San Antonio Tragedy Shows Why The U.S. Needs A Different View On Border Security [Opinion]

Eric GayAP Images

Early Sunday morning, authorities in San Antonio, Texas, made a grisly discovery. A journey in stifling heat in the back of a semi-truck turned out to be fatal for almost a quarter of the passengers. Out of 39 people in the trailer, which was found in the parking lot of a Walmart, eight were dead upon discovery and another died later in the hospital. The remaining 30 are being treated for conditions ranging from “moderate” to “extremely severe.”

One Walmart employee was approached by a person from inside the truck, who had asked for some water. It was that same Walmart employee who notified local police of the trailer. That employee most likely saved several more lives from a tragic ending. Most of the people inside the trailer were dehydrated, suffering from heat stroke, or worse. At least two of those people were school-aged children.

It is being called “a horrific scene” and “a tragedy.” And it absolutely is. But what it is not is “uncommon.” This happens all the time, in fact, and people have died before. And this isn’t the last time that this will happen, either, regardless of border security.

And, for all of the talk we hear about “stronger borders,”, and even possibly some “big, beautiful wall,” the U.S. immigration policy is largely the cause of situations like the one in San Antonio.

Participants in the La Marcha de Mayo in New York City on May 6. {Image by MediaPunch/AP Images]Featured image credit: MediaPunchAP Images

This tragedy will be politicized. There are those who will use this as a rallying cry for “stronger borders, more patrols, and build that wall!” They will say that a tougher stance is the way to save lives.

But, while U.S. immigration policy is largely to blame for this horrible tragedy, a tougher immigration policy will actually cause more harm and loss of life. It’s time to rethink our borders and how we control them.

The first thing we need to consider is what exactly is causing people to flee their native lands to get across our border and into America. Is it more opportunity? Are they fleeing dangerous environments? Or is it that they are just greedy, yet somehow also lazy? So lazy, in fact, that they are taking all of the jobs because they’re also somehow greedy, and — wait, what?

A U.S. Border Patrol recruiting vehicle at the annual Border Security Expo in Bandera, Texas.
A U.S. Border Patrol recruiting vehicle sits parked at the annual Border Security Expo in Bandera, Texas. [Image by John Moore/Getty Images]Featured image credit: John MooreGetty Images

Most of the people who cross the border, either legally or otherwise, do so because they want an opportunity for a better life. Better economic stability, less violence, better education, and a future for their children. And there are plenty of people who say that they oppose crossing the border illegally, but have no problem with those who do it the right way. However, when you consider the insanely high murder rate in Mexico, and the control of the drug cartels, many people simply cannot wait the decades it sometimes takes for the legal immigration process to be finalized. One more day might be too late, and forget about 15-20 years.

If you are going to use “saving lives” as your reason for opposing illegal border crossings like the one that ended up in this horrifying situation in San Antonio, dooming people to living in poverty and violence isn’t going to make your case very well. And, before we start claiming that we can’t be held responsible for the conditions of another country, it’s very important to understand just how U.S. foreign policy actually affects other nations and their people.

Drug cartels control much of the land in Mexico, especially territory near the border, which are prime drug smuggling lands. Many of the people who make a living running drugs across the border also smuggle people, and in much the same way. The U.S. is the number one market in the world for illegal drugs, and the crime that comes along with a black market worth billions of dollars a year is a direct result of that black market’s competition.

A vehicle inspection area at the US-Mexico border is used to search suspicious or random vehicles crossing the border from Mexico.
A vehicle inspection area on the U.S. side of the San Ysidro Border Crossing is used to search both suspicious and random vehicles coming from Mexico. [Image by David McNew/Getty Images]Featured image credit: David McNewGetty Images

Yes. A lot of the crime, violence, and poverty in Mexico is a direct result of drug prohibition in the U.S. Because we view drug use and abuse as criminal activity, and we focus on incarceration rather than rehabilitation, that black market isn’t going to be going anywhere anytime soon.

Human trafficking is a huge problem worldwide, especially for those sold into sexual slavery. But heightened border security isn’t going to stop that, and neither is any wall. Just like with drug smuggling, any obstacle to getting their cargo across the border, a smuggler is going to figure out a way to overcome it. And if that means cramming 40 people into a trailer in 100-degree weather, risking their lives, then so be it. The more dangerous the trip, the higher the payoff. A wall isn’t stopping that.

Our foreign policy regarding immigration, and domestic policy regarding drugs, drives these kinds of situations, because they create the conditions that cause these situations in the first place. Doubling down on those policies will only have the same result, just more of it.

Many migrants find work in the fields of US farms, or anything else that they can find.
A Hispanic farmworker harvests Ranunculus bulbs at the Flower Fields in Carlsbad, California. [Image by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images]Featured image credit: Sandy HuffakerGetty Images

Another point often brought up by the right is that undocumented workers come across the border to “steal” jobs from hardworking Americans. This might be true, if the vast majority of the jobs they were finding weren’t extremely, often illegally, low-paying jobs that nobody wants to do anyway. There are thousands of construction jobs available right now, but U.S. citizens aren’t taking those jobs. In the land of the American Dream, scapegoating immigrants, legal or not, for Americans refusing to take work they see as “below them” is dishonest at best, and at worst contributed to the deaths of these nine people and countless more.

Another point that I often hear is that “Immigrants are a financial drag on our society.” But this is demonstrably untrue. Undocumented workers often have to use a Social Security number to find work, and that Social Security number is not theirs. They actually pay taxes, contribute to Social Security, and it’s all money they’ll never get back.

Also, the lowered wages they work for means increased corporate profits. According to right-wing and centrist corporate sycophants, higher corporate profit means economic stimulation and job creation, right? So, which is it? Economic stimulation, or a drag on the economy?

Families with undocumented parents fear deportation and separation.
Undocumented immigrant Arturo Hernandez Garcia stands with his wife Ana Sauzamera and daughter Andrea, 11, in their home. Families like this fear deportation and separation. [Image by John Moore/Getty Images]Featured image credit: John MooreGetty Images

In the end, the idea that immigration from any country to the U.S. is the source of all of the average American’s problems is dangerous, and a purely emotional reaction. The idea that the dirt on one side of an imaginary line drawn by aristocracy is better than the dirt on the other side of that line is the basis of nationalism, which leads us down a dangerous path. The idea that one group of people are more deserving of a certain way of life by virtue of the dirt they were born on is xenophobia, possibly state-sanctioned racism or bigotry, and also very, very dangerous. Also, let us not forget the millions of people that have died in defense of these imaginary lines.

If protecting the “American way of life” is really the concern when it comes to immigration policy, I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone of the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me.
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Accepting immigrants from all nations, all faiths, all ages, and all walks of life is literally what the American way of life was built on.

I don’t pretend to have the answers to the immigration problem, because I don’t. But it’s plainly obvious that what we’ve been doing isn’t the solution. It doesn’t work, and doubling down on that is not only a waste of time, effort, and money, it will result in far more horrific tragedies like the one we saw in the Walmart parking lot in San Antonio, Texas, on a Sunday morning.

[Featured Image by Eric Gay/AP Images]