Unaccompanied minors, borders, and the 4th of July: Some people are more human than others

Two years ago, when President Obama announced the DACA policy, deferring deportation and detention actions for migrant youth meeting certain criteria, I had a mixed set of emotions which I wrote about here. Having worked with undocumented youth for many years, I was cautiously hopeful at the prospect of any sort of reprieve from the constant surveillance that they lived under. More so, though, I was concerned at an election year ploy that used vulnerablized youth as chess pieces. It put me in mind of DuBois’ question “how does it feel to be a problem,” but in terms of how it felt to be a pawn?


Two years down the road, and it turns out, predictably, that it feels deeply violent and dehumanizing to be a pawn. The headlines have been bleeding with the suffering of young unaccompanied minors attempting to make arduous journey across Central America to the United States. There is political noise and chatter about how this is the result of President Obama’s orientation toward amnesty. If it weren’t so horrifically tragic, that spin would be hilarious, given the fact that President Obama has done little but shatter previous rates of deportation and sequester migrants in privately-run detention centers. Is this what amnesty looks like?


In Murrietta, California, residents protested, blocking the busloads of migrants who had survived the deadly journey to the U.S., only to be apprehended, and then shipped to the small Inland Empire town (irony check, please) for detainment. At the town meeting, they took turns at the microphone to indict the federal government for enacting policies that they viewed as inviting interlopers onto what they view as their land. Again, if it weren’t so violently tragic, it would be hilarious, this righteousness of U.S.-born residents, citizens of a nation that came into being through the forced genocide and enslavement of people deemed less human, that barters in mythological entitlement to meter out the material conditions for others’ lives. 


Commenting on the conflict, Luz Gallegos, co-founder of the immigration legal aid center TODEC, said, “it’s sad that some community members don’t see the big picture.”


I don’t think it’s sad as much as it is deeply convenient.


It is decidedly convenient to cast migration as individual acts of legality. It is inconvenient, even a bit complicated, to understand migration as the capitalist and colonial-powered push and pull of people, resources, and capital across synthetic borders of nations. It is convenient to work from that legality premise and cast others as less worthy because of their obvious disregard of the laws. It is decidedly inconvenient to know that immigration laws and policies have unerringly defended white settler ownership of property in this nation.


Most fundamentally, it is deeply inconvenient to decide that all humans are, in fact, humans. And it is inconvenient to see land, space, and living beings in deep connection to each other, uncontainable and unruly to something so mythical as a made up border. Nothing will disrupt the American dream of owning and claiming land for oneself like understanding living beings and places holistically.

But part of what makes inconvenience so powerful is it sometimes refuses to be ignored. This the 4th of July, I’m hoping the contrast of the headlines of unaccompanied minors is even more stark in light of this grip on the mythology of American exceptionalism that screams at the top of its lungs. I’m hoping that we all might see that the fireworks, anthems, and celebrations have everything to do with the offhand delineation that the children and youth of Central America simply aren’t human enough to participate in that celebration.


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