The State of the Union / by Karie Luidens

2019-02-05 - State of the Union.jpg

I’ve been mulling and mulling ever since I watched last night’s State of the Union address. I suppose I feel like there’s nothing new to say, because Trump didn’t say anything new. His speech sounded like a watered-down version of his campaign rallies—the crowd even gave him a few rounds of chanting. At least all they yelled was the relatively benign “U.S.A.” and not calls to lock anyone up or build any walls.

But we’ll get to the wall again in a minute.

When he got to the portion of his speech devoted to immigration, Trump spent fifteen minutes hitting all his usual vague, frightening talking points on the subject: “an urgent national crisis” on “our very dangerous southern border,” a place rife with “ruthless coyotes, cartels, drug dealers, and human traffickers.”

He asserted that “innocent Americans are killed by lethal drugs that cross our border,” without acknowledging that the vast majority of hard drugs smuggled from Mexico are concealed in vehicles that cross at legal ports of entry, not across open desert.

He reminded everyone that the “savage gang, MS-13, now operates in at least 20 different American states,” without mentioning that MS-13 actually sprung up in Los Angeles and then spread to Central America, not the other way around.

He reeled off statistics about the arrests “our brave ICE officers made” in the last few years, without noting that most of the “illegal aliens” currently in the U.S. are people who entered the country legally and then overstayed their visas, that U.S. citizens commit crimes at higher rates than immigrants, and that the number of illegal border crossings is actually at its lowest since 2000.

And then, yes, he insisted that we need to build “a new physical barrier, or wall, to secure the vast areas between our ports of entry.”

This is a smart, strategic, see-through steel barrier — not just a simple concrete wall. It will be deployed in the areas identified by border agents as having the greatest need, and these agents will tell you, where walls go up, illegal crossings go way way down.

San Diego used to have the most illegal border crossings in our country. In response, a strong security wall was put in place. This powerful barrier almost completely ended illegal crossings.

It didn’t, of course. It just shunted illegal crossings away from the populated urban area where Tijuana meets San Diego, diverting migrants further out into the desert.

Trump talks as if the un-walled lengths of border looping between ports of entry are magnetic, actively attracting a problem that wouldn’t otherwise exist—people who wouldn’t otherwise come. He talks as if the land itself is spontaneously generating crime and drugs and troublesome migrants. If only we construct a steel fence across that land, it would stop making trouble. The problems would melt away. The people would stop coming.

But we know that isn’t the case. The people will come.

“I hope to God that Trump listens to us,” Sonia said in the piece I quoted yesterday. “I will do whatever is necessary; I will do anything so we don’t die of hunger.”

If there were a wall along our southern border, would Sonia have chosen to stay in Honduras with her teenage son and wait for the gang members that threatened his life to follow through and kill him?

I wish, I wish, I wish that Donald Trump would listen. But his opinions and rhetoric haven’t shifted an inch since he descended that escalator in June 2015 and declared that Mexico was “sending us not the right people.”

It’s coming from more than Mexico. It’s coming from all over South and Latin America, and it’s coming probably— probably— from the Middle East. But we don’t know. Because we have no protection and we have no competence, we don’t know what’s happening.

He could know what’s happening. He should know; he has a moral obligation, as president, to be informed about the true history and context of what’s happening on the U.S.-Mexico border. He should listen to the motives and experiences of the people whose lives are at stake there. Maybe then he’d give up his cruel lines about Mexico “sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

“We all deserve a chance,” Sonia said. “He should give us an opportunity as human beings. We need Donald Trump to listen, and he needs to be a human being.”

Sonia, I couldn’t agree more.