Early last week, the news cycle was flooded with coverage regarding nine migrant workers found dead in the back of a truck in San Antonio. Described as a “horrific tragedy” by Police Chief William McManus, dozens of undocumented immigrants were found in the back of a tractor-trailer. Details of the victims and survivors are still emerging, but one was a Guatemalan teenager attempting to return to the United States after being deported, while several others were Mexican nationals. The driver, James Matthew Bradley Jr., told authorities he had no idea he was smuggling and participating in human trafficking, but has since been charged with knowingly transporting undocumented immigrants.
Unfortunately, smuggling migrants in the backs of trucks is a common form of human smuggling in the region, and it has claimed many lives in the past. One of the most well-known incidents occurred in 2003, when 19 illegal immigrants suffocated in an airless trailer in Southern Texas. Tyrone Williams was found guilty of all charges in the case, after the milk trailer, filled with dead bodies and 55 survivors, was found abandoned at a truck stop near Victoria, Texas. And just days ago, after the San Antonio deaths, four more people died trying to cross the Rio Grande to reach El Paso, Texas. Three of the victims - a 37-year-old woman, 15-year-old girl, and 16-year-old boy - have been identified as Guatemalan nationals.
“It doesn’t matter which avenue smugglers are trying to use - crossing the desert or the canals or checkpoints; the danger is still there,” said Jose Romero, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection in El Paso.
All of these incidents are amid President Trump’s crackdown on immigration, which promises to beef up border patrol along the southern border. Authorities have recovered 10 bodies from the Rio Grande near El Paso so far this year. In comparison, there were six deaths in total for the entirety of 2016, suggesting migrants are increasingly risking their lives to reach the US, but experts are at odds over whether his loudly anti-immigration attitude has increased the likelihood of these cases.
“We don’t have any good way of measuring if it’s increasing because of Trump, but we know it’s a constant,” Nestor P. Rodriguez said, a professor of sociology at the University of Texas in Austin. “Smuggling is a billion-dollar industry when you look at the whole border.”
Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, an expert in border issues and a fellow at the Wilson Centre, a Washington research institute, said these types of smuggling services are now in greater demand because of the difficulty of crossing the border by other means.
“Events like this are an unintended consequence of enhanced border enforcement and security measures,” she said. “Further enhancing border security puts migrants under greater risk and strengthens transnational human smuggling networks.”
Of course, responses were quick and extremely predictable. The left blamed the right and cried foul, the right blamed the left because of their tolerance and support of sanctuary cities, and we’re stuck hearing politicians turn this into something to justify votes and new policies that will “fix” the problem. And the public ends up losing the perspective that these victims are just that: victims.
I could link to the multiple comment sections and discussion boards of Americans just tearing apart these migrants, but there are just too many for us to sort through. I’ve seen things ranging from people blaming the undocumented aliens for their own deaths to outrage that our emergency personnel provided help, and that these immigrants are now receiving medical care when average Americans are still struggling with their own medical and health care issues. Don’t get me wrong, I see wonderful comment sharing compassion and promoting help, but those don’t exactly negate the other sentiments- those are still there. Immigration is always a hot topic, but with all of the drama with the Trump administration, travel bans, and building walls, things seem to have escalated.
Across the ocean, the migrant situation is even worse. Europe is essentially drowning in migrants, with 250,000 asylum appeals in Germany alone. And this constant politicizing of immigration pushed far-right activists enough to actually do something about it.
Members of the anti-Islam and anti-immigrant “Identitarian” movement raised £56,489 in mere hours to charter a ship to run interference with boats run by aid charities helping to rescue refugees. The group, largely comprised of twenty-somethings, carries similar sentiments to the American alt-right. They managed to raise the money through an anonymous crowdfunding campaign with an initial goal of €50,000 (roughly about £44,000) to pay for ships, travel costs, and film equipment. A French far-right group hired a boat for a trial run last month, disrupting a search-and-rescue vessel as it left the Sicilian port of Catania. The Identitarian boat claims they slowed the NGO ship until the Italian coast guard intervened.
Their main goal is to stop aid organizations from bringing refugees to European shores. Started by a French faction, their ‘Defend Europe’ website mimics the direct action tactics of Greenpeace and other similar disruptive groups. Their mission statement reads:
“Ships packs with illegal immigrants are flooding the European borders. An invasion is taking place. This massive immigration is changing the face of our continent. We are losing our safety, our way of life, and there is a danger we Europeans will become a minority in our European homelands.
We want to start an identitarian search-and-rescue mission in July on the Libyan coast. Our goal is to document the doings of the NGOs, expose their collaboration with the human smugglers, and intervene if they do something illegal.”
According to the UN’s migration agency, the IOM, an estimated 1,650 refugees have died crossing the Mediterranean so far this year, with 6,453 migrants rescued off the coast of Libya and 228 bodies pulled from waters. This Identitarian threat is infuriating NGO charities operating out of Europe and around the Mediterranean. One senior official who spoke with the Guardian anonymously said that politicians had created a climate where far right supporters now feel emboldened to act in such ways.
“When the British government and its European counterparts talk about ‘swarms’ of migrants, or perpetuate the myth that rescue operations are a ‘pull factor’ or a ‘taxi service,' that gives fuel to extreme groups such as this,” the official said. “The simple reality is that without rescue operations many more would drown, but people would still attempt the crossing.”
“While these actions are appalling, unfortunately they don’t shock us. The fact that these far-right activists are seeking to prevent a humanitarian mission, helping some of the most vulnerable people in the world today - including women and children at risk of drowning - speaks volumes about them and where their compassion lies.”
And I think this is where I’m struggling. Why are these people undeserving of being rescued? No one is going to risk their life to cross a border or ocean without extenuating circumstances. No one is hanging out in their backyard in a comfortable neighborhood thinking, ‘you know what might be fun? Let’s go through difficult, inhumane conditions to try and sneak into the US,’ or ‘Let’s risk drowning in the ocean to spend a weekend in Europe.’
Look, I understand that these individuals are breaking the law. That’s undisputed. But these people are still people, and I feel like a lot of us are losing that perspective as of late. Any major event gets politicized, that’s just normal, but there seems to be a new fervor associated with creating anti-immigration sentiments with every one of these new incidents. And negativity regarding migrants is at an all-time high. Are they just the convenient scapegoats? I am honestly at a loss. These are people. Fellow humans. How can you see them as less? Not to get overly campy, but aren’t we all in this world together? Why are people so upset at the idea of helping people? How can you stand in political outrage while children are drowning at sea? How can people dismiss the deaths of 15 and 16-year-old youths just trying to get to escape their current hell?
Maybe I’m just a bleeding heart liberal, but I don’t understand the idea that we should abandon and ignore those trying to reach our borders. Carl M. Cannon wrote a piece entitled ‘Immigrants are who we are, not a tool for political parties to divide us’ that eloquently argues why the anti-immigrant/anti-migrant sentiment permeating the US is terrible for the country, and I couldn’t agree more. But it seems that I’m clearly missing the point, so here I am. I’m willing to take the red pill: Why is it okay to treat migrants/refugees/immigrants as less than human?