Photo taken by Scott Nicol. McAllen, Texas.
Like many Americans, I have spent the last couple of weeks listening and watching media about the fall of Afghanistan into the hands of the Taliban. We are responsible for this mess. This is clear to most Americans who do not fall into the fascist Trump side of politics. We must get those Afghan families out who assisted us in our failed war. It is the least we can do.
To leave them is a certain death sentence. Women are especially vulnerable as the Taliban does not believe in woman's rights and are routinely subjected to brutality rarely seen in much of the modern world. The same can be said of Afghans in the LGBTQ community who can now be executed on the spot if Taliban fighters suspect them. Fearing for their lives, Afghan families are rightly doing everything they can to get to Kabul's airport and catch a flight out of the country.
Reporters breathlessly talk of families having to go through Taliban checkpoints and how they hide documents needed for asylum/refugee applications on their bodies. Many admit to bribing local Taliban fighters to be let through. Some families are being forced to go around those checkpoints or smuggle themselves on board other conveyances passing through. They lie to Taliban officials about their support of American forces because it is a matter of life and death.
News anchors assure those in Afghanistan that we Americans are rooting for them, sending them our thoughts and prayers. We are donating money and time to help resettle those families here. Across social media, American families are sharing photos of themselves setting up rooms and places to house the soon to arrive refugees. Immigration lawyers are donating their time and fees to help process applications as soon as possible. Immigration officers and State Department employees are being told to speed up the processing of applications. The military is evacuating as quickly as can be expected.
This is what an asylum/refugee system is supposed to look like. It is the joining of forces from different agencies to do everything in our power to save lives, to keep families safe, to provide for a humane transition that supports and keeps them together.
So, why do we not do this for Central American families?
When it comes to Central American families, our military is instead used to push Central American families back into Mexico where they are often murdered, raped and held for ransom. Immigration officers do not process applications for asylum but are used instead to funnel Central Americans in search of safety into the deserts and dangerous mountains where thousands have died. They hold families in outdoor animal pens for weeks with little access to healthcare or basic sanitary necessities only to be expelled back to the danger they fled. Our immigration system sees Central American claims for asylum as not genuine or deserved.
Few realize that the causes of Central American migration to our southern border is a direct result of American intervention. Our war on these countries and their people has been more quiet, with less press and with less death of American military, but it has still been a brutal war. America has been deeply involved in Central America for the last 40 years. We have helped overthrow and install leaders to our own liking, even assisting in actual coups just as we did in Afghanistan. We have assisted and encouraged corrupt leaders as long as they allowed U.S. corporations to operate as they saw fit. The often referred to gangs like MS-13 began in the U.S. and have been deported by our immigration officials to these countries.
For many Central American families, staying in their countries is a certain death just as it is for Afghans. The same can be said for the women and LGBTQ Central Americans, and just like in Afghanistan, there is no justice for these victims. To go forward and press charges means more brutality and sometimes even death as the police and justice system are infiltrated with corruption and criminals. Threats of taking sons to become gang members and daughters sold into criminal activity occur often.
And so, Central American families flee for safety trying to save themselves just as Afghan families are doing. Guatemalans hide documents needed to prove their asylum cases on their bodies to get through the checkpoints American officials have set up. El Salvadorians skirt around the Mexican checkpoints designed by us to ensnare them before they get to our border. Hondurans pay bribes to soldiers at checkpoints for the same reason Afghans do. They lie to immigration and military officials as to who the are and what they are doing as well. They pay smugglers just like Afghan families are having to do right now. All in an effort to save themselves and their families.
Only you won't see the media covering the plight of Central Americans like they do the Afghans. You won't see news anchors encouraging Central American families to hide their documents, or smuggle themselves across checkpoints like they do with Afghan families. We don't see the media talking much about how our actions have destabilized the Central American countries like we did in Afghanistan. While the major news networks and our leaders are busy rightly showing Afghan families in their struggles to save themselves, the visuals you see of Central American families come with descriptions like "illegal" or "criminal," and suggest the only ones to blame for irregular immigration are the asylum seekers themselves.
The truth is that the families from these two areas of the world are not that much different. Both have seen their homes torn apart by corruption and criminal organizations. Both have seen U.S. involvement destroy their communities and kill many of their countrymen. Both have seen the U.S. turn their backs and leave their countries in shambles. Both are doing whatever is necessary to keep themselves and their loved ones alive just as we would. All asylum seekers and refugees deserve to be treated humanely and welcomed to our country.
A refugee is a refugee.