When I lived in San Diego between 2014 and 2015, I also had the opportunity to directly experience some of the lives, lifestyles and challenges at the border between Mexico and the United States. I got to see first-hand, the bustling cities of San Ysidro and Tijuana, I met incredibly dedicated people giving their time and energy to supporting vulnerable people and had direct contact with Border Patrol Agents. Several things stood out to me:
- Both San Ysidro (US side) and Tijuana (Mexico side) are vibrant places with rich bi-lingual cultures.
- Where San Ysidro’s urban center gives way to genuinely suburban and fairly typical “American” middle class neighborhoods as you move north, Tijuana has a larger, more-dense urban feel for a wider area and then gives way as you head south and east to what would be considered by “American” standards rural settings with many dirt roads and more basic infrastructure.
- Incredible numbers of people pass both ways through the port of entry at San Ysidro/Tijuana. The number looks to be equal in both directions, but most of the congestion is on the Mexico side due to the restrictive nature of how people are processed entering the US.
- The vast number of people crossing the border, in both directions, at this port of entry are US citizens seeking goods and services or recreation.
- There is thriving business for Mexican vendors on the Mexican side and US retail outlets on the US side of the border.
- The people on both sides, were friendly, welcoming, diverse, funny and completely human. There was nothing “alien” about any of them.
Probably the most striking aspect of my education about the southern border came in realizing that nearly all of the need for goods, services and people is driven by US demand. This is true for textiles and mechanics (see the film Maquilapolis) but this is particularly true where human trafficking and drug smuggling are concerned. My trip was part of a seminary immersion experience and as a minister in formation, I was exposed to people who had been trafficked and people who had been impacted by the drug trade as well as people who were thriving and not touched by either but were simply trying to live and get by in that environment. And at the same time, living in San Diego, it was very telling to travel just 18 miles north and encounter the rich, young (largely white) people who were partying hardy and looking for easily accessible drugs oblivious to the connection they had to the life I had been exposed to at the border. In San Diego, I also encountered more than one non-Mexican person who had been to Tijuana for quick and easy sex.
The “crisis” that Donald Trump attempted to present in his 9-minute address from the Oval Office is one that will always exist as long as American citizens continue to financially drive the billion-dollar illicit drug and human trafficking trades. The people migrating north are not the crisis; the market for the exploitation of vulnerable people is the crisis…and it is a crisis that is as old as our government. The people “flooding” the border are not the criminals that need to be dealt with. In large part, most of them are seeking safety from violence in countries whose governments were imploded by US intervention. The true criminals are in Washington, D.C.; the criminals are in the financial centers and corporation board rooms, and they are the ones inflating and manipulating currencies and values, paying off pharmaceutical companies and establishing a playing field of commerce that is ripe for exploitation of the poor and vulnerable people who have little or no choice on the bottom of the equation. The true criminals are in every neighborhood and community of the United States and they are in all socio-economic brackets. The criminals are you and I and our willingness to benefit from a system that has always thrived on oppression.
The true crisis is that our economy and wealth continues to be driven by the concept of trianglular trade as established with African slavery*. According to Trump, a wall would be built to keep out the people who are supposedly the problem. But the problem isn’t the slave…the problem is still slavery.
*From the musical 1776