Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Faith and Myths: Activism and Illegal Immigration

Post subtitle: How Myths Are Made

Mexico-U.S. relations have been complicated for some time by a triplet of crippling problems: drug trafficking, economic recession, and illegal immigration.* These, in turn, are driven by the moral evils of greed and violence. The intellectual puzzle comes in trying to sort all of these out and pinpointing the one problem whose dissolution would largely do away with the other problems. I certainly have no solution, but I do have a modest, unoriginal recommendation for finding one: honesty. We cannot get murderes and traffickers of drugs and humans to be honest and own up to what they have done and that it is wrong. We can, however, try to be honest when discussing economic theory and immigration policy--their purposes, effects, and effectiveness.

Rubén Figueroa
I was reminded of how easy it is to slip into unintentional untruths and, from there, to quickly create myths that just fester and spawn more until we have a huge globbed-up issue. I interviewed Mexican activist Rubén Figueroa, and he made (at least) a couple of assertions that made me internally frown.

I should first give just a bit of Rubén's background. By his own admission, he is a "radical." This engenders both admirable engagements to help those in desperate need, as well as questionable rhetoric. The small movement of which he is a part, Movimiento Migrante Mesoamericano, runs a shelter on the Guatemalan border of the Mexican state of Tabasco. The shelter, called La 72 in memory of 72 Central-American migrants who while passing illegally through Mexico to get to the U.S. were brutally murdered by drug thugs (Los Zetas). Rubén is inspired to help these people, in part, because he was an illegal in the U.S. for five years and experienced what it is like to be viewed as second-class/undocumented/marginalized.

For now, our interview is only in Spanish, though I hope to transcribe and translate it to English when I have time. The main claim that he made that made me question his credibility a little does not come out in the video. But in our continued discussion (of which I have an audio recording), he asserted that Wells Fargo runs prisons for illegals along the U.S.-Mexico border. This claim is not, in itself, necessarily very important. Its effect, however, is to produce shock that such a large, well-respected bank could be involved in something so questionable. The purpose of the claim is to make the listener question the morals of Wells Fargo and, by extension, broader Western, capitalistic, "neo-colonial" society. Now, though the U.S. is up to its neck in complicity with drug violence, it cannot be said that the whole American society or Mexican society is encouraging drug violence or violence against illegal immigrants.

Furthermore, the claim must be examined. In fact, Wells Fargo does no such thing. It does, as a huge bank, have shares in a company that administrates private prisons, some of which the U.S. government does lease for illegal detainees before deportation. Is that so bad? Of course not.

I am largely for what people like Rubén do. But I am also for honesty and myth-busting, not myth-creating. And while it's true that we all have to resort to faith on these issues at some point (I cannot know everything that's going on with every government that is being immoral and even breaking its own laws), we can maintain a continual progress towards the truth by being careful with the partial truth we already have.

*I use the phrase "illegal immigration" or "illegal immigrant" rather than other common terms such as "undocumented" or simply "migrants." I choose this not to stigmatize the over-stigmatized "illegal," but simply because it reflects reality as best as any phrase I am aware of. It does not mean I agree with the status quo that continues to criminalize certain immigrants (particuarly in the North- and Latin-American contexts, although I am also interested in the situations in East Asia and Western Europe that have a lot in common with the American problem). In fact, if I were dictator of the world I would probably make most of these people "legal" in some sense of the word. If that makes me ethically suspect in your book, then feel free not to write me in on the ballot in the next presidential election.

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