Migrants Don’t Deserve Death

Immigration into the United States over the Southern border is currently the source of major political controversy. Legally, the people crossing into the country are divided into two groups: Refugees and migrants. Those who face persecution at home due to certain legally defined reasons are refugees whom the United States becomes legally obligated to shelter. The rest are migrants. Even though they may be fleeing economic hardship or other very serious difficulties, governments may establish a quota for migrants and return however many it refuses to accept.

One current dispute relates to the definition of a refugee, which the Trump administration has narrowed to squeeze more border crossers into the unprotected category of migrants. The other question is how many migrants should be allowed to stay and what should be the criteria for acceptance. Predictably, the Trump administration has not been generous with this either.

Many of us will disagree with Trump’s policies towards migrants, and say that a country as large and wealthy as the United States should expand its quotas and take in more needy immigrants. We can argue this should be done simply as a matter of kindness and charity, or claim that these poor migrants are likely to become highly motivated citizens who will eventually contribute to our economy.  But we must admit that most countries do limit immigration, the United States has always had quotas, and the Trump administration is well within its legal authority determining that x number of migrants is what the United States can afford to accept and the remainder must be returned. If we disagree with this, the ballot box would seem to be the remedy.

How To Treat Migrants Who Must Be Returned

A separate question, however, is how the United States treats migrants it insists on returning. An expression of sympathy would seem to be most proper. Consider a beggar who comes knocking on the door asking for help with a myriad of health and family problems. No one is obligated to give them everything they ask for. We can’t fault someone who hands over a token amount of money and says, ‘I’m sorry this is all I have to offer you, but best wishes and good luck.’

So too as a country. If the government says to migrants, ‘You’re over our quota and so we can’t allow you to stay. Here’s something to eat and drink, you can take a shower in our detention center, and then unfortunately we’re going to have to return you across the border’ that’s well within the government’s right. The migrant may be upset and disappointed, but they have no claim to more.

Sadly, this is almost the exact opposite of what’s going on. Look at what’s been happening with an organization called ‘No More Deaths’ in Arizona.

No More Deaths

Many people attempting to enter the United States via the Southern border cross through harsh desert terrain. They face many dangers, including the trek itself, dehydration, exhaustion, and so on. Some become injured or even die on the way.

No More Deaths tries to help these immigrants survive their journey. One of their activities is leaving stashes of food and water along the border for those trekking across to find.

I’d think almost anyone would consider this to be a good deed. These people are fleeing from tremendous hardship back home, and face likely heartbreak when they are apprehended and deported. Should we add dehydration and starvation too?

And evidently No More Deaths has been doing this for years. Until the current administration has begun prosecuting them. Recently, four women were threatened with jail, then given fines and probation for leaving supplies for border crossers. You can read news coverage from NPR here, and from ABC news here.

Migrants Deserve Food and Water

It’s one thing to support a firm quote on immigration. But how can we go from supporting an immigration quota to punishing people who provide suffering, needy migrants with food and water? It’s already harsh enough to be telling anguished migrants that their arduous trek through the desert was for nothing and they will be returned to where they came from. But letting them die while make that trek too? Really?

The government argues that leaving supplies in the desert encourages the illegal immigration. But does that make sense? Someone who is willing to set out across the desert on a journey that will in any case be extremely dangerous and with a very low chance of success is clearly fleeing something horrific. The possibility of finding an abandoned jug of water along their way is unlikely to make much difference in their decision to go.

Migrants may be an economic burden. Human traffickers and drug smugglers may sometimes attempt to use migrants as cover.  There may be other legitimate reasons for wanting to put limits on migration. But we have to remember that migrants are first and foremost people- and people who are needy and suffering at that. They deserve at least our sympathy, and certainly also some food and water.

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