“Revisited: Christ and a Bitter Harvest”

Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.

~Galatians 6:7, NRSV.

christ and a bitter harvest

 

I originally wrote this article in July 2014 but it feels right to revisit these comments in light of recent government threats to overturn DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) [1] and end Temporary Protective Status.[2]

mexican flagAlthough the original article focused primarily on U. S. culpability in Central America, I believe that American Neo-Colonialism and ignorance of our history with our most immediate southern neighbor – Mexico – have muddied the ethical waters surrounding talk about undocumented or “illegal” [sic] immigration.[3], [4] 

Also, contrary to what some would have you believe, undocumented immigrants contribute significantly to our economy, not only through direct labor but through taxes and spending, with the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimating that they “collectively contribute an estimated $11.74 billion to state and local coffers each year via a combination of sales and excise, personal income, and property taxes….”[5] Rent – paid to landowners who are required to pay property and income tax – food, clothing, utilities, and other expenses are also paid by immigrants who may have come to or remained in this country in violation of federal law.

Three years ago…

Have you ever heard of the School of the Americas? The Iran-Contra Affair? How about Mara Salvatrucha? I ask because I have a suspicion that some of the responsibility for the increasing numbers of unaccompanied minors sneaking across the border from Central America can be laid at our feet – American feet. I don’t pretend to be a historian and I doubt I can do a thorough job of explaining the complexities, but I want to try to explain how our involvement in Central America and the Iran-Contra Affair indirectly affected the stability of El Salvador and Honduras.

The Iran-Contra Affair

The School of the Americas is a U.S. Army training facility operating since 1946 to train Latin-American military personnel. Although the SOA program includes human rights training there has been considerable controversy, including allegations of “a history and tradition of abusive graduates who violate human rights.”[6]

iran-contraIn the early 1980s, under Presidents Carter and Reagan, the United States – which supported the Salvadoran government led by José Napoleón Duarte – provided substantial aid to El Salvador, primarily in the form of economic, food, and development aid.[7] Around the same time the United States was also providing financial and military aid to Honduras, as well as training Nicaraguan troops in Honduras, with the approval of then-President Suazo-Córdova.[8] Beginning in 1985, during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and without approval from Congress, the U.S. carried out a convoluted plan that included selling weapons to Iran to aid the release of Americans being held in Lebanon, and then using the proceeds from the sale to support the Contras, guerrillas in Nicaragua who were trying to overthrow the government.[9] Pages from the notebook of Iran-Contra scandal principal Oliver North suggest that the National Security Council was aware of Contra involvement in the drug trade.[10]

According to Richard A. Haggarty, the fallout from the Iran-Contra Affair resulted in less U.S. involvement in El Salvador[11] and Tim Merrill notes, “As in decades past, the spillover of the Nicaraguan conflict into more peaceful Honduras demonstrated the interrelatedness of events in all of the states of Central America.”[12]

Mara Salvatrucha 13

The now-international and often criminal street gang Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, was born in the early 1980s in California. Journalist Donna DeCesare writes:

ms13Most of the early Mara Salvatrucha members were Salvadoran immigrant kids. A few had had experience as child soldiers forcibly recruited by the Salvadoran government army or surviving by joining family members in the insurgent guerrilla army. Those who had not been “professional” soldiers often had horrifically traumatic memories of human rights abuses witnessed first hand.[13]

So we trained their armies, supported and then abandoned their governments, gave and then denied economic aid, turned a blind eye to drug trafficking, and provided an environment that encouraged the development of a violent street gang. Now we are faced with waves of unaccompanied minors from Honduras and El Salvador crossing our southern border, and people are saying, “They aren’t our problem. Send them back.”

Unaccompanied children

unaccompaniedSome of the unaccompanied children sneaking into the United States may have family members here, but if those relatives are themselves undocumented they are not likely to come forward once those children are in the custody of ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) Many of the children have no one here who can take them in, and our foster care system is already appallingly overburdened and underfunded; yet the proposed 2018 base budget for the Department of Defense is $639 billion.[14]  We can afford to fund global violence but we can’t afford to protect the children who are suffering the consequences of our national policies? That’s our money they’re spending.

Faith without works?

This is not a Christian nation, but for those of us who are voters and taxpayers and, more importantly, followers of Jesus Christ, this is a life and death issue deserving of our involvement. The writer of James said, “If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food,  and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” I hope we can keep our faith alive and in the forefront of this debate.

 

[1] Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. U. S. Citizen and Immigration Services.  Accessed September 15, 2017.
[2] Temporary Protected Status. U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services.  Accessed September 15, 2017.
[3] Alicia Parlapiano and Karen Yourish, “A Typical ‘Dreamer’ lives in Los Angeles, is from Mexico, and came to the U.S. at 6 years old,” The New York Times, September 5, 2017. Accessed September 15, 2017.
[4] UCLA Labor Center, “The Bracero Program,” Accessed September 15, 2017.
[5] Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, “Undocumented Immigrants’ State & Local Tax Contributions,”  March 2, 2017.  Accessed September 15, 2017.
[6] All information on the School of the Americas was obtained from Richard F. Grimmett and Mark P. Sullivan, United States Army School of the Americas: Background and Congressional Concerns, April 16, 2001. Posted at Open CRS,
[7]  Richard A. Haggarty, “Relations with the United States,” in El Salvador: A Country Study, Richard A. Haggarty, ed., Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1988. Accessed July 10, 2014.
[8] Tim Merrill, “the Suazo-Córdova Administration,” in Honduras: A Country Study, Tim Merrill, ed., Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995. Accessed July 10, 2014.
[9]  “Iran-Contra Affair” in World History,  Accessed July 10, 2014.
[10] National Security Archive. The Contras, Cocaine, and Covert Operations: National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 2, copyright 1995-2011 National Security Archive. Accessed July 10, 2014.
[11] Tim Merrill, “the Nicaraguan Conflict,” in Honduras: A Country Study, Tim Merrill, ed., Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995.  Accessed July 10, 2014.
[12] Tim Merrill, “the Nicaraguan Conflict,” in Honduras: A Country Study, Tim Merrill, ed., Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress, 1995.  Accessed July 10, 2014.
[13] Donna DeCesare, “1983-1984: Origins of the Mara Salvatrucha,” Destiny’s Children.  Accessed July 10, 2014.
[14] Office of the President, “Budget of the U.S. Government:  a New Foundation For American Greatness Fiscal Year 2018,”  Page 8, Accessed September 15, 2017. The July 10, 2014 article referenced a proposed 2015 defense budget of $495.6 billion. Kimberly Amadeo, U.S. Military Budget: How Much the U.S. Spends on Defense Will Surprise You, about.com,  Accessed July 10, 2014.

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