The Aftermath of Title 42

A missive from John Fanestil, on the frontlines of the fight for immigrant justice. If you are in the Southern California next Sunday, May 21, join people of faith and conscious at Fandango at the Wall at 11am (1250 Monument Road, San Diego)

May 13, 2022 – San Diego

The lifting of Title 42 has brought national attention to the extreme conditions of human suffering on our nation’s southern border. But these conditions are nothing new. They are the product of a misguided approach to the border that has been embraced by Presidents of both parties since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. This approach mistakenly frames the challenges on the border as matters of “national security,” and then mistakenly attempts to address them with the administrative apparatus of the Department of Homeland Security. The results have been disastrous.

In recent weeks here in San Diego alone:

— Thousands of desperate migrants have entered into U.S. territory in hopes of seeking asylum. Last night I witnessed many hundreds trapped between the walls separating San Diego and Tijuana. Onsite I heard not just Spanish, but Chinese, Turkish, Haitian Creole, and several Eastern European and South Asian languages. These hundreds have been left stranded by U.S. authorities for as many as three days with minimal assistance, and now rely for their basic human needs on the extraordinary support of San Diego community organizations and volunteers.

— San Diego-area hospitals continue to see an unprecedented number of traumatic brain and spinal cord injuries caused by falls from the 30-foot walls that now span the San Diego border. An entire working group composed of trauma specialists, social workers, academics, NGOs, and other stakeholders now meet regularly in San Diego as the “Border Wall Fall Injury Prevention Working Group.” Among the participants is Alexander Tenorio, a San Diego neurosurgeon who, despite his intimate familiarity with traumatic injury, described himself as “horrified” by what he has been seeing in people falling from the new walls.

— Federal contractors are now erecting these same, grotesque 30-foot walls across Friendship Park, the iconic venue that for generations has stood as a symbol of international friendship between Mexico and the United States. San Diego elected officials have joined civic leaders from across the State in decrying the Biden Administration’s decision to finish Donald Trump’s border wall at what is arguably the most historic location on the US-Mexico border. If completed, these walls will obliterate cross-border vistas and create an environment more suited to a prison than a park.

If Donald Trump were pursuing these border policies, Democrats would be lined up in parade formation to denounce them as cruel, inhumane, and an offense to “who we are” as Americans. But because these policies are being implemented by a President of their own party, most Democrats — including usually reliable and outspoken champions of inclusion and diversity like California Governor Gavin Newsom — are silent.

This silence reflects the culture of a Democratic Party so cowed by right wing rhetoric about the border, so lacking confidence in the intelligence of American swing voters, that it is willing to trash one of our nation’s most vital assets — the border we share with the people of Mexico. This silence also reflects a surrender to America’s worst instincts, the instincts of white nationalism and colonialism that these same leaders rightly denounce

The border does not have to be managed this way. For a simple and recent contrast to current asylum practices, consider the way in which over 100,000 Ukrainians were admitted to the United States across just a few months in mid-2022. And for an example of safe, secure and creative solutions to sharing public space across our international boundaries, consider the Cross-Border Xpress that links San Diego travelers to the Tijuana airport. Or consider the Peace Arch Park that unites, rather than divides, the peoples of the State of Washington and the Canadian Province of British Columbia.

Someday the “national security” fever that took hold of our body politic in the aftermath of 9/11 will break. Perhaps then our nation’s leaders will feel liberated to consider an alternative framework within which to consider the very real challenges that present themselves on the U.S.-Mexico border. It is now abundantly clear that the Presidents of neither party will be able to meet these challenges with the blunt tools of militarization that are the only ones available in the DHS toolbox.

This is the fundamental problem with U.S. border policy. The challenges we face on the California border do not constitute a national security crisis. We need a FEMA response, not a surge of troops. We need policies reflecting the simple fact that most migrants are human beings facing desperate conditions and heartbreaking choices, not criminals seeking to do anyone harm. And we need to celebrate Friendship Park, a landmark location of supreme significance to the cultural history of our nation, rather than encasing it in 30-foot walls. The current moment represents a crisis of conscience for President Biden and leading Democrats. The first step they must take is to admit that the course they have been pursuing — much the same course they rightly denounced the Trump Administration for pursuing — does not work.

I invite you to join me in investing in a different future for the U.S.-Mexico border, a future founded on friendship and shared human dignity, rather than fear and xenophobia.

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