Things I shouldn’t have to say about borders

First, for those who may be unfamiliar with my work, my dissertation was on conservative attitudes towards unauthorized migration. I used discourse-historical analysis, a critical theory method which entails an examination of both text and context.[1]

I already knew that dissertations are where a lot of good research goes to die. But I had wished for more impact than this and when I hear the things being said about migrants and borders that I have been hearing especially during the course of the Trump administration, I am, to put it very, very mildly, disappointed. Yes, Donald Trump is an authoritarian populist, verging on paleoconservative (in my dissertation work, I found these two otherwise distinct tendencies were virtually indistinguishable on this topic). And yes, this rhetoric is what you would expect from an authoritarian populist. But 1) authoritarian populists were never supposed to actually gain power, and 2) this rhetoric and policy should be swatted down as the fascist[2] nonsense it is.

Much of what I am about to say here I have already said, if not in my dissertation,[3] then in the coursework leading up to that dissertation[4] that goes back the better part of a decade. Yeah, I got the degree, and yeah, the job search has been rude enough.[5]. To have to repeat all this makes clear all this work has all been for naught.

To begin, it is not enough to talk about migrants as being drawn by opportunities in the U.S. Whatever it is they expect to find here that draws them specifically to this country—these are called “pull” factors, the factors that attract migrants to this country.

We also have to talk about “push” factors, which push migrants away from home and propel them on a difficult and dangerous journey, a journey which authoritarian populists, neoconservatives, and some other conservatives seek to make even more dangerous by compelling migrants to seek ever more dangerous routes into the U.S. We must not mince words: Where the failure to provide facilities and transport to ensure a safe journey across deserts should be seen at least as involuntary manslaughter, border walls and other non-natural obstacles escalate this at least to negligent homicide.

It turns out that these “push” factors are, in significant part, the consequence of U.S. policy. The North American Free Trade Agreement and the Central American Free Trade Agreement were devastating to many Mexican and Central American farmers, flooding their markets with cheap U.S. products. These farmers were subsistence farmers to begin with; they weren’t rich. Now they face extreme poverty. In general, so-called “free” trade agreements have been deleterious for workers, both in the U.S. and around the world, encouraging a “race to the bottom” in wages, working conditions, and environmental regulations. They make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

But that’s not the worst of it. It’s often noted that Central America includes some of the most violent countries in the world, including Guatemala and El Salvador. And it’s often noted that the violence is related to drug gangs. Not that the drug cartels weren’t a problem, but the gangs offered a nimble response to the U.S. war on drugs that closed down many of the old smuggling routes. The drugs still get here, we still have the very violent cartels, but now, in addition, we have the even more violent gangs. People are fleeing home in fear for their very lives.

All of which means that the U.S. in fact bears some responsibility to the people who seek to come here. They are victims of our government’s ill-conceived policies. The U.S. government is culpable in the structural and physical violence in their home countries. In denying them sanctuary, we commit further violence against them, often putting their lives in jeopardy. I have already noted that our system of so-called justice is fascist.[6] With Trump using violence against migrants to build political support, it is equally clear that our immigration system is fascist.[7] There can no longer be any question that the U.S. government is now a fascist regime.

So, about borders. The first thing that must be said about borders is that there is nothing natural about them. They are arbitrary lines that mark off realms of sovereignty allocated to various elites (sovereigns) who are, under international law, allowed to use even lethal force against the people within those territories[8] and to extract the resources on and under those territories. Many, if not all, of the wars that have occurred in human history have some way, somehow been about the allocation of these territories. And all of the non-elites on these territories must be regarded as colonized people.[9]

Beyond that, a border functions to deny human beings on one side of that very arbitrary line rights, privileges, and opportunities available to human beings on the other side of that very arbitrary line. This denial cannot be justified ethically. And, under international law, human beings are universally entitled to human rights regardless of what national governments recognize.[10]

International law is a slippery topic. The U.S. is one of a very small number of countries that have not ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights,[11] and in general, international law functions to preserve sovereignty—especially big power sovereignty—and the status quo. But if human rights are indeed universal, then governments are bound to protect those rights[12] whether or not they ratify the relevant treaties and governments are bound to admit people (refugees) who are denied those rights at home. Any government resistance to such migration is at least structural, if not physical, violence.

Of course, that’s not the way things really work, and certainly not in the U.S. But the rhetoric that denies human rights is shameful and borders ought to be an embarrassment: They effectively proclaim that some human beings are not entitled to rights available to other human beings and, through the denial of those rights and the violence this entails, that some human beings aren’t really human at all, but rather subhuman.

If anyone is subhuman, it would be those elites who self-righteously claim to uphold human rights but deny them in reality and those elites whose policies drive people from their homes. Accordingly, I will make no apology for saying that yes, emphatically, borders should be open. And having done the work I’ve done, this seems so obvious to me that I shouldn’t have to repeat it. But apparently I do.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  2. [2]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” February 14, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/02/14/simple-definition-fascism
  3. [3]David Benfell, “Conservative Views on Undocumented Migration” (doctoral dissertation, Saybrook, 2016). ProQuest (1765416126).
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Humans Without Borders: A Paradox,” October 15, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/10/15/humans-without-borders-paradox; David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” David Benfell, “We ‘need to know how it works,’” March 15, 2012, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2012/03/15/we-need-know-how-it-works
  5. [5]David Benfell, “I have been unemployed (or gainlessly employed) for a long time,” n.d., https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/content/i-have-been-unemployed-or-gainlessly-employed-long-time
  6. [6]David Benfell, “Ethics,” n.d., https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/content/ethics
  7. [7]David Benfell, “A simple definition of fascism,” February 14, 2017, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2017/02/14/simple-definition-fascism
  8. [8]Max Weber, “What is Politics?” in Social Theory: The Multicultural and Classic Readings, ed. Charles Lemert, 4th ed. (Boulder, CO: Westview, 2010), 114-116.
  9. [9]Norman K. Denzin, Yvonna S. Lincoln, and Linda Tuhiwai Smith, eds., Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies (Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2008).
  10. [10]Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “What are Human Rights?” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx
  11. [11]International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, United Nations, General Assembly resolution 2200A (XXI), http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr.htm
  12. [12]Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, “What are Human Rights?” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Pages/WhatareHumanRights.aspx

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.