In 2013, my friend Juan’s cousin disappeared while attempting to cross from Mexico into the United States to return to his job at a restaurant in Florida. The cousin had successfully crossed the border on several previous occasions, and this particular passage, Juan tells me, was reportedly arranged by the restaurant’s proprietor via some human smuggling contacts.
The last his family knew, the cousin had made it to the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juárez. “After that, he was never heard from again,” says Juan. When I visited the family in 2015 in their village outside Puebla, the cousin’s mother—Juan’s aunt—still spent much of her time staring vacantly into space.
The family’s story is far from unique, as the selective criminalization of U.S.-bound migration has rendered the U.S.-Mexican frontier disproportionately lethal. Not only does criminalization make undocumented travelers exceedingly vulnerable to abuse, ever-expanding border fortifications have forced migrants into more perilous routes through the desert, which has become a cemetery of sorts. Juan himself—now a resident of Mérida on the Yucatán peninsula—once entered the United States by way of the Arizona desert, and describes walking for four days at the mercy of the elements. He throws in a brief rundown of the hazards of seeking cover from border patrol helicopters in cactus patches.
Regarding the prospect of an even more dangerous border landscape under Donald Trump—who has taken the liberty of reducing the Mexican population to rapists, drug dealers, and other bad hombres and has promised a “big, beautiful wall” to keep them out—Juan observes that “walls have never deterred anyone. Especially when there’s a demand for cheap labor in the States.”
The point of a punitive immigration policy has never been to put a stop to undocumented immigration in the first place, but rather to perpetuate its lucrative exploitability. In his 2013 book The Right to Stay Home: How US Policy Drives Mexican Migration, David Bacon writes that “displacement and inequality are as deeply ingrained in the free market economy as they were during the slave trade.” Here, displacement refers to the effects on Mexican communities of policies like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which obliterated the livelihoods of millions of Mexican farmers and otherwise fueled migration by, inter alia, saturating the Mexican market with subsidized agricultural products from the United States in blatant violation of the principles of “free trade.” To be sure, there’s nothing like having one’s subsidized corn and eating it too. READ MORE AT THE WASHINGTON SPECTATOR.