Letter: Why they come
Why are so many people from Central America trying to get into this country? Why don't they change their own country rather than coming into ours illegally?
Good questions. In many cases the people have tried to change their country, often by struggling against corrupt governments. In the late 1970s into the '90s the people of El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras fought fiercely to make their laws serve the majority of citizens who were poor. In El Salvador, where a few wealthy families controlled most of the fertile land, industry and the reins of government, the US Government backed the oligarchs, supplying millions of dollars worth of military hardware for the suppression of the popular rebellion. Scores of thousands of people, including Jesuit priests, nuns and St. Archbishop Oscar Romero were killed by soldiers trained to fight "subversives" and "terrorists" at the US Army School of the Americas.
In Guatemala, after overthrowing the democratically elected government of Jacabo Arbenz, the US Government militarily supported the genocidal government of Efrain Rios Montt which killed over 200,000 indigenous Guatemalans on suspicion that they were communists when they tried to protect their land from expropriation by the wealthy elites.
Honduras was used as a military base of the Pentagon to maintain pressure on Nicaragua which had successfully overthrown US backed dictator Anastasio Samoza. The US supplied and trained the Contras, former Samoza soldiers and police as they killed the teachers and health care workers which the revolutionary government sent out to the rural areas in an effort to raise the living standards of the poor who constituted the majority of the population. This effort won the Nicaraguan revolutionary government acclaim by the World Health Organization.
In each incident of these civil wars and in Honduras, the US Government supported and still supports repressive governments working against their own people's aspirations for a more just and fair life. The legacy is continued violence which has only worsened as the economic injustice, civic violence and oppression has remained. Lacking any other recourse for attaining safety and a level of economic security, the poor of these nations have sought refuge in the US, only to be met at the border with hostility and having their children ripped from their arms.
It is time to demand: an end to mass detention and deportations; the closing of the detention centers; an end to the militarization of the border and to the idea that working should be a crime if you have no papers. We should demand the closing of the US Army School of the Americas — now named the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation — new name, same shame.
By supporting repression and injustice in Central America, the US gives the poor of these nations few options but to seek refuge elsewhere. Rather than separate their families and criminalize them, this nation has a moral obligation to welcome and comfort them. And, as has every wave of immigration, they will enrich our society, culture and economy.
Marshfield, Oct. 5
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