose what they believe is a surer day.
How can our hearts not go out to them? I’m not talking about the politics of it just yet. I first want to acknowledge on a human level, what it means to see an estimated 6,000 people march along on a mission to simply live safer lives.
Along their trek, in Mexico, the Caravan has been met with food, water, offers for rides as well as a barrage of concerns about criminal elements and job scarcity . It is hard to separate out the politics from the story. For some, it may be hard to just focus for a second on what it means to not feel safe in one’s own country—to feel so unsafe that you’d risk travelling several marathons on foot to another place you may not be even certain will accept you.
...An estimated 6,000 people march along on a mission to simply live safer lives.
A country is defined by its borders. It is also defined by access to and through its borders: That’s what economists call free market trade. Import and exports, in the modern world, are central to sustaining a country’s economy. It’s not only goods and information that cross borders but people as well.
In the “Open Economy Macroeconomics” section of Toppr.com, the balance of imports and exports was described as such: “A healthy balance of trade plays an important role in sustaining the economy of a country…But there are times when the balance of trade tilts towards a trade surplus or a deficit. A trade deficit occurs when a country’s total imports exceed its exports. A trade surplus, on the other hand, occurs when a country’s total exports outweigh its imports” .
The United States has to do a cost benefit analysis on the merits of its stance on immigration. Do we want to be an inclusionary country? Or do we want to tilt toward an exclusionary or nationalist stance?
On a marco-social level, when bodies travel across borders, that’s a kind of economy of trade. Our bodies, our talents, who we are, are the wealth of a nation—(a tip of the hat to Adam Smith). The American border, particularly at the Southwest, has historically been porous. In a recent article earlier this fall, “Borderlands, Balloons & Baseball,” I wrote about the border town of Laredo, Texas. In it, I showcased an example of people from both sides of the border working together—respecting the rule of law and celebrating a bi-national identity.
In the Wealth of Nations, Adam Smith wrote: “Whatever be the soil, climate, or extent of territory of any particular nation, the abundance of scantiness of its annual supply must, in that particular situation, depend upon…two circumstances…every individual who is able to work, is more or less employed in useful labour…[and] the skill, dexterity, and judgement with which labour is applied in any nation” . In other words, what’s being said here is: “Is everyone working who wants to work?” and “How is their work being applied to build the nation?”
We talk about skill or dexterity in the abstract. What we are really talking about is people, their dreams, what they want to contribute. When we speak about imports and exports, we must remember that talent is imported and exported as well.
The realities are the realities. Talking about comprehensive immigration reform implies the belief that we need to have some regulatory policies about border crossing as well as what acclimating migrants, immigrants, and soon-to-be-citizens to our country means.
There are some places in Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa grappling with the same issue. Earlier this summer, in June, the Moroccan government—in an initial effort, as they report, to “stem the tide”—began cracking down on human trafficking and undocumented migrants in coordination with Spain and the European Union . Things escalated to including Moroccan citizens and legal residents in the round-up, according to New York Times reporter, Aida Alami .
Organizations like Amnesty International and the Moroccan Association of Human Rights are getting the story out and sharing videos that show harsh police treatment and “authorities piling black migrants into buses in Tangier, Tetuan and Nador and dropping them off in the south” . Many of the people rounded up were UN-recognized asylum-seekers, refugees and registered migrants—meaning they went through legal channels .
Our geopolitical conversation could be aided by talking about, in a world governed by the massively open World Wide Web—what does it mean to have secure borders? In a world where internet firewalls are far more porous than our land borders, and are getting breached at a rapidly increasing rate almost daily, what is our new standard of assurance and notion of collective safety?
Tech companies are seeking international talent to help fill the skills gap needed to create the computers of tomorrow. As a matter of national security, there are quantum computing systems—in theory—that “could crack the encryption that protects sensitive information inside governments and businesses around the world. If a quantum computer can be built, it will be exponentially more powerful than even today’s supercomputers” .
As Americans, we let politicians use the same old scare tactics of race-baiting and xenophobia to funnel our attention to polarizing issues that gets people “fired up” and fuming with cultural anxiety to the polls on Election Day—which is in less than 12 days away. Yet, the looming issue of foreign intelligences hacking into our daily computer-dependent lives, and potentially into our governing institutions, gets little airtime. Our borders as a democracy were already hacked in 2016. You think they aren’t coming for your smart phones, internet-connected washing machines and TVs?
The real border issue is a technological one.
We need all of the homebred and imported talent we can to help American companies build counter measures and technologies that helps America become less reactive and puts the country back into position of leading the world in science and technology. That can’t happen with rampant xenophobia.
Tech companies are feeling the border crunch in the hiring of international talent since Trump’s travel ban and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery program . Zapata founder and CEO, Christopher Savoie, “offered jobs this year to three scientists,” who specialize in quantum computing, but several months later “was still waiting for the State Department to approve visas for the specialists,” who were all born in Europe and Asia .
Harsh immigration and zero-tolerance policies are not going to prevent illegal crossings. In fact, as the Former Secretary of HUD, Julian Castro points out when interviewed by Andrea Mitchell about his new book An Unlikely Journey—wasn’t that what the family separation policy earlier this summer was suppose to prevent? Wasn’t its justification that separating migrant children from their families would serve as a deterrent? Yet, there are over 6,000 people marching to the Southwestern U.S. border.
The real border issue is a technological one.
There is safety in numbers. There is safety in believing in the same ideals, values, in the right to a decent standard of living. That is what the Caravan represents to me when I see it. When I see trucks brimming with migrants flanked by others marching, I see people who are reminding us what it means to traverse for the idea that they will meet some kind of reassurance, some place to build a precious life.
I understand that not everyone crossing a border is crossing for altruistic reasons or seeking asylum. There is always the one or two that ruin it for the bunch. It is important in such a heated climate not to paint any one group with a broad brush and to not assign nefarious reasons onto a group that looks different from us. America is still deciding who “us” is even for ourselves. A little compassion can go a long way. So can a cost-benefit analysis: How is our treatment of the Central American Caravan going to reflect our overall stance, as a country on immigration?
Mexico is dealing with this same question. For years it has critiqued the U.S. on its policies. It is faced with a similar choice: “Would Mexico agree to force such migrants to apply for asylum there, instead of letting them enter the United States,” writes reporters Azam Ahmed and Caitlin Dickerson in their article “Mexico, Overwhelmed by Surge of Migrants, Is Again in U.S. Cross Hairs” .
Immigration in a country of immigrants is never going to be an easy issue to solve—nor should it be. Any time we see waves or surges or peaks in migration to this country—let us all be reminded that surety is not promised. It is made on backs of bodies willing to risk for other bodies for some idea we call—country.