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.

2015-01-14 10.34.42The “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


Guns and Economics

Dear Senator Elizabeth Warren,

As one of your constituents, I want to publicly and directly call for your help.  Not just as a passionate reformer and advocate but as someone who intimately understands the US Economy and the financial motivation that sits behind most of the deep and polarizing political entrenchment in Washington at this moment.  You have the unique power to galvanize a movement that is long overdue.  We should be able to end gun violence in the United States. Images of children being gunned down should have been enough of a shock to make us never want to see the likes of Columbine, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, PULSE, Las Vegas, etc. again. For a nation where over three quarters of the population identifies as “religious” , it would seem to be a no brainer. But you and I both understand that the United States will not act to end gun violence based on a purely ethical appeal. The United States government will not act to end gun violence based on a religious position. The United States government will not act to end gun violence based on health statistics or the embarrassment of comparison with other developed nations. The United States government will not act to end gun violence…unless it hurts financially.

The gun industry is worth over $51B to the US Economy and creates over 300,000 jobs.[1] With that kind of economic pull, there is little incentive for a government whose policies are dominated by their financial potential; for instance our investment in a for-profit heatlhcare system. To put that $51B in a different light, consider that the US stake in the Pharmaceutical industry, one of the most powerful markets in the entire world is worth an estimated $446B[2] . Even doing a highly oversimplified math equation puts the “value” of the domestic gun industry at 11% of the United States GLOBAL share of the pharmaceutical industry. That is not insignificant. Particularly when considering that guns are designed to do only one thing (destroy) and pharmaceuticals are designed to do countless things (primarily heal, help, prevent, etc.).  Of course, as I pointed out, this is an oversimplification, particularly when you consider that the value of the pharma industry includes any number of drugs that gain their value due to illicit use and trade that is backed up by guns…but I digress.

If those of us who want to see substantial change in the gun laws in the United States wish to do this intelligently, we must follow the money. The 11 nations with the highest investment in the United States (see below [3]) all have negligible gun deaths compared with the United States. Our largest investor by far (the United Kingdom with $598B [4]) only has .06 homicides per 100k people compared with the United States at 3.54. The loss of even a portion of the UK investment (say the equivalent of the value of the gun industry $51B) would have a powerful effect on the US economy. Now imagine if each of those top investment nations were to draw back their investment by that same amount; such an action might convince our dysfunctional and greed driven system to do something.  And if we can’t convince other nations to buy in, why not implore our wealthiest corporations to take a financial stand.  Corporate and banking industires have the power to grind the United States to an absolute standstill (think Jeff Bezos).  It feels like its time for this kind of drastic action.

What would compel these nations and corporations to act? Oddly enough, I believe that the ethical appeal that is such a non starter in the land of “thoughts and prayers” is exactly the tactic. These same nations and some of our most powerful corporations have some of the most equally powerful human and civil rights laws and policies on the books. They are nations with national healthcare systems and social insurance and care for the elderly and standardized (at a high standard) education. These are industries that are holding themselves to account for the abuses and underpayment of women.  They are also entities that have all received the recent shift away from collaboration by the Trump administration. Yes, they need the US economy, but as the US under Trump isolates itself and retreats more and more to its gilded Fifth Avenue tower, the US will need these economically powerful forces even more. The international community should call for sanctions against the United States based on human rights abuses…the continued exposure of our children and vulnerable populations to gun violence.

Industrial and international partners must put their money where their mouths should be and make a difference in this ongoing and needless tragedy. We have tried to fight gun violence as a health issue, as a moral issue, as a religious issue, even as a gendered issue but we have not yet tried to fight it as an issue of economics and I believe this is the one place where we can actually win.  It is simple supply and demand.  No other nation, regardless of where they sit on the development scale wants the US to start exporting its most prolific product: senseless unchecked death.

Country – US Investment (in Billions)

United Kingdom – $598.3
Canada – $453.6
Japan – $424.3
Germany – $372.8
Ireland – $279.6
France – $267.6
Switzerland – $196.6
Netherlands – $191.9
Singapore – $73.7
Spain – $67.2
China – $58.2

Corporate Market Value (as of Feb. 6, 2018)

Amazon – $685 B
Microsoft – $684 B
Apple – $815 B

[2] –
[3] –
[4] – Ibid.