I was sitting by the beach in Tijuana, Mexico right at the U.S. Border. A fence juts out through the sand and into the ocean to prevent immigrants from walking or swimming across. It is formed of slats that - unlike other areas of the border fence - allow people to see through to the other country. Border Patrol vehicles meander on the U.S. side of the fence.
This area by the beach is called Friendship Park and was created to be a binational meeting place. When then-First Lady Pat Nixon inaugurated the park in 1971, she is reported to have said, "I hope there won't be a fence here too much longer." Today, the U.S. side of the beach is closed.
But when I was there, it was still open to visitors on both sides of the fence, and it was busy. This visit, a young guy also on the Mexican side started talking to me and my group. When he found out we were from L.A., he was thrilled. He told us he was also from Los Angeles.
He opened up about his situation, telling us he'd been deported earlier that week. He had no connections in Tijuana where he'd been dropped off as he'd arrived in the U.S. as a young child. In fact, he didn't seem to have any Mexican contacts at all. I wondered if he spoke Spanish. His English was indicative of a native speaker.
He admitted he'd tried to cross the border several times since he'd arrived in Mexico. He also told us that he would keep trying every day until he got back home to his family and his daughter. "There's nothing for me here in Mexico," he said.
Mass deportation is an easy go-to for politicians. A "send 'em home" mantra can get big cheers in certain crowds. Currently, President Obama has deported more immigrants than any other president. Raids happened in Georgia, North Carolina, and Texas back in January. Recent news says more are coming.
I understand the political temptation of immigration raids. It's the same with "building a bigger wall." It makes a leader look tough. It creates stats and numbers that suggest things are changing. It makes a statement to voters. But do immigration raids actually make sense?
American companies are recruiting Mexican and Central American workers all. the. time. Radio ads. Newspaper ads. Staffing companies. You name the medium, U.S. companies are there trying to convince our international neighbors to come here for jobs.
In countries where employment seems unattainable and the economy is grinding, a ready-made job invitation is a no-brainer. Workers will keep returning as long as the home outlook is bleak. Raids without a true commitment to international economic development quickly becomes a game of capture the flag.
Like the young man at the border, many deportees have been separated from their loved ones. I don't know about you, but I'd probably cross the border daily to get back to my children. What could you do to me that would be worse than being away from them?
Legislation that protects families is crucial. Currently, DAPA (Deferred Action for Parents of Americans) is frozen while the Supreme Court determines its legality. It would offer temporary relief for undocumented parents of U.S. citizen children. Complicated, to be sure. But parents will keep coming back to their children, so let's consider what's the best use of time, energy, and resources, as well as what's best for families.
Other legislation that expands opportunities for seasonal workers would also help migrant workers be able to return to their home countries in the off-season. It's quite possible that this type of arrangement would deter many families from immigrating at all as many would prefer to live at home and travel abroad for seasonal work.
Is it dangerous to cross the border? Absolutely. There are nefarious traffickers, harsh environmental conditions, intense physical challenges, and the ever-present threats of starvation, dehydration, or illness. For some migrants, though, these perils pale in comparison to the dangers of their home communities. When weighing their options, returning to the U.S. may be the smartest and safest choice for some.
U.S. drug consumption is a significant driver of violence in Central America as traffickers transport illicit goods north. Poverty conditions without smart development perpetuate cycles of violence. And urban violence is exported through years of deporting U.S.-grown gang members. Promoting raids without addressing these issues will keep the revolving door open as deportees keep returning searching for safety in the States.
Militaristic, raid-centric approaches to immigration aren't the answer. They may increase fear among undocumented residents and it's possible this fear of deportation may stop new migrants from coming. But it doesn't address the root issues.
Migration happens worldwide and throughout history. Banging on people's doors in the middle of the night and forcing people home, quite simply, is a short-sighted tactic.